The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug


Unless you’ve been chained up in the dungeons of Barad-dûr for the majority of the year, you’ve no doubt been assaulted by ads for the newest entry into The Hobbit franchise, The Desolation of Smaug. After an exhaustive press tour, a myriad of online fan events, and carefully timed sneak peeks, the film was released in December, becoming one of the 50 highest-grossing films of all time. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

Peter Jackson returns to helm this second installment of the trilogy, along with an ensemble cast including Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage. Jackson wants The Hobbit in it’s entirety to be an epic on a grand scale, but all he seems to be able to accomplish is the visual aspect of that goal. When An Unexpected Journey was released in 2012, a big hubbub was made about it having been shot at 42 frames per second as opposed to the more mainstream 24 frames per second. From the instant that fact was announced, we all should have known that The Hobbit, as a franchise, would be one when emphasized style over substance. But more on that in a moment.

Joining the fray this time around are Orlando Bloom, reprising his role as Legolas from the original Lord of the Rings films, and Evangeline Lilly as willowy Elven warrior, Tauriel.   As far as the acting is concerned, if you’ve seen one of Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations, you’ve seen them all. Elves do the typical Elven thing; that is, communing with the forest and delivering noble monologues while staring wistfully into the camera. Dwarves, conversely, are all gruff manly-men who hate the Elves. The only real sign of newness that we’ve got here is a budding romance between Tauriel and Kili, played by Aidan Turner, though it’s hard to get invested when both characters have the charisma of kitchen appliances and share a tiny amount of screen time.

I said a moment ago that The Desolation of Smaug is a film more concerned with flashy visuals than engagement on a narrative level, and that sentiment becomes abundantly clear in this movie, even more so than its predecessor. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the CGI gets downright embarrassing in parts, and more importantly, it’s pretty distracting. I feel kind of insulted, really. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was nothing short of a visual masterpiece, and I can’t imagine what would compel Jackson change up his tried and true formula in favor of something vastly worse. Absolutely no one was chomping at the bit for 42 FPS and the apparently shitty CG that comes with it. Now, while I can appreciate Jackson’s desire to innovate, I can’t help but feel that that innovation was added solely so he could skimp on content while still delivering a debatably engaging final product. You know what this movie is? It’s a sightseeing tour of all the wonderful places in Middle-Earth with a sign at each one which reads “The ensuing battle must be *this* exciting to continue.”

Speaking of engaging, that’s really my main problem with The Desolation of Smaug. There’s not nearly enough substantive content to fill this two-and-a-half hour long movie. Instead, Jackson chose to fill the intervening time with battle scenes that are drawn out mercilessly. Ultimately, they end up fading into an incomprehensible miasma amid all the samey, frenetic action that’s crammed into the film. What this essentially means is that about 45 minutes of every hour could be removed and the plot would have progressed just as far.

Bizarrely, Jackson tries to splice a completely unrelated storyline into the already flat narrative in the hopes of padding out the movie even more. I’ll provide a warning for SPOILERS here, if the review thus far has convinced you how badly this movie needs to be a part of your life. In Tolkien’s appendices to his novel, Return of the King, he explains that Gandalf left Bilbo and the Dwarves to travel alone and unaided through the forest of Mirkwoord while he himself investigated a growing threat at the ancient fortress, Dol Guldur. The film diverges into a completely irrelevant and tedious descent into the fortress, where Gandalf is confronted by the Necromancer, whereupon another interminable, prosaic action sequence takes place. But to what end? We know that eventually Gandalf must eventually rejoin the Dwarves’ party and we’ve get very little payoff for that particular story arc. To me, it’s all such a blatant attempt at padding an otherwise emaciated story that I feel a little taken advantage of.

It seems to me that Jackson takes for granted that we’re invested in The Hobbit franchise for the long haul- and to a certain extent he’s right. That does not, however, give him a legitimate excuse to make a flashy but ultimately hollow film. Jackson is no doubt waiting for the final installment to bring out the big guns, and maybe the final installment, There And Back Again, will finally be the Hobbit film we’ve all been waiting for.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

8 comments
  1. theartisticpackrat said:

    When you say, “Immediately following that little detour, Gandalf escapes, rejoins the Dwarves’ party, and the status quo is completely restored. None of the characters have learned anything, undergone any significant change, and the incident is never referenced again. It’s all such a blatant attempt at padding an otherwise emaciated story that I feel a little taken advantage of,” are you referring to the The Hobbit the book, LOTR the book, both, or the movie? Because they haven’t shown Gandalf fleeing his captors at Dol Guldur yet.

    The reason I bring this up is since we haven’t seen the events after that yet in the movies, how can we know if Jackson and co won’t add a consequence to it or make it into a growing point for a character or characters? Also, I think you exaggerate the amount of time in this film spent on the Gandalf subplot. Gandalf is in VERY little of the movie. He’s in like 3 or 4 scenes that don’t run that long. I agree that they may have spent a bit too much time on his subplot in the first film, but it isn’t touched on a whole lot in the second film.

    • Albert Cantu said:

      You know what? You’re absolutely right. Gandalf doesn’t rejoin the Dwarves’ party after his encounter with the necromancer. I made a mistake- that probably comes from watching a bunch of different movies in rapid succession- and the article has since been edited. But I think it’s important to note that my original criticism still stands.

      The point I was trying to make was that the scenes in which Gandalf travels to Dol Guldur were really jarring for me, because they have noting to do with the events happening in the central plot. In fact, the implication of the events that occur in that particular subplot don’t come to fruition until, canonically, 60 or 70 years later (I think) during the events of The Fellowship of the Ring. What I mean to say is that Tolkien added those events in the appendices for a reason- they have little place in the story that he was trying to tell at the time.

      • theartisticpackrat said:

        Gotcha. Thanks for explaining your point of view. I totally get what you mean. Truth be told, I’ve always debated the introduction of the Gandalf side-plot. I get why they put it in there, but I’ve still been up in the air about it. I was at least thankful it didn’t take up much of this film. So, I definitely see where you’re coming from.

        Thank you, by the way, for responding in such a civilized and polite manner. I always enjoy when I can discuss something with someone, not agree with them fully, and still have a civil conversation with them.

  2. eao said:

    I agree with your review. I was terribly disappointed in this installment! Jackson and his team have done such a good job up ’til now with bringing Tolkien’s world to life, and this time around it’s much more “inspired by” in the vein of other, more generic literary adaptations.

  3. Steve said:

    I figured as much. Thanks for the heads up – I’ll save my money and take that small bit of satisfaction.

  4. CMrok93 said:

    Good review Albert. Still long and unnecessary, however, also just a tad bit better than the first. Let’s hope that Jackson can get his act together in time for this final installment.

  5. greercn said:

    Great review and I agree with many of your reservations. But I adore dragons. And what a wonderful dragon Smaug is. Those sequences are just amazing, for those of us who love dragons.

  6. The way I heard it, New Line pushed Jackson to turn the Hobbit from a single film to a two- and then three-parter because they were desperately short of cash. If it’s doing wild business as the reports say, well, lucky them. But the first one left me bored and irritated and I’m not going back for any more.
    I would like to, if only to see Lee Pace at work. He was brilliant in The Fall. But a few minutes of Lee against hours of padding – nope.

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