Director: Peter Jackson
The Indian Express rating: ***
PETER Jackson inhabits the world of J R R Tolkein thoroughly and given the breadth of the exercise, and in his case the length of it, he has to be lauded for the sheer enthusiasm with which he approaches the subject film after film. The Desolation of Smaug must have required particular effort, fits as it does uncomfortably in the middle of three prequels to a three-episode sequel (and how does that sound?). However, Jackson makes no concessions for those catching up midway and jumps straight into the action.
And relentless action it is then on. When the film begins, Gandalf (the wizened Ian Mckellen) is telling dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage, regal as ever) to reclaim the land that is his. Soon Bilbo (Martin Freeman, slipping into the role as effortlessly) and the 13 dwarves are being chased by the Orcs on their ghoulish rides. One of the first "creatures" we encounter is a "skin changer", who alternates between a bear and a hulk of a giant (and it's a better transition than any such previously done).
However, the film moves too fast despite its 161-minute length to dwell over any of these impressive creations. We enter a dangerous forest inhabited by the necromancer in minutes, where giant spiders wrap our 14 in webs, and in a couple more, they are imprisoned in the elf kingdom. It's here that Orlando Bloom as Legolas and Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel make an appearance and the film takes a semblance of emotions as Tauriel falls for the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner). Lilly (The Lost) is a welcome addition to the franchise, pretty and honourable without being too cloying.
Jackson builds up quite a spectacle as he conjures up different lands, particularly the Lake People. However, as was the case with The Unexpected Journey, his eye appears to have moved from the characters to the circumstances they find themselves in, and you often long to care for some of them. Take the chase down a stream where the dwarves and Bilbo hidden in barrels are giving the fight to the relentless Orcs. It's a scene exploited for both its ingenuousness and its comic potential but, given that most of the times you can't make out what's happening, it could have done with some cutting.
Even the climax, if one can call it that given that one more film is coming, is too confusing to have ever been made to make sense to its viewers. The palaces where a considerable part of the movie is shot also look considerably same in their cavernous depths and precariously high passages that fall away into nothingness.
However, perhaps in one scene alone Jackson establishes why he is again the co-writer, producer and director of this piece of work that will perhaps be now never separated from his own contribution to it. It's how he introduces Smaug in the palace under the mountain. The dragon rises as a small ripple from under a treasure of coins and plays around with Bilbo as he tries ineffectually to hide behind pillars. However, even more than the fire he spews, it is the silken, slimy, prissy, smug tongue he whispers in (voiced by man-of-the-moment Benedict Cumberbatch) that has you spell-bound.
This tale is less about the big battles but the little people who fight them. And Bilbo vs Smaug is as good an example as any.