Of the three Hobbit films, The Desolation of Smaug is hands down my favourite. For me it is just a perfect film; it has plenty of antagonists, its has protagonists that come into their own, Orlando Bloom returns and it has a dragon.
The reason I really love the film though has to be because of Bilbo, who has found his courage and saves the day more than once. In the book my favourite bits are when he rescues the dwarfs from the spiders, from the cells of Thranduil and from their own impatience when they can’t immediately find the keyhole. Admittedly he also wakes a dragon, but nobody’s perfect and it would have happened eventually anyway.
Bilbo’s development though is a brilliant example of a character arc. In the first film, while he finds courage enough from the ‘Took’ within to go on the adventure, the reality of that decision hits him harder than I think he imagined. One of the places he is happiest is in Rivendell, where he is safe and could even learn a great deal from Elrond and his books. In the Desolation of Smaug though, he has found a great deal more of his courage, and it is with despair that the audience knows a great deal of it comes from the one ring. The effects of the ring begin to take a hold of him, but Bilbo in his heart knows that the ring has an effect on him and that disgusts him. He can’t give it up though, but he does use it to do good, not evil. He saves his friends more than once using it, and he saves himself from Smaug using it.
I also love the film, because it moves into a new part of Tolkien’s world and Peter Jackson’s vision of Mirkwood and Lake Town add extra depth to the world he has build up in his films. We caught a glimpse of Erebor in The Unexpected Journey, but we once again get to see that kingdom, and what all three of these places do is show the diversity of the world Tolkien created. Middle Earth is full of different peoples; Elves, Dwarfs and Men, each different from each other, but also different from others of their same kin.
The Dwarfs are less easy to compare, as in truth Thorin’s company and their ancient kin in Moria seem to have had similar interests. The difference when comparing the realm of Moria to Erebor, is seeing Erebor as fully operational. It gives the audience a much better idea of what it is Dwarfs do in their halls. I also much prefer the visualisation of Erebor to Moira because it seems to make more sense. Moira seems to only be a mine and only the great hall of Dwarrowdelf. This great hall never made much sense to me; where do people live, what do they do and why is there seemingly no evidence of activity in that great hall therefore what was it for apart from to look impressive? It was simply column after column. Now this is how it is actually described in the book, but seeing Erebor, all the different chambers, the mines, the workshops and the imperial spaces, makes you realise that there must be a lot more to Moira you just don’t see it. Also seeing Erebor lets you see that the dwarfs are mighty and have a deep culture, you just don’t see it in the Lord of the Rings.
The depiction of Mirkwood and Lee Pace’s portrayal of Thranduil lets you see a different side to the elves as well, a side not as blessed. Still elegant but a little bit more chaotic beneath the surface. For Thranduil and his kingdom of Mirkwood, is not like Lothlorien or Rivendell. His kin are the Sindar, the elves who never saw the Light of the Trees of Valinor in the first age. Galadriel was born in the Undying Lands and Elrond is descended distantly from Melian the Maia. The Sindar are more like the elves before their kin went into the West. They are more human-like in their behaviour, more susceptible to their feelings. Seeing them shows a hint of the differences between Elves that is played out in books like the Silmarillion. They are a lot easier to relate to than the magnificence of Elrond and Galadriel, but are still wondrous compared to humans.
And then there is Lake Town. A place of desperation and lost hope. The people of Rohan and Gondor didn’t look as if they were living the life of luxury, and the comparison between the two is startlingly in itself, as the grandeur of Numenor can be seen in the city of Mina Tirith. What you don’t really see though in either Rohan and Gondor is what human nature is like when life has dealt you a cruel blow. You don’t see the aftermath of the wars, but you do see the aftermath of the Desolation of Smaug. You see humanity at it’s best (Bard) and it’s worst (The Master). There is a distance memory in Lake Town of the splendour they once had before the mountain fell to a dragon, but that is now just a hope to use to carry on and then be manipulated by Thorin. It is not about Kings or Stewards vying for control or to protect their kingdoms, it is about humans simply trying to survive in a hard world.
So, the Desolation of Smaug is easily my favourite Hobbit film, because Bilbo grows, and because Peter Jackson has added so much depth in his recreation of Tolkien’s world, that Middle Earth now feels more complete than it ever had before.
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