Now that the second of the three projected instalments is out, it can no longer be denied that there's little in Peter Jackson's version of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit of the passion that drove his masterful adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. In order to justify the bulking up of the slender novel, Mr. Jackson and his co-writers have introduced plot lines and characters either alluded to in Tolkien's many additional writings or non-existant in any of them - the most egregious being the return of Legolas from The Lord of the Rings and a newly-created Elven warrior Tauriel.

     By itself this isn't problematic - the director's fidelity to the spirit if not the letter of the universe is certainly not in question - but by this second film, taking in the journey of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield's company of dwarves into Mirkwood, Lake-town and Erebor en route to the confrontation with the dragon Smaug, The Hobbit becomes more and more a video-game-like honeycomb of set pieces, quests to be completed, theme park rides in waiting. In the process, it's very clear that, in taking over the adaptation from Guillermo del Toro (meant to direct until he bowed out due to backers MGM's continuing financial issues), Mr. Jackson was working out of duty rather than desire.

      The rare moments in The Desolation of Smaug where you feel a glimpse of the magic the director brought to the three Lord of the Rings pictures are the harder-driving adventure sequences (the spiders of Mirkwood, the escape from the Wood-Elves, the hide-and-seek with Smaug). There's a kinship there with Mr. Jackson's way with genre tropes, with the episodic dimension of the plot suggesting as well there could be an attempt at some sort of contemporary equivalent of old-fashioned serials (in which case the nearly three-hour running time is very much ill-advised, as there's an impression of sludging through it all for little or no reward given the brutal cliffhanging ending). And, despite all the self-evident technical excellence, there's an enormous feeling of a cash cow being milked for purely mercenary reasons, essentially demeaning the visible effort and care being put into the work.

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenwriters: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Mr. Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie (colour, widescreen)
Music: Howard Shore
Designer: Dan Hennah
Costumes: Bob Buck, Ann Maskray, Richard Taylor
Visual effects: Mr. Taylor, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton
Editor: Jabez Olsson
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Ms. Walsh, Mr. Jackson (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, New Line Cinema and Wingnut Films)
USA/New Zealand, 2013, 160 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo Imax, Lisbon, December 11th 2013

Nominated for three 2013 Academy Awards (Visual Effects; Sound Editing; Sound Mixing) 


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