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Film review: The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Dec 15, 2013 Film & TV

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Directed by Peter Jackson

Whatever they put in the ale at the Prancing Pony, it’s working. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is some next-level fantasy shit, guys. Like, literally fantastic, with something for everyone. Seriously: there are even brown-skinned people playing humans rather than just their usual Orcs!

None of them are lead characters, but ya take what you can get, right? Us girls get to identify with James Nesbitt’s lovely daughters, who play the children of Lake-town’s resident hunky smuggler, Bard the Bowman (which somewhat makes up for Nesbitt himself going woefully underused). And there’s Tauriel, a crack-shot Woodland Elf, invented by writers Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh to break up JRR Tolkien’s sausage party somewhat.

Because this is still Middle Earth, or at least the Middle Ages as far as gender roles go, Tauriel is written as much for her romantic potential as for her thirst for Orc-blood. She very deservedly has two blokes eyeing her up: Kili the Dwarf and Legolas Greenleaf, who has been shoehorned into the film despite not appearing in the novel. He’s a welcome sight. Orlando Bloom fair soaks up the camera when he doesn’t have to share his screen-time with Gimli, and his stunts are a thrill to watch, even if his dad is a bit racist (“Other lands are not my concern,” Lee Pace sniffs, in his role as the Elven leader Thranduil).

Desolation of Smaug feels like the best marriage yet between the computers and humans of Miramar. Lake-town – a rickety maze of wooden pole-houses – is a magnificent set, and Wellington’s animation wizards have worked their magic on creepy spiders, glistening gold and gushing rivers.

The famous barrel scene should do blockbuster sales for Rainbow’s End’s log flume ride this summer, even if it feels like a re-hash of King Kong’s epic tumbling fight with the dinosaurs. Mind you, Sir Peter Jackson has long since stopped surprising us with his frenetic action sequences – we could choreograph them in our sleep. But there’s a lot to be said for a safe pair of hands. Nobody begrudges Spielberg his obligatory blood-and-guts scenes, right? On that note, Bad Taste fans may feel well catered for in the gorier moments.

Also to Jackson’s credit, there are fewer of the tedious, cheaty long-shots of tiny figures running along collapsing paths, or animated armies amassing on hillsides. Instead, we get close-ups of Sir Ian McKellan’s gnarled face, Luke Evans’ beautiful one and Stephen Fry’s awful comb-over (he’s at pantomime-level excellence as the burpy, gouty mayor of Lake-town). And, as is becoming the way in most 3D films lately, the third dimension works best on the beauty shots –snow falling on Lake-town, piles of gold sliding down the interior of Lonely Mountain – rather than the flying arrows and Warg Riders.

At just under three hours, the mayhem moves at an entertaining clip compared with the overly talky An Unexpected Journey, to the point where the quiet moments feel extremely well earned. By the time Watson and Holmes are reunited – sorry, by the time Bilbo settles in for his chat with the Benedict Cumberbatch-voiced dragon, Smaug, it’s a very welcome tension. Martin Freeman is a one-trick pony, but it’s a great trick: nervous chatter, with one eye on the door. Roll out the barrel, you’ll have a barrel of fun.


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