reviewed by Tom-Tom
After the somewhat disappointing first film, I put off watching the second until rentals were cheap enough. I’m happy to say that The Desolation of Smaug is a fine improvement thanks to a familiar face in the form of Legolas and a constant on the run sense of suspense. This time around, the non-canon “improvements” are more fun and linear with the story rather than over the top like that absolutely unnecessary show-down at the end of “An Unexpected Journey.” Bilbo here seems at bit like a side character save for the adventures with the spiders and meeting the eponymous dragon. Of particular delight was the barrel scenes which were just silly and impractical in the books. Here they are an incredible chase scene peppered with dwarf acrobatics we know the characters are capable of after seeing their dexterous antics in the beginning of the “Journey.” Tolkien himself never really fleshed out those dwarven skills himself in the story as he had no real idea at the time how big the world would become. Bard, the Man of Dale who gets only enough a paragraph of introduction in the novel before shooting his famous arrow, gets a thorough grounding as a character here but not to excess. Stephen Fry joins the cast as the corrupt drunkard Master of Dale and Ryan Gage as his Wormtongue-like chief of staff Aldrid, who adopts a fitting simpering to superior, condescending to “inferiors” policy. Along this journey, Gandalf visits the lair of the Necromancer who turns out to be, gasp, none other than, GASP…I’ll leave you to figure it out. The conversations with Smaug, which were so fun to read in the book are a bit overdone here. The great part about Bilbo’s encounter with Smeagol in the first film was that, although it was almost word for word with the passage in the book, it was pitch perfect. They have tried that here to great effect but no, we get more excess, crumbling turrets, cogs, mining equipment, dragon fire etc all narrowly, ever so NARROWLY missing our heroes. I wouldn’t have minded a preemptive death of at least one of the characters destined to perish in the final chapter of this overblown trilogy, if only to make the danger real. I give the writers credit for mortally wounding at least one of them to make us care and hype up the suspense. The special effects are strikingly beautiful from the spider forest to Beorn’s barn, to Dale and the Lonely Mountain. Everything looks superb and in the end, I have to admit, it was a fun adventure with elements ending such as to lead us to anticipate the “Battle of the Five Armies”. In the book, as Bilbo is knocked out for most of it, it is will be interesting to see what happens while he was sleeping.