‘Hobbit’ sequel’s loquacious dragon slows down otherwise exciting storytelling
In “The Lord of the Rings” film series, it was hard to resist the sprawling mythology of Middle Earth and its merry mix of hobbits, dwarves, elves, wizards, orcs and humans imagined by JRR Tolkien, and created for the big screen with stunning detail by director Peter Jackson.
It has a lot of followers—after all, it is inspired by the second best-selling novel ever written (after Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”).
However, we must admit that we were a little underwhelmed by last year’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” because we expected more than just charm and perfunctory thrills from a franchise known for its scale, mythical grandeur, and edge-of-your-seat spectacle.
There’s more to like in “The Desolation of Smaug,” with Jackson upping the action ante and adding elements that make the series more accessible to “conventional” viewers.
Bilbo (Martin Freeman), the hobbit, is recruited by wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to help Thorin (Richard Armitage) and 12 other dwarves reclaim the Arkenstone heirloom and the treasure-filled Kingdom of Erebor from the wicked dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).
On the way to the Lonely Mountain, the group’s “side trips” are just as exciting: They have to convince Beorn, a shape-shifting skin-changer, to help them evade the orcs; avoid getting eaten by humongous spiders; escape incarceration at the kingdom of Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his Woodland elves; navigate the Forest River’s raging rapids inside barrels, and seek assistance from Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and the human residents of Lake-town!
Jackson thrives in the wondrous, new places he gets his beleaguered but brave heroes to sprint around. The orcs don’t do much, other than fall victim to the spears and arrows of various creatures who end up protecting the scruffy protagonists. Moreover, it doesn’t hurt that there’s more humor and colorful characters to keep viewers entertained.
No, you won’t see Gollum in the movie (Andy Serkis works behind the cameras, this time as an assistant director)—but, to keep the story livelier and more eventful, Jackson veers away from the book and introduces Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Thranduil’s female Chief of the Guards, as the love interest of dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and the swashbuckling prince of the elves, Legolas (Orlando Bloom)!
Before their Arthurian three-way can gather steam, however, we’re ushered into the lair of Smaug, portrayed with menacing arrogance and sophistication by Cumberbatch.
Unfortunately, the pace of the production halts to an unnecessary stretch when the fire-breathing creature is inexplicably made to deliver protracted dialogue that slows down the film’s storytelling.
Hearing the 37-year-old British actor deliver the line, “I am Fire, I am Death,” with sinister relish and foreboding is one thing—but, to have the loquacious dragon hem and haw tirelessly over the dwarves’ unsolicited visit is enough to make the impatient viewer in front of us quip, “Just shut up and breathe fire!”
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