Part two of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series opened this weekend, and there’s one question on everyone’s mind: “Is The Desolation of Smaug much like the first film?” If An Unexpected Journey were likened to a Mahler Symphony, it would be No. 5 in C sharp minor: Fourth Movement. (Sehr langsam). The music wouldn’t matter, just that it’s “sehr, sehhhrrr langsam.” The Desolation of Smaug, terrifically, would sit nearer the far end of the spectrum: much more “vivo con brio!”
With the overload of media available on radio these days, you might pause to wonder, “they still have radio?” But, if you’re wondering what classical music is, here’s a quick primer – for Hobbit fans…
First, go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Next, forget everything you see on screen, and take in all the sounds you can hear. Then, subtract all the voices of actors speaking. Eliminate the foley artist’s sound effects. Swords clanking, footsteps on crunchy earth, horse hooves galloping – erase them. Now, pause and listen to what’s left. Is there any low, rhythmic, droning noise around you? If so, that’s the waking apnea of the quintessential Tolkein fan sitting behind you. Just subtract that as well.
Finally, what remains, in theory, should be a form of music – whimsical, foreboding, and pure – emanating from the theater’s speakers. This ‘classical’ music, so named as it evolved a very long time ago, goes hand in hand with a Tolkien film.
This film, like great classical works, is a near masterpiece. With fantastic action that rarely lets up, often exceptional 3D, CGI and set pieces that strike a viewer’s awe, and heaps of melodrama, The Desolation of Smaug is almost everything a die-hard Hobbit fan could ask for. The barrel escape is particularly thrilling and
“Smaug, as in ‘crowd.'”
– Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins)
humorous at the same time – a hallmark achievement in fantasy adventures.
A few minor issues remain: The first film begins with an over-long, tedious introduction of characters. The second has none, so you better remember everyone’s names. Also, the baddies (Orcs mostly), are largely CGI, and the body mechanics aren’t always convincing, especially in frenetic fight sequences. The studios also worried about the exclusively male cast of the film, to wit, Jackson introduces us to ‘she-elf,’ “Tauriel,” played by Evangeline Lilly. Tauriel is, in every way, Legolas’ equal, including fighting skills, self confidence, and beauty. Guided by Jackson’s expert hand, the character and her storyline fit well into the Tolkein universe, but she bears a stunning similarity to Arwen, making her presence, perhaps, a little too familiar.
Nonetheless, the film is spectacular, and so packed with action and suspense, you may find yourself embedded into the seat under you, with your hands crushing their impressions into the armrests.
Some notes on actors in the film:
Ian McKellan (Gandalf) will be back as ‘Magneto’ in X-Men this coming May. (Awesome!). Martin Freeman will be back as ‘Dr. John Watson’ in Sherlock, on the BBC, airing in the UK starting January 1st. (Also, awesome.) Martin’s Bilbo naturally evolves during this adventure, and Freeman’s performance makes clear why he was ideal for the role. The 42 year old actor seems naturally a milquetoast, which makes the slow transition towards liar, killer, and paranoiac all the more effective.
Aidin Turner plays ‘Kili,’ the tall, smolderingly handsome dwarf. If he seems familiar, he played ‘Mitchell,’ the self loathing vampire, on the original British version of Being Human. Stephen Fry plays ‘the Master of Laketown,’ a pompous, short-sighted, greedy character Fry almost certainly would despise, and therefore seems particularly adept at portraying. If you don’t know who Stephen Fry is, you have never seen anything British on television.
Lee Pace prances on screen as the outwardly aloof, devilish-yet-fey elven King Thranduil. It’s not often you see an actor savor a role so gleefully, but there’s a twinkle in his eye every moment he’s on screen. Lee is well remembered for playing nice guy ‘Ned’ on the odd-ball TV series Pushing Daisies.
Finally, Dean O’Gorman plays another dwarf: Kili’s brother Fili. You may have no idea who O’Gorman is, but you will. On screen, Fili gets some of the better comic moments, particularly due to his loves of all things deadly. But, O’Gorman also played Anders Johnson (aka, Norse God ‘Bragi’) on New Zealand TV show The Almighty Johnsons. TAJ is a light hearted comedy-drama similar to the US show Charmed, except males are more often the focus of the show (though just as often as dopey as the males on Charmed). Should you get the chance to see The Almighty Johnsons, take note when O’Gorman’s normally clean-shaven character dons a scaled back version of his Hobbit required beard and spends much of the series ‘on a trip to Norway.’ In actuality, he was filming The Hobbit series simultaneously, and the TAJ helmers were very accommodating of his busy schedule. The characters on TAJ even make jokes about Ander’s long absence and strange affection for his new facial hair.
SyFy has (finally) picked up the US rights to the show, so Americans will have a chance to catch up to the rest of the world, and see all three seasons of The Almighty Johnsons sometime in 2014.
In the meantime, go see the second installment of The Hobbit. It’s a blast.
Get lots of inside info, insight into the actors’ and director’s minds, check out clips from the film, and more, with my Hobbit Fireside Companion, by clicking here.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug copyright Warner Bros., 2013.