The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Michael Persbrandt, Stephen Fry
Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves lead by Thorin Oakenshield have survived the Ogres’ attack. They are helped by the shape-shifter Beorn to reach Mirkwood where other challenges await them. While Gandalf is called to face the mysterious Necromancer in Dol Guldur, Bilbo and the dwarves have to fight monstrous spiders. They are caught then by the Wood Elves ruled by the deceptive King Thranduil. Thanks to Bilbo, the adventurers manage to escape the elves’ prison and make it to the Lonely Mountain where the dragon Smaug and the Arkenstone (something Thorin wants all to himself in order to unite all dwarves under his command) are waiting for them….
This episode of the trilogy is definitely more dynamic and adventurous than the first and has every ingredient to make Tolkien and fantasy lovers happy.
The movie is not only very entertaining but also deals with profound and universal subjects like responsibility, loyalty, the temptation of power, and the inner struggle of characters having to choose between the misleading idea of protecting their temporary safety and the duty to fight for the world’s peace.
Regarding the elves, the movie is faithful to Tolkien’s description in his book: they are definitely not the reassuring and righteous heroes we meet in The Lord of the Rings.
We meet Legolas who is already a wonderful archer and who, however, is not yet the Legolas who will join the company of the ring and who will befriend Gimli. Above all, we meet his father Thranduil, an ambiguous king who is capable of deceiving his allies and is inclined to plots and violence.
Legolas is also part of a strange love- triangle that involves the female elf warrior Thauriel (a character absent in the book) and the best looking and most poetic of the dwarves. This mini-plot, an invention by Jackson and his co-writers, has elicited more than one protest from the “Tolkien purists” and might seem more funny than romantic also to the general public. Nevertheless, the author of this article would grant Jackson the benefit of the doubt and suspects it could produce some interesting developments in the last and final chapter.
The men are also not portrayed as positive characters: the city of Esgaroth is kind of a decadent Bruges (there are many iconographic references, from painting to architecture and Flemish clothes) and the city is ruled by a corrupted and tyrannical governor who is afraid of the upcoming elections and protects himself from the only one who can beat him, the heroic Bard, boatman, occasional smuggler and reluctant ally of our friends.
But as the title clearly says, the real star of the movie is the dragon Smaug (voiced splendidly, as the Necromancer, by Benedict Cumberbacht), the monstrous creature who deprived Thorin’s ancestors of their kingdom, killed Thorin’s kin and friends, and who now hides in the mountain. The meeting between Bilbo and the beast is spectacular, as is the pursuit and fight between him and the dwarves deep down in the Mountain.
However, like in the very best of fairy tales, the dragon is not just a monstrous beast to fight. It also embodies the dark side of wealth and the temptation lying hidden in power, which is the fatal flaw of many characters, most of all – Thorin.
Thorin is the legitimate heir of his kingdom, but he is also obsessed with the idea of power. At a certain point, Thorin is tempted to sacrifice his companions in order to reclaim his realm, thus running the risk of turning into his enemy. Even Bilbo runs the same risk: while he uses the ring to save his companions, he is also possessed by the desire of possession, which sometimes causes his duplicity and violence.
Prophecies are dangerous things: they promise success and are a call to action, but they must be interpreted with some kind of balance to prevent being turned into a curse. And that is why Jackson decides to introduce a darker tone in the tale. He wants to suggest a closer relationship with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, while Bilbo and the dwarves engage in battle with the dragon, Gandalf faces an even darker hidden threat.
In this second film, the storytelling is more articulate and complex, leaving the viewers in the middle of an adventure with a dragon flying in the sky looking for vengeance and destruction – and the whole world in danger.
Problematic elements: some horror scenes in the limits of the genre.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster, and contributes to different magazines and websites about cinema and television.