“What’s that?” asks Bilbo Baggins, who is staring at a carving. Balin responds, “That is the Arkenstone.” Bilbo asks, “And what is it?” Thorin Oakenshield responds, “That, Master Burglar, is why you are here.”
I had reasonable expectations for how Peter Jackson’s first entry in The Hobbit trilogy might turn out. I enjoyed 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey very much, and was looking forward to the second installment with even more anticipation. A brief glimpse of the dragon called Smaug was offered at the end of the previous film, and fans would finally get to see J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous dragon brought to life in its entirety in the new film (the confrontation between Bilbo and Smaug was probably the film’s most anticipated scene). I got to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug when it came out last year, and I watched it in HFR 3D (high frame rate 3D), which was quite an experience. Watching it at 48 frames per second (instead of the standard 24 fps) felt surreal, reminding me of live theater (but instead of being on stage, the production is on location and the camera movements make you almost feel as if you’re there with the characters.
2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug follows Bilbo Baggins along his journey with Thorin Oakenshield and the band of dwarves as they continue to make their way to Erebor to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom. They have to contend with orcs and goblins, as well as some elves and, of course, Smaug the dragon. Gandalf also continues his investigation into the possible return of the dark lord Sauron. While the primary focus of the screenplay by Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens is the dwarves’ quest to reach Erebor, it shows Bilbo’s growth as a character. Bilbo displays growing acts of courage along the way, helping the dwarves escape from giant spiders, elves, and even confronting Smaug in his effort to find the Arkenstone (Bilbo also gradually realizes how dark an influence the One Ring is starting to have on him but still reluctantly uses it when he absolutely needs to). One of the new additions that wasn’t in Tolkien’s novel was the character of Tauriel, a female elf who serves as King Thranduil’s Chief of Guards and eventually falls in love with the dwarf Kili.
Jackson’s returning cast is in fine form once again: Martin Freeman (as Bilbo), Ian McKellan (as Gandalf), Richard Armitage (as Thorin), Graham McTavish (as Dwalin), Ben Stott (as Balin), Aidan Turner (as Kili), Dean O’Gorman (as Fili), Mark Hadlow (as Dori), Jed Brophy (as Nori), Adam Brown (as Ori), John Callen (as Oin), Peter Hambleton (as Gloin), William Kircher (as Bifur), James Nesbitt (as Bofur), Stephen Hunter (as Bombur), Sylvester McCoy (as Radagast the Brown), Manu Bennett (as Azog the Defiler), Lee Pace (as Thranduil), Cate Blanchett (as Galadriel), and Benedict Cumberbatch (as the Necromancer and Smaug). New additions to the cast include Evangeline Lilly (as Tauriel), Luke Evans (as Bard), Stephen Fry (as the Master of Lake-Town), Mikael Persbrandt (as Beorn), Lawrence Makoare (as Bolg, Azog’s son), and Orlando Bloom (as Legolas, Thranduil’s son), reprising his role from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Stephen Colbert and his family also make cameos as Lake-Town spies.
Jackson’s direction is top-notch once again, as is Andrew Lesnie’s beautiful cinematography and Dan Hennah’s production design (the inside of Erebor was just incredible). The makeup design by Peter King, Rick Findlater, and Richard Taylor was superb, as were the costume designs by Taylor, Bob Buck, and Ann Maskrey. Weta’s Oscar-nominated special effects deliver the goods once more (my two favorite action sequences were the river battle and the dwarves’ battle with Smaug inside Erebor). Jabez Olssen’s editing moves the film at a good pace and shines especially during the action sequences. Howard Shore delivers another fine score, briefly revisiting his hobbit motif while adding new motifs (the one for Smaug was my favorite of the new ones). The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a terrific second part in The Hobbit trilogy and another fine addition to The Lord of the Rings franchise (how this installment ends surprised even me). The Hobbit series continues to be adventurous, humorous, dramatic, and slowly foreshadow later events in The Lord of the Rings.