By Jay Sizemore
As a director and a film producer, Peter Jackson is well on his way to becoming a legend in the industry, and an icon to sci-fi and fantasy nerds everywhere. He successfully adapted Tolkien’s epic masterpiece into arguably the best film trilogy of all time with Lord of the Rings, managing to not only keep the story true to the novels, but to also capture the spirit and tone as perfect as one could imagine, putting all other attempts of this to shame, while simultaneously providing a template for other artists of how to direct fantasy for the mainstream. These films reached a broad audience because they told an amazing story, and did it with artsy gusto, making them successes not only to the layperson, but also to the well-versed critic. The feat of maintaining quality and entertainment value through over nine hours of cinema is a feat to be admired for as long as people admire cinema.
When it was announced that Jackson was returning to adapt Tolkien’s prelude to LOTR, the reaction was mixed, especially as it was revealed to being stretched into three films. The reception of the first installment was more or less tepid, as most critics deemed it full of fluff and air, but some, like me, appreciated the return to Middle Earth, and the lavish detail in which it was recreated. In the second installment, The Desolation of Smaug, there is very little to complain about, and if anything, Jackson has proven his reasoning for wanting to make The Hobbit into a second trilogy. Using The Silmarillion again as reference material for filling in plot gaps in the narrative, what we get is a more fully realized vision than simply adapting the original novel would have provided. For instance, in the novel, Gandalf disappears for lengths at a time without explanation. Here in Jackson’s vision, we get Gandalf’s side of the story, as well as that of the hobbit and his dwarf companions.
Occasionally, and this is seriously my only small qualm with the picture, some of the action and conversational moments feel a little extraneous, perhaps a bit unnecessary to the main plot, but they don’t work to nullify the grand scope of the film, instead they seem to add minute layers of character development, because in this world, the longer you spend with these characters, the more you grow to love them. Jackson has an almost effortless ability to put heart into his scenes, imbuing them with enough nostalgic emotion to overcome even the most stringent of naysayer. I challenge anyone not to be slightly moved by the forbidden love story told here between an elf and a dwarf, or to not be enthralled by every line of dialogue uttered by Ian Mckellan as the gray wizard. To not be sitting with their heart in their throat as Bilbo encounters the dragon for the first time.
Again the characters and richness of every detail are brought to such vivid life and spectacle, the powers of the brain have little hope in maintaining even a shred of disbelief. I love Richard Armitage as Thorin, whose vocal inflection is reminiscent of Sean Bean, and seeing a fat-faced Orlando Bloom back in the blonde wig shooting arrows like a madman. By the time the dragon Smaug makes his dramatic entrance, voiced to perfection by the multi-talented Benedict Cumberbatch, this movie succeeds like only a Peter Jackson film can, in making you feel like a little kid again, remembering what it is like to be in pure awe of the imagination brought to life on screen.
And Smaug truly is a wonder to behold, truly more magnificent than the stories and songs have led us to believe. This, my friends, is what a dragon has always looked like in our dreams. Jackson wisely, oh so wisely, harkens back to the other great on-screen dragon, from the vastly underrated film Dragonslayer, and improves upon it one hundred fold. Firstly, there is that voice, that voice that can turn muscles into water, and then there is all the movement and versatility in facial features that CGI allows, where the old film was made purely with puppeteering and blue screen. This dragon is at once terrifying and beautiful, awe-inspiring and smile-inducing. Goodness, it is the dragon the world has been waiting for. The last third of the film is a pure adrenaline rush of spectacle, and it leaves us at just the right moment, craving more, practically ravenous with bliss. There is basically no way Jackson can screw this up. Once he has released the last installment of his second trilogy, he is destined to go down in history as one of the world’s greatest directors, having successfully made two of the greatest film trilogies ever put on film. If there is an afterlife, Tolkien must be looking on with a huge smile on his face.
Film Critic Jay Sizemore is part of The Missing Slate’s Film Team.