Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Peter Jackson’s second run with JRR Tolkien’s work has been met with a more mixed response than his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Many have described the new trilogy, adapting Tolkien’s The Hobbit, as an exercise in Hollywood greed. The qualms are understandable. After all, The Hobbit is but one book and, while page counts differ with different editions, still manages to be smaller than each book in the LOTR trilogy. While the first film, and the series as a whole, was unnecessarily elongated, I thought The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a wonderful first chapter that pulsated with Jackson’s love for the source material. The second film continues this great journey in style and excitement, culminating in a tauter and faster-paced effort.
The first film may have been a loving interpretation of The Hobbit’s first 100 pages, but its follow-up works better as a movie: an action-packed adventure that capitalizes on the first film’s focus on characterization. There’s a palpable sense of momentum and confidence here, with Peter Jackson running with a seemingly renewed energy.
There are a number of large differences between the film and the book, and the film arguably benefits. For example, the elves of Mirkwood aren’t key elements in the book, but the film has a larger focus in mind. The addition of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas and Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel (a completely new character), along with a stronger importance given to King Thranduil (Lee Pace), helps give this journey a wide-encompassing importance. Like LOTR, Middle-Earth is a significant part of the film; ensuring that the audience feels the overall threat that looms on the horizon.
TDOS rockets along at a great pace, never really allowing one to feel its 161-minute running-time. This is mostly due to the balance between exposition and action that is so deftly handled. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) feels a little bit underused, but there’s a stronger focus on the team as a whole. As Bilbo constantly battles with his growing dependency with the ring, the dwarfs bicker and support each other in action sequences that are exciting, emotive and impressively plot-driven. There’s a run-in with Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), a bear-man type creature, an adrenaline pumped battle with giant spiders and a hilarious barrel-riding trip down a rapid river. These are but some moments that stand out.
The ending to An Unexpected Journey saw Bilbo and co. looking towards Lonely Mountain after being rescued from an orc attack. The film closed with a glimpse at Smaug, the awesome dragon that guards the treasure within the mountain. His appearance here marks this film’s true punch line, topping off an impressive set of exciting sequences and entertaining story arcs with a truly spectacular character. Benedict Cumberbatch does an excellent job voicing the titular creature, bringing a charismatic sense of malice and smarts. The special effects are beautifully rendered, bringing Tolkien’s vision to life with admirable detail.
These are the types of epic blockbusters that you can talk about for ages. Fans of Tolkien’s work will find plenty to love, as will newcomers. It’s a surprisingly robust middle episode that almost reaches the glory of Jackson’s first trilogy. Those that were worried as to the outcome of this trilogy needn’t fret. “What have we done?” asks Bilbo as this second chapter culminates, perfectly teasing us for the final chapter, that is, unfortunately, another year away. I can’t wait.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10