A Human Journey

Film review: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug (Director: Peter Jackson)

By Sascha Krieger

And so the journey continues. With The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson has now presented the middle part of his trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. A difficult task as it has to serve as a bridge between the beginning and the end of the story but also be capable of standing on its own. In his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson decided to narrow the view, focus on key episodes and thus offer a contrast from the panoramic vision of parts one and three. Still, The Two Towers was arguably the weakest installment of the series. This time, Jackson again departs from the style and focus of the first part: Whereas there he adopted a much slower pace, allowed scenes to play out for as long as they could and chose a much more comical as well as fairy-tale like tone, he now gets down to business. The Desolation of Smaug is faster, narratively tighter and way more serious than An Unexpected Journey. Thus, it is much closer to The Lord of the Rings.

As it is meant to be. Much more so than I the first part, Jackson adds characters and storylines not in the book that serve one purpose mostly: embed the adventure tale in a darker, larger one, an approaching battle of good and evil. So the film basically tells two stories: that of the company of dwarves and a hobbit to reclaim the old dwarf kingdom from a dragon and the buildup to the events of the earlier trilogy. For much of the film the two strands run parallel to each other, but Jackson succeeds, as it goes on, to atmospherically intertwine them, lifting the adventure tale to a battle in a much bigger war. This does not go without some arm twisting and results in a not entirely consistent film but it works better and better as it progresses, suddenly infusing the smaller story with an importance it might not have had before.

As the tale gets more serious, so do the characters, first and foremost hobbit Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman. His is a true coming-of-age story (despite his advanced age), enfolding like a Bildungsroman. It is fascinating to watch Freeman subtly add muscle and courage to his character, augment the comfort-loving Bilbo with a maturity he did not have in the first firm. For this is still a story of the most unlikely of heroes, a – literally – little man rising to the stature he needs to make himself and those in his charge survive. The darker the surroundings, the brighter his light shines and the more he can inspire those around him. Jackson’s strength lies in creating three-dimensional characters in just a few sketches – and Freeman is the perfect actor to achieve this.

Sure, not everything works out. Such as the addition of the elvish woman Tauriel and her love story with dwarf Kili. This adds little to an otherwise very tightly-knit narrative, threatening to derail it occasionally. On the other hand, Jackson’s obvious love for the powers of the current generation of CGI is less pervasive here. The visual effects are mind-boggling again, but they serve the story. Easily Jackson moves from place to place, episode to episode without any sense of the fragmentary. There is a wholeness to this that the first part lacked, everything belongs together, woven delicately into a rich and fascinating texture. Far from being a stretch, embedding the tale into what is basically the eternal struggle of life, to live and make sense of it, makes the film stronger and the individual journey at its hard even stronger. For this is what the film is: a tale of human perseverance, far from naïve but not without optimism. This way, The Hobbit becomes a parable of human life. And a convincing one, too.

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