Review: 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' thrilling

Rating

4 Stars4/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:53 PM ET

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will absolutely thrill fans of Middle-earth and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings universe.

But it will also drive them nuts with the cliffhanger twist that so abruptly ends this elaborate movie. At previews, when audiences saw what was happening, and then did not happen, people audibly expressed their shock. That included gasps, groans and shouts of "Arrrgh!" This is the curse of most second films in a trilogy. Directors save the best for last.

The "last" will not be here for another year. The finale, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, is set for Dec. 17, 2014. The prequel trilogy to The Lord of the Rings will finally be complete (except for the extended version).

In every way, The Desolation of Smaug is superior to the first instalment in The Hobbit series. It gets into the action much quicker. It is both funnier and darker, depending on the sequence you are watching. Jackson's storytelling is cleaner and crisper.

On a technical level, the dragon Smaug is absolutely fabulous as a CGI creation, demonstrating how far digital special effects have evolved since Jackson released The Lord of the Rings from 2001 through 2003. Andrew Lesnie's cinematography is glorious in re-creating Middle-earth locales amid New Zealand landscapes. The visual effects are astounding. The sound (except for some odd tonal changes in Gandalf's dialogue) and Howard Shore's classic music gives the visuals their aural resonance. The final song, Ed Sheeran's I See Fire, is intriguing.

Jackson also develops his core characters more truly, madly, deeply, especially Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Stott), Kili (Aidan Turner), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) , Thranduil (Lee Pace) and Bard (Luke Evans). Plus key villains such as Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) and, of course, the dragon Smaug and The Necromancer (with Benedict Cumberbatch contributing to both creatures). Glimpses of uber-evil, whether it is Sauron as a flame or a dark cloud of malevolence that assaults Gandalf, are also wonderfully terrifying.

As with the first film, J.R.R. Tolkien's original children's novel has been used as a template but then freely expanded and manipulated. That was necessary in order to fill out the story for three sophisticated, adult films. The Desolation of Smaug continues Bilbo's mission as The Burglar seconded to a party of Dwarves. Their goal is to enter the lair of Smaug, where he sleeps in golden treasures at the Dwarves' ancestral home, Erebor.

First our heroes must contend with unfriendly Woodland Elves, hideous Orcs, man-eating spiders, suspicious humans and all manner of physical and emotional challenges. Along this expected journey are unexpected delights, too, whether it is an unique romance or the chance to show off their prowess with sword, axe, spear and bow.

A fantastical battle which takes place in barrels and on the banks of a raging river is one of the most incredible action sequences Jackson has ever executed. That is long before we even get to Smaug and his desolation. The 161-minute film is electrically alive from beginning to end.

Finally, though, we do get to that frustrating cliffhanger -- and you will just have to wait another year to see what happens.

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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