Review: Smaug could divide Hobbit fans
Review The Hobbit for Stuff Nation
Fans started arriving as early as two hours in advance to vie for the best seats. Elves mingled in the aisle, a wizard was using his beard as a scarf, and hobbits munched on popcorn. This was the midnight premiere screening of the second installation in the Hobbit franchise: The Desolation of Smaug.
The Desolation of Smaug breaks many expectations. It is by no means the typical, sluggish bridge between gripping introduction and exhilarating conclusion to which many second-in-a-trilogy films seem to be reduced.
Desolation of Smaug holds its own in terms of action and adventure. It opens at a breakneck pace, exactly where An Unexpected Journey left us, with orcs still hot on the trail of Bilbo and the Company.
From there we're swept from stunning new location to stunning new location with plenty of action-packed scenes all around. Escaping from giant spiders. Riding down a white water river in barrels. Battling against orcs. It has it all.
The editing was succinct and we didn't linger for a moment too long on any scene, a welcome improvement from the previous film which tended to drag its heels in places.
Martin Freeman reprises his role of Bilbo Baggins with the same endearing quirks and engaging energy as last time around. Freeman shows his acting prowess in the subtle changes as Bilbo begins to succumb to the influence of the Ring.
Another particularly nuanced performance comes from Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, as we start to see his kingly manner coming through, as well as glimpses of the pride and greed that possessed his forebearers beginning to manifest within.
Newcomers Lee Pace and Mikael Persbrandt, as Thranduil and Beorn respectively, only receive a small amount of screen time but manage to create a profound impression with larger-than-life characters, leaving us wishing we could see more.
For a large extent of the film, the plot deviates significantly from Tolkien's beloved original text, and these numerous changes have the potential to divide fans. The most intrusive of these changes, at which many die-hard Tolkienites may baulk, is the creation of the female elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who is introduced as part of a love triangle that does not exist in the book.
Casual movie-goers may find her less objectionable, and will probably even like her, as the love triangle trope seems to be a staple plot line of most recent mainstream media, and The Hobbit really was in dire need of more female characters.
The news isn't all bad for book lovers - Peter Jackson and co have reached into Tolkien's other writings, such as The Silmarillion and the Appendices of Return of the King, to include references to other going-ons in Middle Earth that will have you mmm-ing and ahh-ing.
And of course, the most important and much anticipated moment of the entire film: the reveal of Smaug. British actor Benedict Cumberbatch provided both the voice and motion capture for the titular dragon, and, wow, did he deliver. Smaug was menacing as can be with his overwhelming presence of terror and danger. If there was one thing they had to get right in this film it was Smaug, and they surpassed all expectations. He is everything you could ever want from a villainous dragon.
The Desolation of Smaug is a fast-paced, action-filled ride with a magnificent dragon at the end. Audiences of a wide range will find themselves enjoying this latest adventure in the Hobbit franchise. You can leave all your expectations at the door.
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