Middle chapter of trilogies are notoriously hard to make as fully satisfying experiences. You need to leave the narrative hanging enough to keep the audience coming back for more, but you need to provide enough narrative closure to not send audiences away frustrated and feeling let don. In the case of this 2nd instalment in The Hobbit trilogy, the job is made all the harder by stretching a 400 page book out to what will work out as somewhere around 7-9 hours of film over the three. Another problem faced by this film is that the first alienated some; it was felt by many to be too long with too little actually happening.
I was aware of those faults in the first one, but that didn’t mean I enjoyed it any less. I experienced the film’s real faults as a strange kind of grace – it felt deep and rich and poured over with love. It felt as if this was made by someone who actually cared. If the first film for me was an experience of grace, then this second was one of joy.
The same faults were there – it’s too long, too baggy, though there’s plenty of action in this episode the story is still stretched thin to breaking point. Then there’s Orlando Bloom, revisiting his role from the Lord Of The Rings, which makes some kind of narrative sense but does mean we have screen time with one of the dullest actors I’ve ever come across.
This episode is just so much fun, though. There’s shocks, scares and excitement. There’s some staggeringly thrilling and varied action set-pieces; even one which is clearly inspired by a fair-ground ride, but gets away with it through some wonderful cinematographic flourishes and some proper combat thrown into the mix. Where the first episode hit a real high with the Bilbo/Gollum scene, here there’s an equivalent in a wonderful Bilbo/Smaug (the dragon) interaction, brilliantly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. There is real entertainment and fun to be had here, a sense that this is a film that has been made with a grin on its face and a laugh in the belly.
If there’s a disappointment it’s in the amount of CGI – the computers worked overtime on some of this, and whilst it’s mostly good quality it’s just a little too much. On one key scene, the quality dips, a lake of molten gold clearly unreal and fabricated to the point that it’s momentarily distracting, pulling us out of the excitement of the moment at an important juncture.
Still, though, joy is joy despite faults and problems. This film has joy in abundance. It could have easily lost 30 minutes running-time; the romance sub-plot is pointless; Orlando Bloom is a dull actor; there’s too much computer work. It’s deliriously entertaining, though, made with a rich kind of deep care that speaks of people who love what they’re doing and want to make something more than money. It’s easy to say that in making 3 films of such a slim source this is an exercise in making money; instead think of it as adding depth and texture to a world that Peter Jackson as director and his team have made as much their own creative universe as Tolkien did.
Part 1, grace; Part 2, joy. Part 3 … ?
I rated this film 8/10 on imdb.com and 4/5 on rottentomatoes.com