Out of the three movies, this was the one I was looking forward too. From the trailers I knew that it had the first confrontation with Smaug but I also knew that it included the famous barrel escape and also the confrontation with the spiders. This was the movie I was waiting for.
I wasn’t disappointed. The first set-piece to be ticked-off my list was the spiders. I have written about how creepy I find spiders and how well they have been used before and my favourite part of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was the confrontation with Shelob but this is done brilliantly. The spiders are creepy, the webs fantastic and the whole sequence is perfectly scary.
A little while later, we finally get the second best part of the movie – the barrel chase. This has been developed further than we know of in the books and is probably improved for the screen because of it. Rather than being passive passengers, locked in the barrels, they are involved in an epic chase, with arrows, clubs and some great mini-sequences within it.
In fact, the whole barrel chase is a perfect example of what Peter Jackson does best. He can deliver some fantastic set-pieces, telling small stories in amongst the chaos. From Legolas riding dwarfs to one Bombur fighting his way through orcs, there is plenty to see and not a moment spared.
The same can be said for the final moments of the movie. Smaug is, again, the perfect embodiment of the creature from the books. He is slowly built and foreshadowed but never over-exaggerated. His voice, provided by Benedict Cumberbatch, is the perfect fit for such a terrifying creature. The whole sequence involving him and Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins is captured perfectly and engrossing too.
It helps that Freeman is the best part of the whole movie. His Baggins is still as courageous and charming but with an added depth of darkness that is coming into play. The inclusion of the Ring and it’s foreshadowing to future movies is done well, with that signature tune used to perfection.
Unfortunately, the same criticisms lie in this movie as they did the previous one. Fantastic moments aside, the parts in between feel convoluted and self-indulgent. There is a lot of the “other-story” that Jackson is trying to tell, trying to plug a gap between this trilogy and his new one that isn’t necessary. It means that I’m left wondering what else can be told in the final film, and knowing what I know from the books, what parts will actually be relevant to the original story this movie is based on.
Overall, The Desolation of Smaug is a huge improvement on the first movie. It has the best parts of the books, with the spiders, barrel chase and the final moments with the titular dragon. It is still too long though and filled with moments that don’t feel necessary when the book is shorter than just one of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)