Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

HobbitDesolationSmaug The middle section of the trilogy made out of JRR Tolkien’s rather modest book hit cinemas around the world this week with a film clocking in at almost three hours.

After a brief prelude we start right at the point where the first film ended where the eagles had left them. The orcs are still on their trail but as Bilbo sneaks back to check on who’s following, he spies a giant bear added to the mix though Gandalf doesn’t seem too upset by this. He advises they head for the house of Beorn as fast as possible though. Unlike the book (and BBC radio adaption for that matter), there’s no attempt to introduce the dwarves in small groups. Instead they hit the door at full tilt and barely get it shut before the bear gets them. They do actually get to meet Beorn in human form but he’s less of a character in the film, though in the book Beorn’s place is more of a stopping point than a film could afford. As before, Gandalf buggers off when the dwarves reach the edge of Mirkwood. The journey through the wood was suitably spooky though the dwarves manage to lose the elf road on their own before being attacked by the spiders and the whole party is taken prisoner however temporarily; Bilbo getting free fairly quickly and while he does free the dwarves he doesn’t interact with the spiders after stabbing one and gaining a name for his sword. It takes the intervention of a hunting party of elves to drive off the spiders and then the dwarves are taken prisoners deep inside the Sindaran Elven halls with Bilbo making it in just in time. There’s a bit of faffing around as the elves search the dwarves for weapons and Legolas makes fun of Gloin’s family… Apart from Kili finding himself rather attracted to the elven warrior maid and some interplay between the elves high command on whether they should keep out of the world’s troubles this section remains fairly faithful to the book but is intercut with Gandalf travelling to a hidden grave along with Radagast to find it empty and their realisation of just who it is they’re facing. Meanwhile we’ve still got the orcs on the trail of the dwarves and planning an assault on the elves to get at them. Bilbo rescues the dwarves in the expected fashion. Also in the elven halls, Thorin starts his downward spiral as he throws back Thranduil’s offer of an elven army to accompany him to the Lonely Mountain. Now, in the film history Thorin’s got good reason to doubt the elven lord’s offer but this was a rather violent rejection all things considered. Just in case the dwarves journey down the river in their barrels wasn’t already exciting enough the orcs harry them from the bank and Tauriel and Legolas follow the party downstream – the orcs were a distraction in the first film and they intrude even more here. The dwarves finally make it to the lake where they’re picked up by the bargeman from Lake Town. In the book there were a couple and these were never named. Here it’s Bard, grandson of the former king of Dale, destroyed by Smaug, in much reduced circumstances. To fair to Peter Jackson Bard’s position in the book is rather ambiguous while this does give him a proper job. Thorin’s obsession continues to grow as the dwarves are forced to hide out in Bard’s as Kili’s wound grows worse. After a botched raid on the town’s armoury most of the dwarves are brought to the Master of the town where Thorin makes the sort of promises that you should know wouldn’t be kept. Bard shows a bit of the naysayer he was in the book but the Master and the people let themselves be bamboozled and the dwarves and Bilbo resume their journey to the Mountain – well, most of them anyway, four of the party remain at Bard’s where the orcs finally catch up and things look bleak until Legolas and Tauriel join the fray. Meanwhile Gandalf and Radagast travel to Dol Guldur to find it apparently abandoned. Gandalf is clearly not going to make the rendezvous by the remains of Dale and Thorin is getting ever more irritable as it looks like they’ll not get to the right place by the end of Durin’s Day (the time scale in the film, rather unlikely, has been somewhat compressed at this point).

Bilbo and the dwarves find where the hidden door should be but as the sun disappears below the horizon and nothing happens, they lose heart except for Bilbo who realises that the sun is not the only source of light that night (in the book it was the sun but the thrush was there in both). When it comes to searching the dwarven halls, the dwarves are a lot more active here, while they do eventually go underground in the book, it’s in response to an attack by Smaug. Here they follow on pretty promptly though it’s still Bilbo, fulfilling his contract, who enters the main hall, and I hope-to-ghu that most of that hoard was CGId – even as base metal or plastic you’d be talking an awfully large amount of coin. And then Smaug makes his appearance. Smaug was truly amazing and if his presence in the original book was a defining point for literary dragons I hope that his screen outing becomes the defining point of screen dragons though it did feel a bit cartoonish at times (here I ought to mention I saw the 2D version). The conflict between Smaug and the dwarves was pure film invention and the ultra-purists may object but while I do feel it went on too long I liked the way the production team used it to take a look at the industrial dwarf and the pure theatre of the gold statue in the final confrontation was (unlike the metal!) way cool. Throughout the latter part of film, the effect of Thorin’s obsession with the arkenstone in particular and the treasure in general was nicely effected.

Overall, this was a recognisable film and most of the expansion details added things to the film, especially in a universe where the Lord of the Ring trilogy exists. They use the Hobbit as a background and the original book of The Hobbit was written way before them with no thought of it being part of a continuing story. As a 12A, we got quite a few younger children (under 10) with their parents and the girls were well behaved while a couple of boys behind me got a little restive. My brother didn’t want to bring his girls (both in that under 10 range, just) due to the rating and the sheer length – two hours forty-one minutes for the film plus advert meant that the actual run time went to just over three hours (ouch!) giving me just enough time to get to my swimming lesson (thankfully the swimming pool’s just across the plaza from the cinema).