The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug

Less than a week after having a huge chunk removed form my calf, I am itching for some light entertainment. Flipped between Hunger Games and The Hobbit, and Hobbit won, on the basis that it was a better book than the former and carries so many childhood memories. 

Happily ensconced in the Everyman’s premier seats, complete with leg rest and a couple of cushions, a G & T and 3-D glasses, let the entertainment begin!

It starts badly: I am always irritated by both an overlong résuméof the last episode, as in Homeland – for Chrissakes we only saw it last week/last night/an hour ago – or the other extreme, the arrogant assumption that you remember a movie from a year ago. Thus the bar scene with Thorin and Gandalf reminding us of his quest to recover the Arkenstone from the bowels of the Lonely

Mountain and the guardianship of the dragon Smaug is totally baffling. It reprised nothing memorable from the past and barely triggered a smooth transition to the continuing quest.

I re-read my last review The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  [link] and found everything I said then applies now, but squared! The book has been eviscerated at the expense of its very soul and multiplied by Hollywood values to produce a violent, CGI blockbuster that appeals to players of video games rather than normal people. As a sop to the fairer sex, add a touch of completely out-of-place romanticism between a glamorous Elf,  Tauriel,  and Dwarf Kili,  mix with some never-ending chase scenes and you have a perfect recipe for box office success.

Or do you? There were already questions over the hijacking of Tolkein’s much loved book into a monster trilogy, now there are complaints from animal rights activists about the numbers of creatures that died ‘accidentally’ during the film’s making, which mix with an even bigger deviation from the original than Hobbit 1. 

The resulting film sacrifices character development and dialogue: there’s not a hint of humour in this film save the appearance of Sylvester McCoy as Radagast with his birds nest head. I really miss the camaraderie of the dwarves, their jostling and their jibes; and what happened to thawing of Thorin’s attitude towards Bilbo? Jackson just about remembers to include Bilbo’s increasing fascination with the lure of the ring but all play second fiddle to the overwhelming pace of the action scenes.

Instead we have a series of over-long chase sequences, mainly by orcs, with gratuitous beheadings and gushing blood, which are vaguely linked by some locations which are true to the plot: the spooky spider sequence in Milkwood; the Elven Kingdom; the Lakeland city and finally the Lonely Mountain and the domain of Smaug. What is so extraordinary about all this violence is that our little band emerges unrealistically unscathed (apart from one injury), while scores of orcs lie dead and dying.

However, in terms of film-making, and casting aside the notion that this is Tolkien’s Hobbit, Jackson has created a visual feast and a film in its own genre; he takes CGI to new heights and in 3-D it is special. The scenery is, as ever, breathtaking, but cleverly mixed with CGI sets; the orcs are truly hideous and all the prosthetics and make-up are works of art. 

It is always a joy to recognise well-loved actors playing their part: here is Stephen Fry, who wins the Damien Lewis fruitiness prize by a mile; in second place Ian McKellen’s Gandalf; Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice is unrecognisable while being hugely pleasurable as Smaug – a state-of-the-art dragon. Orlando Bloom is here as Legolas, Cate Blanchett’s face wafts across the screen, uncalled for but ethereal; James Nesbitt, Ken Stott and the usual suspects are sadly barely seen but occasionally stir a memory of past brilliance.All in all a disappointment; and over-long too with all those chases. I had to hobble to the loo on my crutches in the middle – unheard of for me. Perhaps a good one for your 15 year-old boys but for adults it’s a solid two stars, I’m afraid. I’ll try the Hunger Games next.

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