Hobbit 2 Review – John Stringer

I went on Christmas Eve, and here are my thoughts.  See my
review of Hobbit 1 also published on Kiwiblog.
http://conzervative.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/review-the-hobbit-1-2012/

This second instalment in The Hobbit trilogy opens with a
delightful cameo of Peter Jackson. So, we get this
out-of-the-way from the get go. A pub patron steps out of a
Bree Inn, bites a carrot in half, and stumps off in to the
rain drenched muddy alley way of Bree main street. Tick.

The elves in Hob 2 are much darker, more threatening than
before, even more than Hugo Weaving’s excellent ‘Agent
Smith’ Elrond from LoTR I-III. We see them in context,
as a race, pruning orcs from their borders and having warred
with the dwarves and Sauron.  We also catch a glimpse of
their gracious tragic arrogance. Lee Pace’s King Thranduil
is one of the stand out performances of this episode. The
elves too, this outing, seem to have liquid eyes (Mirkwood
Gucci) and more close-ups to enthrall and allure us in
contrast to the comical dwarves (of which more below).We
also get a lot more of Legolas’ back story, his relational
context, and the new character Tauriel introduces a love
triangle conflict with one of the dwarves. This is added by
Jackson (absent in Tolkien). Legolas is ennobled in this
tale and the elf-dwarf humour is back. There is a lovely
scene where he denigrates a dwarf passport drawing, “Is
this one of your hideous dwarf women?” “Noo. That’s
may wee bairn, Gimli.”  Legolas’ eyebrow twerks.

Jackson absolutely blew me away with Hobbit 1 which exceeded
my expectations as a long-time Tolkien buff.  So first,
some brick bats.

1. Hob 2 starts off lightly.  It comes across too
cartoonie, like the Disney-esque Radagast the Brown wizard
in instalment 1 which almost went over the line with the
rabbit sleigh (back this time too). Radagast is played by
Sylvester McLoy (Dr Who 7) a kind of Catweazel Worzel
Gummage figure with birds nesting in his hair.

2. Hob 2 is a bit disjointed, with cut-aways and flash backs
(especially Gandalf’s role in this movie) as Jackson seeks
to link this trilogy with LoTR (The Hobbit was written first
before LoTR was conceived). Fortunately the film is
redeemed in the second half by the drama with Smaug. But
you are aware of an episodic feel to Hobbit 2.

3. The barrels scenes with the dwarves escaping the elven
halls is ridiculous.  It is Tintin gymnastics to the
extreme, with Legolas doing those fanciful circ du
soleil Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon somersaults and
skateboard tricks.  Quite how the barrels stayed upright
with heavy dwarves in them in white water must have been a
miracle of the Valar.  It was silly and demeaned the
characters; bordering on Disney kids holiday rollicking.
Perhaps Jackson was attempting to capture something of the
children’s storybook nature of The Hobbit, which Lord of
the Rings is not.  But he recovers well.

4. Bilbo is also rather pale in this movie. He is almost a
second tier character beside Thorin, Bard, Smaug and the
Orcs. It is called The Hobbit after all. I’m not so sure
Martin Freedman was the best option as Bilbo. I wish Leo
McKern was still alive (Rumpole of the Bailey) either as
Bilbo or Thorin.

5. Mayor of Laketown played by Stephen Fry was a
disappointment, a bit like Barry Humphries as the Goblin
King in Hob 1. Fry is such a good actor (he was brilliant as
Oscar Wilde) but was off-key in this role.  It would have
been better if he played Lord Melchett.  Badly cast, a
lack-lustre performance and a missed opportunity.

6. There is ridiculous physics and timing in this film, like
when the dwarves somehow erect a massive moulded dwarf, fill
it with liquid gold, and then pull it apart in an attempt to
drown Smaug.  MacGyver on steroids. I would have cut that
out of the film altogether as too Indianna Jones and the
Temple of Doom.

7. Sorry, but I hate Bombur. He looks like Obelix with a
pleated beard and clashes with several of the dwarves,
especially Thorin, who are presented as gorgeous
metrosexuals, while others have the knobbly noses and stumpy
feet we expect of fantasy dwarves. They feel like two
different races.

Now the good bits.

There is a wonderful, dangerous, dark character in this
episode, and that is the bear-of-a-man Beorn the
skin-changer.  Jackson really captures the man, wild eyed,
slightly unpredictable, anchored in history. His makeup is
amazing.  Not too much, but enough to suggest the
Wildlands. I won’t show him to you, you have to go see the
movie for that. A highlight of Hob 2.

In Mirkwood there is a wonderful extended scene reminiscent
of the human-eating bugs in King Kong. Bilbo slays the
Spiders with the help of the Ring and saves the dwarves.
This is masterful, and even exceeds the book, Jackson at
his best.  I loved when Bilbo slips the ring on, and we
can hear the Spiders’ language. We also discover why Bilbo
and Frodo’s elven blade is so-named.

Jackson does some great linkages between Hobbit and LoTR,
establishing the origins of the Black Riders, and visually
linking Sauron’s form to the All Seeing Eye. He also
develops the personality of the ring itself. There is a
great wizard duel between Gandalf and Sauron at Dol Guldur.

Laketown is amazing.  Jackson portrays this once grand
place, now decrepit beneath the shadow of Smaug’s Lonely
Mountain as truly Tolkien-esque without too many
similarities to medieval Britain. The model makers deserve
an Academy for Laketown.

Thorin Oakenshield is fleshed out more deeply and we are
beginning to become torn by his heroic melancholy and his
corrupting greed for the gold and kingship. I personally
think the actor (Richard Armitage) is too pretty. A
knobbly ugly war-scarred dwarf is how I imagined Thorin
Oakenshield.  But his duel with Smaug, calling him a
flabby worm (as Tolkien does) is fantastic, as they duel
verbally for psychological rights to be “King Under the
Mountain.” Thorin is certainly brave.

A poignant moment when Thorin finally steps in to the halls
of Erebor beneath the Lonely Mountain. Here I think we catch
the obvious allusion to the Jews, and I’ve written on
whether Tolkien was allegorizing Jewish history in the
dwarves before.

The orcs Azog and his mongrel son Bolg are great, reminding
me of Satan and Son of Satan in Constantine. They grunt and
conspire their way through this movie. We also get much more
of the Wargs.

Smaug (pronounced SmOWg) is simply magnificent and exactly
how Tolkien portrayed him in my mind. He is malevolent,
dangerous beyond measure, and this is the most intimidating
portrayal of the majesty and weapon-of-mass-destruction
Dragon ever seen.  Smaug, spoken by Timothy Benedict
Cumberpatch, totally redeems the movie.  The second half
is fabulous with a long fight scene between Smaug, the
dwarves under the Lonely Mountain all the while with Bilbo
trying to burgle the sacred Arkenstone.  But Smaug is on
to him.

It is delightful seeing the Scrooge McDuck vaults times one
hundred, filled with gold and somewhere under it all, a
sleeping dragon.  Bilbo steps out tenderly as if walking
on egg shells, but gold booty is so NOISEY.  It slides and
rattles. GASP.  “If there’s one thing ya do laddie, don’t
waken it!”

The movie ends well, with Smaug flying off into the evening
sky with the hopelessly vulnerable Laketown below about to
be nuked by this jealous, angry psychopathic arrogant
ballistic missile with wings. Bilbo and the dwarves look
helplessly on; what have they awoken?  But Bard, already
well scripted by Jackson and team as an isolated outcast
whose grandfather failed to kill the dragon, has one family
heirloom black arrow left, and knows where the dwarven wind
lance is.  Queue Hobbit 3 and a day for Men! But first, a
roasting…

Great closing music.

All-in-all a dutiful middle piece to the trilogy.  Smaug
lifts it. 8/10.

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