Movie Review: ‘The Desolation of Smaug’

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a middle installment in a trilogy, but viewers aren’t pitched into the middle of the action. As always, director Peter Jackson eases viewers in with a flashback to this movie released on DVD April 8.

“The Desolation of Smaug” covers six chapters of the book, but Jackson did not leave the story as is. He incorporated material from the appendices and J.R.R. Tolkien’s history of Middle-Earth, “The Silmarillion,” to explain elements of the story such as why Gandalf (Ian McKellen) left the company at the border of Mirkwood. By pulling from “The Silmarillion,” viewers understand the bigger picture of what is happening in Middle-Earth with the growing darkness and Necromancer’s rise to power. The multiple storylines are woven into one cohesive tale punctuated with action and romance.

Classic characters from the book are included, such as the skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) and Mirkwood’s elvenking, Thranduil (Lee Pace).

This movie also welcomes back a familiar character from Tolkien’s trilogy – Legolas Greenleaf (Orlando Bloom), son of the Mirkwood elvenking. In Mirkwood, the action rises with the dwarves and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) fighting giant spiders before the dwarves are rescued and captured by a host of battle-ready wood-elves led by Legolas and captain of the guard, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Tauriel is Jackson’s creation – a Silvan elf who simultaneously shows off her skill as a fighter and unknowingly creates a love triangle.

The action continues through the dwarves’ escape from the Elvenking’s palace via barrel boats (plan courtesy of Bilbo Baggins, burglar). While pursuing the dwarves and fighting the orc pack that suddenly appeared, Legolas gets to show off his quintessentially elven characteristics, primarily the ability to slide on anything that moves (or doesn’t – he’s not picky), balance on dwarves’ heads as they careen downriver in their barrels and show off his archery skills and knife work.

This escape is one of the big deviations from the book in which the dwarves and Bilbo slipped out of Mirkwood unnoticed (but a batch of dwarf-filled barrels serenely floating down a river isn’t exactly action). The chase down the river briefly quenched the elves’ and dwarves’ mutual hatred of each other and turned it to a common purpose – fighting the orcs.

The majority of the dwarves do eventually make it to the Lonely Mountain. But they still need to get into the mountain, which Bilbo cleverly does by deciphering the message (as usual) and finding the hidden door.

Now, there’s only one not-so-small problem standing (or sleeping) in their way – Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Smaug is a full-grown, gold-loving dragon, quite fond of his home in the dwarven halls and also his vast treasure bed. And Thorin wants the Arkenstone, which is, of course, in the middle of the sea of treasure next to the sleeping dragon.

Bilbo’s search for the Arkenstone shows Martin Freeman’s brilliance as an actor. He tiptoes through the treasure, shushing falling coins as if that would make it quieter.

Cumberbatch’s rich bass voice is highlighted as the dragon and the Necromancer. But he didn’t just provide the voice of Smaug. He is Smaug. Jackson filmed Cumberbatch slinking around on tables wearing motion-capture dots as a way for him to get into character as the ferocious Smaug.

The tone of this installment is quite different from Jackson’s other Tolkien adaptations. “The Lord of the Rings” was a cinematic adventure, where the viewer was intimately acquainted with every character. “The Desolation of Smaug” is a Hollywood blockbuster high-action movie where the cast members are just figures performing stunts in the multitude of action scenes. With all the action, viewers are disconnected from the characters’ personalities and really only get to know four of the 14 members of the company.

“The Desolation of Smaug” sets the scene for the conclusion of the trilogy in “There and Back Again,” but it is the typical middle movie in a trilogy, ending with a cliffhanger for those who have not read the book.

Lauren Eissler is a junior journalism major and managing editor and campus news editor for Cedars. She essentially lives in the J-Lab, with her caffeine intake roughly corresponding to how many articles she’s writing, and tweets as @L_Eissler.

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