Firstly, full disclosure: I have not read The Hobbit. Nor had I read any of the Lord of the Rings books, but I savored Peter Jackson’s trilogy. The films were painted with his passion and obsession with J. R. R. Tolkein’s text. The Hobbit is a smaller book, and slicing it up to make another trilogy has, by all accounts, diluted its impact.
Friends who are fans of the books say much has been added and embellished in order to pad out the story to fit three separate films. So far both the chapters have run over two and a half hours!
Desolation of Smaug is mostly the story of the journeying of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and a band of 13 dwarves led by their king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Guiding them is wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) as these men determinedly undertaken a challenging (and oft times a little scary) journey to reclaim their kingdom of Erebor, now over-run by the menacing dragon Smaug. En route we have to endure a battle with giant spiders and a cheesy newly invented love story between elf warrior Tauriel and the dwarf Kili.
Just when the film gets good — when the dragon breaths fire and fury – it comes to an abrupt end and you realize you have to wait another year to see how it will conclude. Or you could just read the book!
There are two sequences that are magical – the dwarves’ escape in barrels down the river and Bilbo’s acquaintance with Smaug – a visual effects delight, given character by the immensely talented Benedict Cumberbatch as he faces off with his Sherlock co-star Freeman.
‘Smaug’ left me restless. I appreciate Peter Jackson’s vision, I admire the affection with which he presents the landscape of New Zealand, but not the commercial compulsions or indulgences in script. But then the middle chapter on Middle Earth is just a build up to what will undoubtedly be a spectacular finale.