Last year Peter Jackson finally released his Lord of the Rings Trilogy prequel in the form of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to okay responses. Personally, I thought it was a great addition to Jackson’s Middle-earth series (I guess that is what we will be calling it now because I don’t see the Red Book of Westmarch series catching on as a name for these films). Sure it didn’t have the emotion of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but it had two interesting characters in Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield and gave them interesting character arcs. Well all of the complaints about the pacing of the first film have resulted in a much faster paced film (at least in the early goings of the film) in the sequel. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has some of the greatest set pieces in all of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films. Yet (while certainly still a good film) it lacks the interesting character arcs of the first film of the trilogy, and, with a cliffhanger ending, feels much more like an episode of television (a visually pleasing and expensive one at that) than an actual film.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug picks up with Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and company still being hunted down by Azog (Manu Bennett) and his band of orcs. Even if they are to outrun them to Mirkwood Forest, the company still has a long way to go before reaching Erebor and the greedy dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Gandalf may just have a dangerous journey of his own with the return of a powerful villain becoming more and more apparent. The film is directed by Peter Jackson and is writing by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro (still getting credited for his work when this project was originally to be directed by him).
When all is said and done this will clearly be the film that sticks out from the other five in the series, and not all of that is for good reasons. The plot format of this film is so distinctly different from any of the other Middle-earth films. This film is more interested in setting up the political relations between the races in the film, and setting up characters for events they will encounter in the third and final film. That’s not even mentioning that this film just stops in the middle of multiple plotlines with no real endings. Even The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers had the great speech by Sam that tied all of the plotlines together even if it did have a couple mild cliffhangers.
Another notable difference with this film is how much it sets itself apart from the book. Most of Jackson’s Middle-earth films have stayed pretty close to Tolkien’s books, but this film has very little in common plot-wise with Tolkien’s writings (the lone sequence that stays true to Tolkien’s book is the excellent Mirkwood Forest sequence). That being said most of the new additions work. The extra development of the characters in the Elven kingdom of Mirkwood and the human stronghold of Esgaroth does wonders for the film. Meanwhile, the much maligned-addition of the she-elf Tauriel by Tolkien purists ends up being one of the best things about the film. Evangeline Lilly was the clear weak link in Lost so it was a surprise to see her not only give an improved performance but a legitimately great performance as she brings so much youthful energy to Tauriel.
While The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is quite the fun film it still doesn’t feel like a complete film.