I've read very mixed reviews for The Desolation of Smaug from actual Tolkien fans. Some fans passionately love it, some fans are very disappointed with it. But what did I think? Well, I loved this film just like I loved the one! In fact I think I even love it more! I can understand why some fans would have issues with these Hobbit films though. If you're a fan who only wants Tolkien's The Hobbit to be filmed exactly like it is in the book, and nothing more, then you're probably not going to appreciate AUJ or The Desolation of Smaug, especially the latter. The Desolation of Smaug veers away from its source material more than any of the Middle-earth films that have been released so far. I wouldn't say that the film is perfect and there are certain things in it that I don't like at all. And yet I still loved The Desolation of Smaug overall. It still captures the world I love, the acting is still fantastic, and it's still a fun and immensely entertaining adventure story. The positives in it far outweigh the negatives! Now I'm going to pick out the things that I especially loved about the film. I have a feeling that this post might get be a bit rambly from the point so if it does, sorry!
The scene where Bilbo climbs out of the forest is beautiful. It's then followed up by the vicious attack from the giant spiders. I loved the fact that Bilbo could actually hear the spiders speak when he put on the ring! It was really cool and really creepy at the same time!
It was extreeemely interesting to see the Mirkwood Elves in this film. They aren't as ethereal and wise as the Rivendell and Lothlorien Elves; they're more aggressive and "wild" which is actually very true to how Tolkien depicts them in the book. This depiction also applies to the Elf King Thranduil. He's a much more dangerous and ruthless leader than Elrond and Galadriel!
This film takes what we know of Thranduil from Tolkien's book and embellishes him. For the first time in these Middle-earth films we get to see an Elf that is obviously flawed. Thranduil might look the part but he's very, very different to any Elf that we've seen before! He's disdainful, cold, cunning, suave, slightly menacing, and a badass swordsman. He's not really likeable but... I loved him! I really hope that we'll get to see a lot more of him in There and Back Again now. Although Thranduil doesn't get a huge amount of screentime in this film he's still an incredibly intriguing and fascinating character! He's also kind of sexy in my opinion :D He was one of my favourite things about the film and one of my favourite moments in the film was the scene between Thranduil and Thorin. I'd been really looking forward to this scene anyway and it didn't disappoint. There's a huge amount of tension between them. And interestingly enough, Thranduil, for all his arrogance, makes a perfectly reasonable demand to Thorin (just one chest of jewels out of a massive hoard of treasure). Lee Pace does a terrific job playing Thranduil and I loved his speech and mannerisms in the role. I couldn't quite believe that I was watching the same actor who played Ned the Piemaker from Pushing Daisies! Lee Pace is clearly very versatile!
And then of course there's the controversial character of Tauriel. Whereas the LOTR and The Silmarillion both have their strong female characters, The Hobbit doesn't have any female characters at all.
The barrel escape scene - with Bilbo and the Dwarves being pursued by both Elves and Orcs - is zany, crazy and tremendous fun! In the book Bilbo and the Dwarves just calmly and gently float down the river and that's fine - but it would have probably been pretty boring to watch on screen. And who wasn't laughing when Bombur took out all of those Orcs in his barrel?!
Laketown (or Esgaroth) looked absolutely stunning in this film! It's a complete triumph of design! It's a dilapidated medieval-looking town with rickety streets but it still looks really beautiful and you can get a sense of what the town looked like when it used to be prosperous. Esgaroth is quite possibly my favourite location from these Middle-earth films!
The Master of the Town is corrupt, cowardly and lazy. Stephen Fry is great in the role and I hope that they'll be a lot more of him in There and Back Again. The Master also gets a sidekick called Alfrid in this film (who's a completely original character). Alfrid is very slimy and unlikeable and is a little bit like Grima Wormtongue. Then there's the Bard. We don't actually get very much information about the Bard in Tolkien's book but his character is expanded upon in this film. In the DoS the Bard is a struggling single father. He's very unhappy with how the town is being run and is quite suspicious of the Dwarves. His grandfather Girion also made a failed attempt to kill Smaug on the day of the Dale attack. The Bard is very well-acted by Luke Evans and I really liked that the actors who played his children all had Welsh accents (to match up with Luke Evans' Welsh accent). Also we've had English, Scottish and Irish accents in these Middle-earth films so it's about time that Welsh showed up! Some readers might also be interested to know that the actresses who play the Bard's daughters are the real-life daughters of James Nesbitt (who plays Bofur in these films).
In Tolkien's book Gandalf is off-page for very long periods of time and it isn't until the LOTR that we really learn everything that Gandalf was actually up to. In this film Gandalf is in the story much more. I didn't find Gandalf's scenes as interesting as everything else in the film but it was great to see Radagast again - who I really like - and his battle with Sauron is really cool. I'm really looking forward to seeing Gandalf, Radagast, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman battle against Sauron at Dol Guldur!
As always I loved Howard Shore's music in this film. I really need to buy Howard Shore's Middle-earth soundtracks at some point. I even really like Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" which is played over the final credits. I'm not sure if the song works as well in context though. I first heard the song before I saw the film and I thought it was lovely - but this gentle acoustic song seems like an odd choice to put in after a cliffhanger. As much as I like the song I think something more dramatic would have worked better.