I don’t think that anyone would argue with you if you were to suggest that Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a masterpiece, but his recent adaptations of Tolkien’s predecessor to LOTR, The Hobbit, is a bit more controversial. The main argument against Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy of films is just that – it’s a trilogy, three films based on one 300-page book in contrast to the three films based on three 400-600-page books. Regardless of your opinions on this new trilogy, it’s happening, and though the first film, An Unexpected Journey, wasn’t anything spectacular (my review), The Desolation of Smaug certainly steps up the game and brings to the table a better film.
The second film in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit film trilogy picks up where the first left off, with the dwarves of Erebor, Gandalf the Grey, and the eponymous hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, rapidly approaching the dark forest Mirkwood, with the orc company led by Azog the Defiler hot on their tail. They seek solace with Beorn, a skin-changer with the ability to transform into a large bear, who houses them and sends them off into Mirkwood. Along the way, the company of Thorin Oakenshield comes across terrifying giant spiders, the Wood-Elves of Mirkwood (including a certain familiar face from the LOTR…), Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and the people of Lake-Town, and, finally, the dragon of Erebor itself – Smaug.
Martin Freeman continues to be the perfect Bilbo Baggins, from the way he reacts under stress to the way he communicates with the rest of the company. His energy on-screen surpasses that of any other actor in the film, though Richard Armitage as Thorin is also pretty great here. The character of Thorin is developed better than it was in the first film, with his conflict between his desire for gold and his dedication to his friends being brought into question. The other truly noteworthy performance here is Benedict Cumberbatch’s depiction of Smaug. Cumberbatch provided both voice and motion capture for the dragon, and his work is nothing short of amazing. Aside from the fact that the CGI is beautiful and as realistic as it could possibly be for a giant dragon, his voice is an excellent mix of both creepy and charming, and his whole conversation with Bilbo in the hall of gold is every bit as clever and entertaining as the “Riddles in the Dark” scene with Gollum in the first film.
Other characters were not so great. While it was admittedly nice having a familiar face pop up, Orlando Bloom’s return as the elf Legolas feels shoe-horned in, as his character serves no real purpose other than for some cool action scenes and to be a member of the poorly setup (and thoroughly awkward) love triangle between him, Tauriel (an elf character created for the film, played by actress Evangeline Lilly), and Kili (Aidan Turner), one of Thorin’s nephews. The explanation behind the inclusion of Tauriel is to provide a strong female character for audiences to look up to, and, yes, she does have a couple of good action scenes, but the insistence of the filmmakers to create this romantic side-plot makes my feelings toward her and Legolas to be ambivalent at best. I’m also sick of the side-plots involving the orcs hunting down Thorin for his head – more stuff made up for the films that weren’t present in the book. I’m not a book purist, meaning that I don’t think that filmmakers have to follow the book exactly, and, hey, if the filmmakers come up with something that adds to the book’s story in a good way, cool for them, but that is not the case here, at least not in regards to the elf characters.
An addition that I did enjoy this time around is Gandalf’s (Sir Ian McKellen) quest to find out more about this “Necromancer” that we only briefly glimpse in the first film. In the book, Gandalf leaves for chapters at a time, but Tolkien doesn’t expound on what he might be off doing…at least, not in The Hobbit. Jackson has graciously given us a glimpse into those adventures, which are quite entertaining. The Hobbit as written by Tolkien is not a prequel to The Lord of the Rings so much as it is simply a predecessor that takes place in the same universe; you don’t have to read one to understand the other. However, Jackson is turning his trilogy into a prequel for his earlier trilogy, and it’s scenes like Gandalf’s visit to Dol Guldur and the impending rise of Sauron that fulfill this purpose nicely. Also worth noting is the expansion of the role of the Ring in this film; in the book, it is simply a magic ring that turns the wearer invisible, but, as we learn in LOTR, it is actually much more than that. We start to see Bilbo’s fascination and obsession with the ring in this film, watching him slash something to bits to protect his possession of it – or, rather, its possession of him.
I enjoyed the first film in this trilogy well enough, but I can’t deny that our second outing with Thorin and company is much better overall. The feel of The Desolation of Smaug is more natural and (thankfully) less expository, and the higher stakes of this part of the journey bring more action to the table and make the film more enjoyable as a whole. The run-time is about the same as the first film, but it doesn’t feel that way because it does a better job of keeping you on your toes and engaged throughout. Sure, it has its problems – the HFR is still a bit cartoon-y at times – but it’s on-the-whole a superior film, with an ending that will leave you thirsting for more. Howard Shore has composed another great, although more forgettable, score for the film, and Ed Sheeran’s outstanding song “I See Fire” is worth sitting through the credits for. I can only hope that Jackson doesn’t disappoint with the third and final film later this year.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Leave a comment | tags: aidan turner, an unexpected journey, andy serkis, azog, azog the defiler, bard the bowman, Benedict Cumberbatch, bilbo baggins, cgi, erebor, evangeline lilly, gandalf, gandalf the grey, gollum, hfr, Howard Shore, ian mckellen, j. r. r. tolkien, jrr tolkien, kili, lake-town, lee pace, legolas, lotr, love triangle, luke evans, martin freeman, mirkwood, necromancer, orc, orlando bloom, pale orc, peter jackson, richard armitage, riddles in the dark, sauron, the desolation of smaug, the hobbit, the hobbit: an unexpected journey, the hobbit: the desolation of smaug, the lord of the rings, thorin oakenshield, thranduil, tuariel, wood-elves | posted in 4, Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
*Note: I purchased and will be reviewing the Special Edition of Howard Shore’s score to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which features several extended and additional tracks. It is worth the extra money!
I’m a relatively new fan to Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth, but I’m familiar enough to know how fantastic Howard Shore’s scores to the original films are. As a result, I was quite excited to hear his score for the first of the three films based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit, called An Unexpected Journey, and I was right to be: Shore’s music holds just as much fantasy and adventure as it did all those years ago.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens with some familiar themes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The most prominent of these is the theme for the Shire/Bag End, heard in “My Dear Frodo,” “Old Friends,” and in a couple of other tracks throughout. Another is the theme that I associate with the One Ring, which doesn’t make an appearance until “Riddles in the Dark.” The genius of these familiar themes is that they are not exactly the same as they were in the original film trilogy; each theme is a slight variation from the way it was originally heard in The Lord of the Rings. In fact, the theme for the One Ring is teased throughout the first half of the score, all the way up to the moment it is finally revealed in “Riddles in the Dark.”
Aside from what is familiar, Shore has composed quite a bit of new material, which is altogether lighter in nature than that of The Lord of the Rings; after all, this is a younger Middle-Earth, a Middle-Earth that exists several years before the return of Sauron. Tracks such as “An Unexpected Party” and “The World Is Ahead” display this lightness, but that does not mean that darkness is not present in this score. Tracks such as “An Ancient Enemy” and “Warg-scouts,” among others, reflect this darkness and the building threat of the mission at hand.
Shore’s greatest strength is his use of choirs to convey emotion and to build upon the music in a way that instruments cannot do alone. Even in his use of choirs we hear variety, from the use of a heavy, deep men’s choir in tracks like “An Ancient Enemy,” a boys’ choir such as in “The Hidden Valley,” or a full chorus such as in “Out of the Frying Pan.” Also, his incorporation of Tolkien’s original text for songs (which he also did in The Lord of the Rings film series) is wonderful, heard in the Special Edition bonus track “Blunt the Knives” and in the main theme for the film, “Misty Mountains.” Speaking of this theme, “Misty Mountains” is heard at several points throughout the score and conveys the same sense of purpose and adventure as the his themes for the Fellowship or for Théoden King. One of my favorite moments in the score is in the track “Over Hill,” where he juxtaposes the “Misty Mountains” theme with the theme for the Shire.
I could go on and on forever talking about this score and how fantastic it is, but I’ll leave that to you to discover. Howard Shore may not have quite the track record of John Williams or Hans Zimmer, but his work on The Lord of the Rings and now on The Hobbit is unparalleled – a masterpiece in every sense of the word. While the scope of The Hobbit is not as great as the story that follows it, the score is worthy of occupying the same world, living up to every expectation Shore set for himself. Also, as I mentioned before, the Special Edition is worth the extra money, so go for it!
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
1. “My Dear Frodo” 8:03
2. “Old Friends” (Extended Version) 5:00
3. “An Unexpected Party” 4:08
4. “Blunt the Knives” (performed by The Dwarf Cast, Exclusive Bonus Track) 1:01
5. “Axe or Sword?” 5:59
6. “Misty Mountains” (performed by Richard Armitage and The Dwarf Cast) 1:42
7. “The Adventure Begins” 2:04
8. “The World is Ahead” 2:19
9. “An Ancient Enemy” 4:56
10. “Radagast the Brown” (Extended Version) 6:37
11. “The Trollshaws” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 2:08
12. “Roast Mutton” (Extended Version) 4:56
13. “A Troll-hoard” 3:38
14. “The Hill of Sorcery” 3:50
15. “Warg-scouts” 3:02
1. “The Hidden Valley” 2:49
2. “Moon Runes” (Extended Version) 3:39
3. “The Defiler” 1:14
4. “The White Council” (Extended Version) 9:40
5. “Over Hill” 3:42
6. “A Thunder Battle” 3:54
7. “Under Hill” 1:54
8. “Riddles in the Dark” 5:21
9. “Brass Buttons” 7:37
10. “Out of the Frying-Pan” 5:55
11. “A Good Omen” 5:45
12. “Song of the Lonely Mountain” (performed by Neil Finn, Extended Version) 6:00
13. “Dreaming of Bag End” 1:56
14. “A Very Respectable Hobbit” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 1:20
15. “Erebor” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 1:19
16. “The Dwarf Lords” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 2:01
17. “The Edge of the Wild” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 3:34
Total Length: app. 128 min.
iTunes Album Link (Special Edition)
P.S. – Read my review of the film here!
3 Comments | tags: an unexpected journey, baggins, bilbo, bilbo baggins, fellowship of the ring, frodo, frodo baggins, gandalf, Howard Shore, j. r. r. tolkien, jrr tolkien, Lord of the Rings, lotr, middle-earth, one ring, return of the king, sauron, the hobbit, the hobbit: an unexpected journey, two towers | posted in 5, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews