As titles go, it’s divisive I know. Now I’m not trying to start an argument but… has Peter Jackson been given too much creative freedom on The Hobbit trilogy? Is he wandering the wastelands of creativity, choking on his own noxious gases of invention?
Having just seen The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug I cringe a little inside when I ask these questions because: he’s a phenomenal director and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy are among my favourite films of all time; I highly rate Jackson as a director in general and think studios should allow creative people to do what they do best; and finally, I like the story and characters J.R.R. Tolkien created – to spend more time in Middle Earth is a privilege.
Yet… yet, something is not quite right with this trilogy. Judging something that’s part of a series is never advisable, but a film is still in a film in its own right, even if it’s part of a trilogy. I suppose one of the main problems I have – which was a problem from the get-go – is that, not only is each film too long, but also that we have three in the first place. Now Jackson has said having three is great because there’s so much material to draw from, not just the main book but The Silmarillion and other supporting material Tolkien dreamt up. Ok, if that’s the case, why invent characters?
Go see the film and you’ll notice a certain she-elf in a fairly prominent role as part of a love triangle. She was never included in Tolkien’s tales. Granted she’s a nice addition as a character and balances out the male-heavy lineup, but she wasn’t needed. She’s filler to pad out the story so Jackson can have three, excessively lengthy films. And that’s just one example, there are more from The Desolation of Smaug and An Unexpected Journey, but we’ll be here all day if we go through them.
However… Now that we’ve got the bad stuff out the way, let’s look at the good. Ranting and raving like an angry dwarf aside, there’s a lot to love about this second instalment of Bilbo’s tale. More action, more adventure, with some great set pieces – in particular the way the company escape the elves of Mirkwood in barrels down the river, this is Jackson at his finest.
Also, despite him not featuring much in this part of the books (filler again), it’s nice to see Legolas back. Indeed he gets some great set pieces, including a face off with a brutish orc, reminiscent of one of Aragorn’s fights from the original trilogy.
And let’s not forget the showpiece of this particular tale, the slumbering yet deadly beast… Smaug. He needs to look big, fearsome and genuinely scary, and he does. Hats off to Jackson for brilliantly bringing him to life. Voiced (almost unrecognisably) by Benedict Cumberbatch, the final third of the film almost becomes the Smaug show, with hobbit and dwarves trying to stay a step ahead of his wrath and deadly fire.
There’s other nice touches too. Laketown is well realised; a damp and dismal fishing village that has seen better days. It also gives us an introduction to Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), who fits effortlessly into Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth. He gets some key scenes and will no doubt have more to do in the final film too.
From the final instalment it would be great to see more character development, as this seemed to take a bit of a back seat this time round in favour of the action and moving the story along, but that’s a small point.
All in all, my misgivings aside, it’s a very good second film with much more of a swing in its step than the first. Tonally, it’s darker, and therefore closer to Rings – something which will no doubt continue to develop in the final chapter. So, in answer to my initial question, Jackson’s desolation really depends on your point of view. Keep the focus on Bilbo and the characters and he embraces the goodness of the Shire, indulge in long, lingering shots of countryside and needless exposition and he goes the way of Mordor.