Christmas is no more! The period formerly known as Christmastime has now been annexed by the potent combination of Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkein. No more will we eat Christmas puddings, sing carols, and watch the Queen’s speech (shush). Instead we will have second breakfast (and elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper…), sing about dungeons deep and caverns old, and watch reruns of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.
Or not. But we do have another Hobbit film to enjoy.
The decision to chop a fairly small children’s book up into a hefty three-part epic, but the An Unexpected Journey was quite good. Leaving aside the complaints about length (It’s a Peter Jackson film under three hours! It’s practically a short!), it was entertaining and a lot of fun.
But that was a year ago. Things are much more serious now, and I must gird my loins and turn my reviewer’s eyes on the second Hobbit film:
The Revenge of the Cumber-dragon The Desolation of Smaug.
But before we even get started on the film itself, we need to have a little chat about pronunciation. Smaug. The film insists on pronouncing it Sm-ow-g (central sound to rhyme with now). This is incorrect. It should be pronounced Sm-or-g (to follow, for example, the au part of author). I don’t know if this was a dare or Peter Jackson lost a bet, but it’s damned annoying.
(But interestingly — or not — in phonetics the dipthong /au/ is pronounced to rhyme with now. And if the title of the film was The Desolation of Sm/au/g then I might let it slide. But it isn’t. So I won’t.)
Pronunciation issues aside, though, the film is fantastic. Picking up a little while after being dropped off by eagles at the end of An Unexpected Journey, the Dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo are still running away from orcs and wargs. A series of antics bring them through elves, shapeshifters and barrels to the foot of the Lonely Mountain, amid a truckload of not-unfounded concern about whether they should be waking the sleeping dragon.
So this is the film where we finally get to see the dragon which Peter Jackson went to great lengths to avoid showing us in An Unexpected Journey‘s prologue. And, of course, it is voiced by the omnipresent Bombadil Wafflesmack*. He does a good job, his rumbling tones befiting a stunningly realised titan of a dragon. I do wonder whether it had to be Rinkydink Cuckooclock* though; yes, his cut glass accent is fitting, but surely any rumbley-voiced actor could have sufficed?
Martin Freeman continues to impress as Bilbo, though The Desolation of Smaug focuses less exclusively on the titular Hobbit. We spend a good deal of time with Gandalf, as he comes face to face with the Necromancer in a special-effect laden wizard battle which doesn’t quite outdo the Balrog fight of the Lord of the Rings. We also spend time with the elves.
Now, I liked the elves here. Jackson added a character in Evangeline Lily’s Tauriel, which trod on some toes, and got Legolas in on the act too. But it’s the duology of Tauriel with Lee Pace’s Thranduil which hits the spot. In the Lord of the Rings I felt the elves were a bit removed, more Vulcan than how I had always imagined the eldar. Thranduil is clearly a mite…unstable, with his melty-faced shrieking, whereas Tauriel is emotional conscience made flesh.
The middle film of a trilogy always runs the risk of lacking completion, but The Desolation of Smaug feels very well-balanced. Bilbo’s growing confidence is matched with Thorin’s internal battle between his own compassion and sense of responsibilty, and the overwhelming pull of a lifelong desire within his reach. The final scene of Bonaparte Nottinghill’s* CGI-ed cumberdragon heading off to Dale to wreck some shit is a fitting ending, and sets up what hopefully will be an epic conclusion to Bilbo and company’s story.
*All substitute Butawhiteboy Cantbekhan names courtesy of the Benedict Cumberbatch name generator.