The second in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, is easily the least accessible of the Middle Earth movies, says Simon Mernagh. One for pipeweed smokers only.
It’s tempting to write two separate reviews for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – one for admirers of the original The Hobbit and dedicated Tolkienites in general, and another for those who remain unconvinced by Bilbo and his mythical quest. While the former camp should be happier with this movie than a Hobbit after second-breakfast, the latter will almost certainly find the second installment in Peter Jackson’s fantasy trilogy a largely unbearable experience.
The Desolation of Smaug picks up where last year’s The Unexpected Journey left off. Titular Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) travels further on his epic quest to reclaim the forsaken Dwarven Kingdom of Erebor, alongside the Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and 13 Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Along the way they encounter elves, giant spiders, dragons and some impressively ugly Orcs.
If the above synopsis reads like a bunch of garbled exposition stuffed withridiculous fantasy jargon and nonsensical gobbledeegook, then this movie isn’t for you. The film takes it for granted that viewers not only enjoyed An Unexpected Journey, but are also well-acquainted with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nods and references to that Oscar-winning trio are numerous – one scene involving a certain elf’s conversation with a certain dwarf’s father is custom-built to incite joyful tremors from fans. In this sense, The Hobbit saga feels supplementary to The Lord of the Rings, rather than a stand-alone story.
If one dons the objective film-critic hat for a minute, nothing but problems with The Desolation of Smaug will be found. Unrelated (and frankly, unnecessary) meanderings through intricate subplots pad the film out to an unwieldy 161-minute runtime. If Jackson had stuck to the central quest, this second chapter wouldn’t even exist. Bilbo would be back in the Shire by now, feet up and enjoying his elevenses.
The film is easily the least accessible of Jackosn’s Middle-Earth movies, without any apologies. It reaps all the rewards as a second entry in a trilogy – it’s neither forced to introduce the plot nor wrap it up, so instead it’s packs with creamy filling. Unfortunately, only the nerdiest of taste palettes could find the flavour of this filling anything less than toxic.
Discretion is advised for those particularly susceptible to headaches – three hours of 3D take their toll, especially when compounded by IMAX. Readers with delicate eyes should probably stick to regular old 2D, though the extra dimension is undoubtedly immersive.
In short, The Desolation of Smaug is to Tolkien fans what pipe-weed is to Hobbits; a sort of pure, almost euphoric escapism for its indulgers, but a mindless waste of time for everybody else. Wizards, Orcs and dwarves only need apply.
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