Film Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Reviewed by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen. Directed by Peter Jackson.

[Stars: 4.5/5]

Every good story has a beginning, middle and an end. That’s primary school English 101, right? Well that might be true, but the second film in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is all middle.

It’s the middle child. It’s the awkward middle car seat. It’s the vanilla in a tub of neapolitan ice cream! Okay… perhaps I went too far with that analogy. It’s three hours of action without a start and end, but that’s alright. Jackson still has us eating out of his hand, and The Desolation of Smaug is an excellent sequel.

The first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey was a rather drawn-out affair, and started the story of Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) and his group of not-so-merry dwarves, who march across New Zealand – sorry – Middle-earth to reclaim their home. Erebor is now occupied by a gold-loving and well-spoken dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, in what must be his 119th film role for 2013).

I hadn’t seen the first instalment since it was released, and my memory of the way it wrapped up was that the travellers were almost at Lonely Mountain. Not so. The majority of The Desolation of Smaug chronicles the (continued) journey to the mountain, until the action reaches a climax – meeting a very ferocious and awake Smaug.

This instalment doesn’t drag on (sorry)

The action of this film moves a lot swifter than the first. There’s encounters with orcs, bear-men, elves, spiders (enough gross-out to develop arachnophobia!), more orcs, and of course a dragon, all with some very clever sequences along the way. There’s a fabulous scene involving the dwarves and barrels in a river, although I was surprised to see Jackson used some shots from what seemed to be a GoPro camera.

There are a few noticeable differences with this film to the last that are worth mentioning.

The first is that Gandalf isn’t there to save the day anymore. One of my quibbles with An Unexpected Journey was that whenever Bilbo and Co would get themselves in strife, suddenly Gandalf would appear and all would be well again. In this film, he entrusts Bilbo with this task, and away he goes. In fact, where the wizard does appear seems just to fill a Gandalf quota. He doesn’t serve much of a purpose in this film at all.

Secondly, this film isn’t really about Bilbo. Dwarf troupe leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) is thrust into the spotlight for the most part, as parts of his history and family is revealed. It’s an interesting touch that certainly adds some depth to the tale.

Desolation and restoration

The city of Erebor lies in ruin, left desolate by Smaug, the dragon. Recently I heard a sermon that talked of a place left desolate in the Bible, and that place is Israel. The people had sinned against God, and due to his holiness he had no choice but to bring ruin upon them. But despite the desolation, we read a great promise in Ezekiel 36:33-36:

“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it.  They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.” Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’

The Lord makes an incredible promise to his people, and affirms that he will cleanse them from their sin, and will bring restoration. And as we continue reading in the Bible, we see that God sent his son Jesus to save us from our sin on the cross.

He is renewing all those who trust in Jesus and transforming them to be more like him. And one day, he will return to this world of ruin and sin to restore and make us new. Bilbo and friends are hoping to bring restoration to a city occupied by a dragon, but Jesus will restore all those who trust in him and take us to a place where we can dwell with God forever. It’s brilliant news.

While The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a strange film structurally, and does feel a little underwhelming by the way it ends, it’s a fantastic middle section of an exciting story. Do check it out. I’m giving it four-and-a-half out of five stars.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is screening now in cinemas everywhere.

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