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Jackson scores with Smaug

Published: 
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Canadian actress Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, in a scene from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. AP Photos

If I had any purpose in life in 2013, it was probably that I needed to live through the year to see the second instalment of Peter Jackson’s blockbuster, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Having been a hardcore Tolkien fan for most of my life, the first stage of the Hobbit trilogy, 2012’s An Unexpected Journey, lived up to every prospect, even those set very high by Jackson’s original triumphs with the Lord of the Rings. For those who missed it, the Hobbit is the necessary prequel to the Lord of the Rings. It fills in the story of young, homely Bilbo Baggins who lives in the Shire and has his peace rudely interrupted by the ubiquitous wizard Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf has urged a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield to embark on a quest to reclaim the kingdom of the Lonely Mountain, or Erebor, from the clutches of a dragon named Smaug, which drove Thorin’s grandfather, King Thror, from his throne. So you see, gentle reader, The Hobbit has pretty much everything a good fantasy epic needs—dragons, gold, dwarves and sorcery.

 

Martin Freeman as Bilbo “The Burglar” Baggins, fills awfully big shoes stretched out of shape by Sir Ian Holm, who played the part in the Lord of the Rings series. Fans will already be familiar with the fitness of Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, but a relative unknown, in the form of television actor Richard Armitage, gives a brilliant personification of Thorin that eases reservations that even the most jaded Rings’ fan could harbour. This movie, unlike its predecessor, makes several major changes in JRR Tolkien’s original plotline which caused some wailing and gnashing of teeth among the diehards. The most obvious of these is the addition of a totally new supporting character, the she-elf warrior, Tauriel. Canadian actress Evangeline Lilly pulls off a difficult role at best, further complicated when Kili, the young nephew of Thorin, played by Aidan Turner, falls in love with the fighting elf-maiden. The high-school-drama boy-crush of Kili partially cheapens what is really an intriguing storyline but does not detract from it to any great extent. 

 

Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the son of the Mirkwood Elf-King Thranduil (Lee Pace), makes an appearance when the dwarves are taken prisoner by his father. They are kidnapped as a result of a longstanding quarrel that started when the Wood-Elves failed to aid Thror and his people in fighting off the Smaug. The escape of Thorin’s company from Mirkwood and the relentless pursuit of the fearsome orc, Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett), make for action-packed sequences significantly more exciting than their original storylines in the book. Azog is an old enemy of Thorin’s who intends to see the grandson of Thror dead. This movie has more references to the Lord of the Rings series than its predecessor, such as the encounter of Gandalf with the necromancer Sauron, and hints of the Ring’s evil power. The mild disappointment was that the title character, the fire-breathing Smaug, is less terrifying than his interpretation in the 1977 animated film that introduced most people to The Hobbit on screen. Great special effects and the original strength of Tolkien’s story manage to bail out what could have been an anti-climax for the serious fan. The mighty dragon sits atop a rich treasure hoard in the abandoned halls of Erebor and this is the main draw for Thorin and his kin. 

 

The tense banter between Smaug and Bilbo (who is sent in by the dwarves as a spy to steal the all-important Arkenstone) really rested on the shoulders of Martin Freeman, who did a yeoman job of delivering his character’s best moments. Bilbo is saved from a fiery death several times by cloaking himself in the invisibility of the One Ring, which he retrieved from Gollum’s cave in the first movie. Gollum is noticeably absent in this film, he isn’t even given a cameo role. Another decent character is that of Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), who aids the dwarves in their quest to Lonely Mountain, falling into trouble himself with the corrupt master of Esargoth—the lake town of men. The Desolation of Smaug ends with the dragon headed to Esargoth to burn it and its people, leaving the viewer in suspense and waiting for August 2014 and the saga’s end, The Hobbit: There and Back Again. In the meantime, I am hefting my replica dwarf battle-axe, buckling on a sword and going in quest of a dragon’s treasure hoard—if I can fly there business class.

 

 

KEY HOBBIT FACTS

If you’re new to The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, here are some key facts that will help you follow the story a little better. 

Bilbo
It may not be the most arresting, intimidating or heroic of names, but trust us—once you’ve experienced the adventures of one Bilbo Baggins, he’ll own a special place in your movie memory forever. A brief appearance in The Lord of the Rings positioned him as a grumpy, fleetingly psychotic old codger, but The Hobbit shows a whole other side—with a journey that transforms him from a wary, home comforts-loving, borderline recluse into a wisened, valiant and confident sword-swinging dragon burglar.

Dwarves
Thirteen of them to be precise. Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Gloin, Oin, Fili, Kili, Balin, Ori, Nori, Dori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur may sound like a nursery rhyme gone mad, but underestimate them at your peril. With beards as imposing as their axes, they’re a crack crew of warriors on a mission. Imagine Ocean’s Eleven by way of Time Bandits, and you’re on the right track.

Gandalf
Cinema’s most bad-ass, magical septuagenarian returns to the movie series that rocketed him into the cinematic stratosphere. Although to be honest, having won countless plaudits for his turn as the twinkly-eyed, brilliantly beardy wizard Gandalf the Grey/White, there was never really any question about anyone other than Ian McKellen donning the face-fuzz and staff.

‘In A Hole In The Ground There Lived A Hobbit....’
When we’re bored, the best our subconscious can muster is half-arsed doodling of clouds. JRR Tolkien however? One afternoon, while listlessly marking summer exams, he took up a pen and spontaneously scribbled those immortal words onto a blank piece of paper, thus triggering a fantastical brainfart that would lead to the creation of Middle Earth, changing his life forever, and the world of literature, forever.

New Zealand
While Peter Jackson and effects company Weta worked their cinematic magic to bring Middle Earth to life, The Lord of the Rings wouldn’t have been quite so imposing or memorable had it not been for the gorgeous New Zealand backdrop. You’d think that Jackson had mined the country for all its vistas are worth, but the director’s determination to introduce new shades and perspectives to the locales to ensure The Hobbit, and the audience, are taken to places they’ve only ever dreamed of.

Oakenshield, Thorin
We can’t deny that when it comes to dwarves, Game of Thrones’ Tyrion Lannister has held a very special place in our nerdy hearts. But the arrival of Thorin Oakenshield means he’ll have to move over, because there’s a new ribald, powerful and gruff uber-dwarf in town. While comparisons to Aragorn will be rife (he’s a Dwarf King on a mission to reclaim his birthright, and pretty dashing too), he’s a bristlier beast altogether. Sparks will fly, and not just from his sword.

Peter Jackson
For many, it’s pretty inconceivable that anyone other than Peter Jackson could have done The Hobbit the justice it deserved on the big screen. But when he wrapped work on the Oscar-snaffling, box-office gobbling The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he seemed pretty content with standing on the Middle Earth sidelines. When the project started back up, he admitted that he’d steer clear of the director’s chair so as not to compete with his previous trilogy. But he always kept a hand in the production process, and so when Guillermo del Toro left the project, he was an obvious replacement. In short, he should never have worried, it’s testament to Jackson’s vision and passion that not only has he managed to corral most of the original crew and cast (where possible) to return, but early buzz suggests The Hobbit could become every inch the fantasy classic of his first trilogy.

Smaug
Considering their inherent awesomeness, Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to memorable movie dragons. But Smaug’s set to change all that. Voiced and motion-captured by Sherlock himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, he’s far more than a fire-breathing, angry villain cipher, and guaranteed to put the odd spanner in Bilbo’s plans to nab his treasure haul. Weird pop culture bonus fact! In Forbes’ 2012 list of the 15 Richest Fictional Characters, he ranked first, with an estimated net worth of US$62 billion.
Facts courtesy ign.com 

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