“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is worth its weight in gold


While “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” begins just as abruptly as it ends, the 161 minute film fully engages its audience in the suspense and mystery of Middle Earth.

“The Hobbit” is a classic tale of brains over brawn. Journeying through the perils of their quest, the band of hapless dwarves and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), all less than half the size of a full-grown man, are not the most advantaged fighters. They argue, they stumble, and even the best laid plans fall to folly. But what the company lacks in execution, they make up for in creative ingenuity, thanks to thinkers like Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Bilbo. The blend of unorthodox travel and combat makes for exciting action, and The Hobbit succeeds as a timeless story of David versus Goliath.

At the apex of this quest is Bilbo, the so-called “master burglar” from the Shire. Freeman perfectly captures the calm and collected spirit of Bilbo, a hobbit who has no trouble thinking his way through problems. Mumbling and pacing with his peculiar, comical mannerisms, his character is a delight. The only fault was not giving him more time on screen.

Despite this, fans of the book may raise objections with the film. In trying to spread a 300 page book over three movies, director Peter Jackson transformed an otherwise concise novel into a lengthy trilogy. Numerous additions have been made to the original story, such as the character Tauriel, who is not found in Tolkien’s book. Though occasionally improving the film, the embellishments are often unnecessary and drag out the film.

Since audience members will be spending a long time in the theatre, it is fortunate that The Desolation of Smaug is a beautiful movie. The film was shot in 48 fps (frames per second), as opposed to the industry norm of 24 fps, and this helped reduce blur during intense action scenes and improved shot quality. Featuring sprawling forests and crumbling ruins, the latest trip to Middle Earth is no less easy on the eyes.

Unless, of course, one considers the snarling, boarish faces of the orcs. Though ugly, they demonstrate the graphical prowess of the movie; riding on beasts and crawling on rooftops, much of orc and other CGI characters flow seamlessly in the film.

The film’s graphics aren’t without fault, however. In particular, the river barrel scene simply runs aground with stylistic inconsistencies. Switching from hyper realistic shots reminiscent of Shark Week, to smooth, matted animations of orcs, the scene is incongruent. While detrimental, the stylistic blemishes don’t ruin the overall excellence of the film’s effects.

If modern PG-13 films are showing increasing amounts of violence, then “The Desolation of Smaug” certainly doesn’t fall short of this trend. With arrows shot through throats, skulls and even one fellow’s knee, the latest Hobbit film is packed with plenty of combat. Just don’t take the kids to it; there were enough beheadings to make even Henry the Eighth squirm.

While this less than noble quest has its occasional graphical hiccups, the overall product is a classic Middle Earth adventure that will make fantasy fans all the more excited for “The Hobbit: There and Back Again.”

Grant Harrison
Commentary Editor