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The Desolation of Smaug: Fulfilling the Role, Establishing the Benchmark
Throughout its intense action sequences and looming darkness, The Desolation of Smaug fulfills its role as the sequel to An Unexpected Journey. The film builds with the proper amount of dreadfulness in plot development until it climaxes with the introduction of the much-anticipated Smaug. The mood of this installment is darker and more serious (there are no songs this time) than the previous one, which fits its title and fulfills its preludial role for The Battle of the Five Armies.
The CGI crispness that was lacking in the first film was bountifully present in the second. The orcs and settings looked as realistic as our current technology allows. The CGI added a large degree of realism to the action sequences as well.
Speaking of action sequences, I have been thoroughly impressed with the amount of magic in these two films, especially in Desolation. In contrast to The Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf darkens a room, blocks a blow from a Balrog and duels Saruman in a special-effect-less battle of telekinesis, Gandalf’s powers are explicit in An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. Most notably, his battle with the Necromancer/Sauron in the second installment is superb. The cinematography of this duel alone trumps every other instance in all the other films where Gandalf uses magic. The intense conflict between light and darkness, which is present in all films from Middle Earth, is powerfully depicted in this epic sequence.
For viewers who may get bored from the extensive screen-time of Lake-town (Esgaroth), the last hour of the film greatly satisfies. Smaug himself is the pinnacle of contemporary CGI. When I heard that The Hobbit was going to be made into a film, my first thought was, “They better not mess Smaug up!” I saw no fault in the beloved dragon, especially when the talented Benedict Cumberbatch voiced the beast.
Although there are a few hiccups with this film’s continuity with the novel earlier on, this film does a great job at the interplay between Bilbo and Smaug near the end. The dialogue between the tiny Hobbit and gargantuan dragon is bound to make any audience enjoy the show. It is humorously creepy, with a hint of impending doom--just like the novel.
In addition, the continuity established with The Lord of the Rings was satisfying, albeit the necessary inclusion of new elements (although they were already present in An Unexpected Journey), such as Radagast, the Necromancer and the Ring-Wraiths. After completing The Desolation of Smaug, we now know that the necromancer is Sauron and that he has summoned the Ring-Wraiths; we now have a little prelude to the former trilogy. Coupled with the previous film of the franchise, Desolation continues the legacy of The Lord of the Rings in establishing the benchmark for the fantasy genre.
There was no need for including the she-elf, Tauriel, into the story, unless there was a need to be as sexually balanced as possible in such a masculinely-charged movie. Either that or she was included to make the ever-popular love triangle (Twilight, anyone?) present in this film. This love triangle lagged the story down and hogged screen time that could have been used to develop other, more important, elements. If they wanted a love story in the film, they should have used it with Bard because his role would foster a sense of anticipation and suspense if a woman were involved--certainly more so than Legolas’ role.
The pace of the film was disheartening. It may be reminiscent of our culture, but the film seems to be too caffeinated. There is such haste to the story and it leaves The Hobbit fans behind. However, this is just another illustration of how books are different from films and how they each bring something wholly different to the table. For instance, there was so much potential with developing the agonizing tedium of Mirkwood and the character of Beorn, but these two opportunities were raced by to get to the Elves, Lake-town and the dragon (the film's extended edition does remedy this concern somewhat).
Perhaps it was necessary, but the sojourn at Lake-town lasted too long. I understand that Lake-town is the setting that opens Five Armies, so for that reason alone, it makes sense to establish it with the extensive screen time in this film. Still, it was the dullest setting in the whole film and it made me feel sick (perhaps this was Jackson's intentions, though). Tolkien’s drawing of the town portrays it as a far neater and cleaner establishment than the ramshackle mess that appears in the film. The filth of Lake-town did foster a unique canvas for the characterization of Bard and the adversaries of his subplot. Nevertheless, I would have liked to see a depiction that was more congruent with Tolkien's vision.
Lake-town in Tolkien's mind
Although there are pitfalls, as is the case with any film that has been adapted from a novel, The Desolation of Smaug exceeds expectations. The dragon and impending darkness gives this second installment the proper atmosphere for The Battle of the Five Armies, where, as the chapter in the novel suggests, the clouds will burst.
I eagerly await the third installment of The Hobbit, our last presentation from Middle Earth. I'm sure of this franchise's ability to enrapture audiences in years to come as it peeks into Tolkien's fantasy, Just like The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is sure to be a benchmark of the fantasy genre.