I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Wednesday night in a preview screening. This enables two things: that I can post a quick review of it the day it is officially released; and that I can brag about seeing it before you.
TDOS is better than AUJ in that it doesn’t have to bother setting anything up. After a quick flashback to Thorin’s initial meeting with Gandalf in Bree, we are dumped right into the action. The film has a good pace and nothing feels stretched. Peter Jackson proves again a deft director of all the grand scale and complicated action sequences. The barrel-riding scene is pretty exhilarating, even with some silliness.
The movie deviates a lot from the original novel, as Azog and his orcs become more and more involved. Dol Guldur and the Necromancer are also explored much more thoroughly. If you hated all of that in the first film, you’ll dislike it even more in this one. To that, I say you’re an idiot.
This film is much darker than the first. There are no dwarven sing-a-longs or wise-cracking trolls. Knowing what’s going to happen in the third, I imagine that pattern not changing. It will tie in nicely to the LOTR trilogy and the War of the Ring. That is not to say that it isn’t funny. Martin Freeman continues to kill it as Bilbo. The man has perfect comedic timing.
A few things I truly enjoyed about the film:
The expansion of the Laketown storyline. Bard the Bowman is a cardboard character in the novel with little dialogue. Now he is a father who worries about his children’s safety with legitimate doubts about the dwarves reclaiming their homeland.
The Necromancer. WETA absolutely nailed the look. This ethereal, constantly changing, not fully-formed entity is menacing and a perfect reveal.
Smaug. Benedict Cumberbatch was a perfect voice for the dragon. He is immense, cunning, and terrifying. He is everything I imagined. WETA deserves all the awards.
Tauriel. Tolkien purists will balk, as she is a complete fabrication of Peter Jackson. However, I thought her mindset and attitude were a breath of fresh air for Middle Earth. Much like Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings, she is strong-minded and thinks for herself. I think she will be very important for Legolas’ character development.
Middle Earth politics. I enjoyed all the resentment and distrust between races and people. The elves and the dwarves hating and distrusting each other. The people of Laketown’s general unhappiness with life after the fall of Erebor. There is so much animosity lurking under the surface. It’s nice to see that visualized knowing what is coming in the future for Middle Earth.
The One Ring’s effect on Bilbo. It’s not just a magic trinket in this story. You can see the effect it has on the young hobbit.
The spiders’ language. They came up with quite a clever way to have them talk as they do in the novel.
The film ends on a cliffhanger, which I also love. Though I can certainly already hear all the groans once it cuts to black. A year-long wait for the third film, There and Back Again, is going to be a test in patience.