Starring: Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Armitage and Sir Ian McKellen
Director: Peter Jackson Run Time: 161 minutes
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug or “Hobbit 2” as I like to lazily call it has never sounded quite right. Hollywood’s exploitation of literature and history has never been well hidden and is usually covered over with the loose yet apt term of “Based on the novel/true story/or accounts.” And with Hollywood blockbusters commanding even more money in the box office then it is no wonder that literature has been cursed with splitting their stories into sequels; you just have to see the success of the last books of the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises.
I don’t even use the term “franchise” with damnation or cynicism but with acceptance as it is these films, whether you like them or not, are what keep the cinemas open, not your cult classics or your Oscar winners. And in the case with the last Harry Potter novel being divided into two, the films were allowed to expand on the literary material and not just left to the special edition extended director cuts that come out on DVD a few years later later. In some senses the tampering of a book can also help the cinematic creative override the criticism of not including a certain part of the original literature into the film. The typical “literature translation” criticism is inane and ill-informed.
Before I fully start my review I must admit that I have never taken the time to read The Hobbit. Therefore what follows might seem a bit harsh and almost hypocritical to judge the translation between film and novel. All I know is this: The Hobbit is a slim volume and miniscule in comparison to the complete Lord of the Rings. And if I am correct, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) were not part of the original literature.
Again, I am all for the adaptation and twisting of literature as long as it actually works AND adds something significant and special to the film. The addition of Legolas works in the respect that there are some awesome action sequences (especially the brilliant barrel scene) but apart from that he adds nothing to the story. The romantic angle between Tauriel and Kili (Aidan Turner) was unnecessary, charmless and cheesy in an unbearable way and once again added nothing to the story. One would go as far to say that the angle was merely used as an excuse to fill some time to make the sequel a three hour long epic as well as providing some lame sci-fi eye candy.
If the unnecessary addition of the romantic angle was cut from the film then what you would have is a perfectly good film. Martin Freeman is flawless in his facial reactions and his comic timing and that really worked well with the character of Smaug (which was also excellently voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Freeman deserves his plaudits though for putting on a magnificent performance and it must have been undoubtedly difficult to work by himself on a green screen for certain scenes—something that an actor never really gets praise for in my opinion.
The pace of the film was also a major improvement from the plodding opening hour of the first film yet it was not without its flaws. For the most part the pace was frenetic and illustrated a perfect rollercoaster of emotion. The scene with the countless spiders was delightfully frightening even for a sufferer of arachnophobia such as myself while even some slower scenes such as the tense meeting between Bilbo and Smaug was perfectly simmering waiting for the event to explode into action.
Yet, the film tried too hard to over-compensate for trying to maintain a decent fast pace, which is almost necessary for a blockbuster these days, and as a consequence some eventful parts of the film felt the polar opposite.
The prime example of this is when some of the film’s characters arrives into Laketown (which the bleakness and lack of colour in the scene really does stand against the magical idea of adventure, good use of colour essentially), where the pace has seemingly dropped before reaching the film’s climax. That is understandable and a variation of pace is sometimes required. Therefore in order to make these scenes in Laketown feel less tedious, they decided to thrown in some more violence, which actually became quite tedious in itself and the whole time in Laketown felt rather uneventful and quite forgettable. Again this basically reflects the earlier criticism I have of the film unnecessarily expanding the literature just to stretch out the “epic.”
On immediate reflection, I felt that the second film was hardly an improvement on the first. After having about a week or two to garner my thoughts on what was a relatively enjoyable adventure, I still feel pretty much the same about how it hasn’t really improved that much in terms of the pace of the film. What would ultimately benefit “Hobbit 2” is if it stayed truer to its literature. A trilogy is perfectly fine, but there is no need to have two and a half hours for each film, because unlike Lord of the Rings where it had a lot to cram in, “Hobbit 2” was stretched in its narrative. On the flip side, maybe I am just being rather harsh on the film and its effort is greatly appreciated and as a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I am already eagerly awaiting the third film. Overall, a visually fantastic effort with some equally fantastic acting that was only marred by a long narrative and the troublesome Laketown scenes.