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Published January 2, 2014

There have been accusations that Sir Peter Jackson may have overextended himself when he decided to try and stretch Tolkien’s children’s book The Hobbit into three full-length films. And, despite the success that was achieved through the inclusion of material outside of the book (drawn from a mixture of Tolkien’s notes about the mythology of Middle-Earth) in the first part of the trilogy, in The Desolation of Smaug, things become bogged down.

The entire thing felt unfinished, without any real resolution. Although there was some attempt at some character development, it felt a little underdeveloped. The inclusion of Tauriel (Evangaline Lilly), a non-canon character, could have been handled slightly better, while Gandalf’s (Sir Ian McKellen) story was also quite short and underdeveloped.

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However, the negative elements of the film are contrasted by the spectacular and wonderfully executed parts of the film, such as Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), which is easily one of the most brilliant depictions of a dragon in film. In addition, the Wood Elves were handled well, with some brilliant acting and some even more fantastic special effects. All in all, The Desolation of Smaug felt long and dragged out, but in most ways, it was a fairly solid middle film in The Hobbit trilogy.

The Desolation of Smaug felt like a movie cut in half. Probably because of the cliff-hanger ending, it is the only film in the entire series so far (in both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) that has had such a dramatic ending. Most of the others had some form of emotional speech, which normally went with an equally moving score (such as Frodo saving Sam and reaffirming their friendship at the end of Fellowship of the Ring). It was not only the conclusion that made the film feel slightly unresolved – most of the plot threads that were picked up during the film were left hanging on similar threads. Subplots such as Legolas’ and Tauriel’s orc hunt, Gandalf’s imprisonment in the Necromancer’s tower, and Azog’s quest for revenge were all left up in the open.

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On top of that, a romance between Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel was introduced. Altogether, it was a little bit muddled, and the extra storylines did dilute the original plot greatly. Another important thing to note is that the film has a very different feel from the book. The darker elements in the film, as well as the darkening of scenes such as the men in Dale make the entire thing feel very removed from Tolkien’s original target audience. While the darkness does add a certain level of gravitas that the book certainly didn’t have, the loss of the childish feel does detract from the film, as sometimes it can be a little overbearing.

There is humour of course, especially coming from Steven Fry’s character as Master of Laketown, who is pompous and greedy, with typical patrician haughtiness. Bombor’s barrel antics are also something quite hilarious, especially when he squishes some unfortunate orcs. In regards to the plot and feel of the film however, the unresolved nature, combined with the very dark nature of the film, make it not quite as a stellar entry as An Unexpected Journey or the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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There is some controversy over the inclusion of a non-canon character, the captain of the Mirkwood guard Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly. As a she-elf, she was naturally going to get some flack, but she manages to initially have a fantastic impression: a strong, brave warrior. Whilst she is the object of Legolas’ affection, she is very much aware that they can never be together, because of their different classes and her own seeming disinterest. However, like Arwen in the Lord of the Rings, despite her strong start, she becomes graudually less interesting, instead being part of a romance, which was disappointing.

Another character who diminished was Radagast (Sylvester McCoy). Although he started off as a rather whimsical (and stoned) hippie wizard, he had some spectacular moments in An Unexpected Journey. In this, he becomes a simple side-kick to Gandalf, who has a small side-plot. That being said, the other characters are all quite strong, and all of them were fantastically acted. Thorin especially had some cool character development, although it would have been nice to properly establish the fact that Fili and Kili are actually related to him – a fact that becomes relevant later on in the film. Bilbo too has some amazing moments, and Martin Freeman’s acting is superb, especially in the confrontation with Smaug.

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Speaking of Smaug, the dragon is easily the best flying reptile to grace the silver screen. Although some of the computer generated scenes could get a bit much, the Lonely Mountain and the seas of gold were spectacular to behold. It was also thrilling to watch the dynamics of the dragon and the dwarves, and eerie to behold the interactions between Bilbo and the beast. In fact, if it wasn’t for Smaug, the film would have been considerably less appealing. Although there is some definitely questionable physics, the entire Lonely Mountain sequence was fantastic and it will be thrilling indeed to see more of Smaug in the upcoming movie. As an aside on the graphics, although the Lonely Mountain sequence was well done, sometimes some of the other scenes felt a little bit too graphics saturated, and often were a little distracting (a giant golden sculpture of a dwarf king melting into a molten gold river, really?). Although it is a huge compliment to Sir Peter and his attention to details, sometimes those little details could become a little overwhelming. That being said, they were very, very well done, especially watching the film in 3D.

As a small aside, the entire Necromancer storyline was quite disappointing. Small, and although poignant for Lord of the Rings (no spoilers here, but it is fairly interesting for the backstory), all the scenes that revolved around that storyline were basically Gandalf looking concerned and waving his staff around. Also, it was a tad annoying that the identity of the Necromancer was revealed before the mystery was really explored. Oh well, we can only assume that more will come of this in the final part of the trilogy.

In conclusion, The Desolation of Smaug was a little disappointing for a Tolkien fan, at least until Smaug showed up. Despite the appearance of new characters, and some pretty awesome action sequences, the plot did feel a little padded out, and dragged a little bit more than the Lord of the Rings and An Unexpected Journey. The humour in the film was a little too sparse and a little bit adult to be a faithful adaption of a book for children. Certainly, the acting was splendid, and a lot of the characters, whilst some were disappointing, were well done (Thorin, Bilbo and the Elf King of Mirkwood especially). Whilst it was a tad disappointing, those who enjoy the Lord of the Rings universe will certainly be excited for the final instalment of the trilogy at the end of 2014.

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