Welcome back to Middle Earth! “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is hitting shelves and if you didn’t take the return trip to the land of Dwarves, Hobbits and Elves, you definitely should make travel arrangements. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkein’s beloved classics. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is forever on my watch list and have firmly planted themselves atop my favorite movie list. “The Hobbit” trilogy looks to stand right with it.
Jackson’s choice to stretch the initial story out over three movies was met with a lot of eye rolling and heavy sighs. Obviously it’s being done for money but it’s being done to flesh the story out as well. After the success of the books, all of Tolkein’s works were finished and turned into lost and ancillary works, filling in the gaps of Middle Earth history that didn’t appear in the “Appendix of Lord of the Rings.” Jackson has used these works to fill in gaps during the story of the Hobbit. Much like setting the fight with the spider Shelob in “Return of the King” instead of in “Two Towers” because that’s when it happened chronologically, Jackson is showing us things in “The Hobbit” that were only mentioned in passing.
The story picks up directly after the end of the last film, with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan), Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his company of Dwarves on the run from Azog (Manu Bennett) and his Warg riding Orcs. A brief reprieve leads them into a series of unfortunate events that include getting lost in Mirkwood Forrest, encountering giant spiders, antagonistic Elves, and opportunistic men, before eventually finding their way to their destination — the Lonely Mountain and the kingdom of Erebor. Oh and a dragon named Smaug makes an appearance.
Everyone does a great job in this film. Even the Dwarves that don’t get much to say get to show just enough personality to remind us they are individuals. Luke Evans joins the cast as the brooding Bard of Laketown, and Stephen Fry shows up as the slimy Master of Laketown. Orlando Bloom gets to reprise his role as a younger, but less friendly Legolas, aided by Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. But it’s Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug that really steals the show. I say Cumberbatch played the dragon because he didn’t just voice him, they did performance capture and it shows. The scenes with Smaug and Bilbo are just so entertaining.
“Desolation of Smaug” is a truly beautiful film. If anyone has a 3D TV this movie was made for it. In 3D the depth is absolutely stunning and things really do pop out at you, and backgrounds are breathtaking. Two scenes in particular stand out — one about halfway through the film when Bilbo peaks his head above the treetops of Mirkwood to get a better vantage point, and the other when Smaug first rises out of the treasure within the halls of Erebor. The depth within the halls is quite impressive and it makes Bilbo seem even smaller. As usual the special effects are top notch, and the action, though there isn’t as much as in “The Two Towers” is still fun and well done. And the ending was the exact spot to leave off on as it sets up the final climactic events for the third movie.
I need to take a trip to Middle Earth at some point. It’s on my bucket list. And yes I am well aware Middle Earth isn’t real, but before you go saying it’s all CGI, it’s not. It’s New Zealand! Long the site of many fantasy oriented shows like “Hercules,” “Xena,” and “Legend of the Seeker,” it is now the home of Middle Earth and a major aspect of tourism as shown on the second part of the “New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth, Part 2” special feature. It truly is a gorgeous place. Other features include on-set with Peter Jackson featurettes and production videos. The full behind the scenes features will arrive with the extended edition in the form of the Appendices.
If you’re a fan of Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkein’s books, there is no reason not to continue the journey through Middle Earth with “Desolation of Smaug,” even for a rental until the extended edition arrives.