"}
Film

The Hobbit

The Desolation of Smaug

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

If The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a single-serving tribute to the fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien book that inspired it, its follow up, The Desolation of Smaug, offers a nod to the uninitiated movie-going audiences that made a prequel trilogy possible.

Eschewing the kitchen-sink minutiae of the first installment (or maybe just having used all of it up) Peter Jackson creates a rousing, immersive sequel that offers the same sort of sweeping action—and more crucially, emotional engagement—that helped the Rings films become a cultural phenomenon, regardless whether you were familiar with the source material.

Picking up more or less immediately where the last one left off, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the band of dwarves led by would-be king Thorin (Richard Armitage) continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain. On the run from Azog (Manu Bennett), an Orc with a bloodlust for Thorin’s head, they flee into Mirkwood, where they are attacked by giant spiders until elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) intervene and subsequently imprison them.

Despite long-unresolved animosity between most dwarves and elves, Tauriel discovers an unexpected bond with one of them, Kili (Aidan Turner), even as Bilbo plots an escape. Advancing closer to the Lonely Mountain with the help of a boatman named Bard (Luke Evans), Thorin hurries the group toward their destination, hoping to unlock its secrets and restore him to the throne. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) visits Dol Guldur to get a closer look at the mysterious Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch), only to discover an army forming to unleash the latter’s evil upon Middle Earth.

While the specificity of these destinations probably doesn’t mean much if you’re unfamiliar with Tolkien’s book—admittedly, I had to look a few of them up even after watching the film—Jackson unveils the second chapter in his trilogy with a clarity that should restore fans’ faith in his storytelling. As compelling as its mythology was, the Lord of the Rings films really found their footing when they uncovered the universal, relatable emotions that the characters experienced, and then applied that to the story and the action.

Where the first Hobbit was an expository slog that, quite frankly, failed to distinguish the dwarves from one another in the way it hoped to, this one narrows its focus on the “important” ones—Thorin and Kili—and establishes stakes that make us care as the rest of them fill in the background.

Additionally, Jackson (with co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro) creates a new character especially for the series, Tauriel, who might seem like one too many—especially given the indistinguishability of the dwarves. As it turns out, Tauriel gives the film an emotional core that reminds the audience that, even among dragons and elves and Orcs and dwarves, all of their feelings are completely human.

Of course, Jackson also stages the action in the film with considerable flair and imagination, creating in Smaug some of the best set pieces of any of his Tolkien adaptations. The centerpiece barrel chase is by far the most thrilling of these sequences, in which the dwarves flee their elven captors only to encounter Orcs, but in all of them Jackson finds time to include character details—such as the elf-hating Thorin saving Legolas’ life—that enhance their dramatic impact.

Then, of course, there’s Smaug himself, a spectacularly rendered creature with more than enough gravitas to give this film’s final act real impact. In fact, the film’s only real shortcoming is its acquiescence to middle-chapter–itis; like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Desolation of Smaug ends abruptly at the exact moment when you most want to see what happens next.

Nevertheless, it’s triumphantly engaging in a way that rivals Jackson’s magnificent Two Towers—and best of all, it makes you eager to see the next film in a way that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey didn’t. Powerful and provocative, The Desolation of Smaug not only surpasses its predecessor but also stands on its own; where Journey took material audiences thought they knew and made it feel foreign, this one creates a uniquely original experience that also feels securely familiar.

SVCR Don McLean
More Film...
Human Rights
New documentary focuses human rights film festival

For 17 years, the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival has explored far corners of the world, documenting injustice and hardship, but always with a bittersweet tang that the human spirit will endure and in some cases triumph. The festival’s overarching message is that we must approach…

more »
Neruda
Of history and legend

The conflicting forces that shape the Chilean national identity have been an overarching theme in the work of Pablo Larrain, whether it’s the festering chaos and violence of the Pinochet regime in Tony Manero, Post Mortem, and No, or the moral bankruptcy of the Catholic church in The…

more »
Julieta
A mother’s love

Julieta is a departure for the great Pedro Almodovar. There’s not a laugh in it. Instead, there is an engrossing story about a mother’s fractured relationship with her daughter, seen through a long arc, from conception to—well, you have to see the film to find out.

Is lack of humor a…

more »
Events
Today
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Community Coffee and Tea

9:00am|East Whatcom Regional Resource Center

Ukulele for Everyone

4:00pm|Everson Library

Garden Design Class

4:00pm|Blaine Library

Handmade Pasta Class

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Kombucha and Kefir

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Frankie Gavin

6:30pm|Leopold Crystal Ballroom

Unsettlers

7:00pm|Village Books

Nothing simple about it

7:00pm

Mike Allen Quartet

7:00pm|Unity Spiritual Center

Panty Hoes

9:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

MBT Rovers Trove
Tomorrow
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Incognito

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Pasta Faves

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Between Two Worlds

7:30pm|Make.Shift Art Space

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Bellingham Technical College
Friday
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Interurban Trail

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Magnolia Street and Cornwall Avenue

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Whatcom Humane Society Wine Social

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

And I Remember

7:00pm|Village Books

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

International Guitar Night

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

James Hunter Six

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Borealis Wind Quintet

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »

IGN Cascadia Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books Bellingham Farmer’s Market Bellingham Technical College Northwood Steak and Crab Trove