'Smaug' a step up for Jackson's Hobbit trilogy
Bilbo turns tougher and more cunning and “The Hobbit” turns altogether more entertaining in “The Desolation of Smaug,” Peter Jackson's livelier, funnier and action-packed middle film in his trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's slight delight of a novel.
It looks more like a fantasy. Characters feel more distinct, with Martin Freeman's Bilbo making the transition from mere passenger on this dwarf's quest “beneath the Lonely Mountain” to the brains of the motley crew.
And there's just more going on. Jackson and company wisely tamper with the Holy Writ of Tolkien to invent a lady elf and to find Orlando Bloom's elf Legolas a part to play. They're more concerned with making this all a prelude to “The Lord of the Rings,” so foreshadowing and the suspicions of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) step to the fore.
That ups the ante, creates urgency and sets up a love triangle, just one of several elements that become cliffhangers before “The Desolation of Smaug” ends.
The company of quarrelsome dwarfs led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) stumble through Mirkwood as they make their way through spiders, suspicious elves and Lake-town toward the Lonely Mountain, where they have a date with a dragon who wiped out their kingdom and stole a vast treasure. Bilbo, who found this magical ring he refuses to tell them about, saves their biscuits time and again.
They stumble into Wood Elves, which is where Legolas and the lovely-but-deadly Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) enter the story. Tauriel takes a shine to the tallest of the dwarfs.
Fans of the novel will be impressed with the gloom of Mirkwood and the vast complex of the dwarf's city beneath The Lonely Mountain. Lake-town, the community of men at the base of the mountain long terrorized by the dragon Smaug, is a Teutonic fairytale Venice. Stephen Fry is the town's dictator, the Master, one of the few “name” players in this semi-obscure cast.
Jackson stages a splendid chase and a few stirring brawls with legions of digitally augmented goblins. Bilbo, given Freeman's exquisite double-takes, can only shake his head and endure their put-downs and suicidal orders.
Quibbles? The landscapes mostly look like matte paintings and the murk can be a bit too much.
The padded scenes that allowed them to stretch this brief book into three films are obvious.
But “The Desolation of Smaug” is engagingly desolate and absorbingly back-engineered to prefigure “The Lord of the Rings,” a movie that clips along and amuses as it does. Look for Jackson's cameo in the opening, which sets the tone. Call it another visual triumph for New Zealand's vision of Middle Earth.
Roger Moore is a film critic for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- DVD reviews: ‘Foxcatcher,’ ‘The Humbling’ and ‘The Captive’
- ‘Let It Snow’s’ big-name cast filming all over Western Pennsylvania
- From ‘Pulp Fiction’ to Oscar meme, Travolta’s had his highs and lows
- ‘Me and Earl’ movie gets July release date
- Beechview special-effects artist brings life (and death) to movies
- Review: ‘Mr. Turner’ colorful, complex portrait
- Host Neil Patrick Harris would welcome a Kanye moment at the Oscars
- Oscar doesn’t go to Pittsburgh-favorite Keaton, but ‘Birdman’ soars
- Review: Smith, Robbie throw wet blanket into ‘Focus’
- Kickstarter funds would go toward great-niece’s film about Warhol
- Review: ‘Lazarus’ almost raises a whole film genre from the dead