Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Poster

After a brief flashback detailing Gandalf’s (Sir Ian McKellen) first meeting with the dwarf heir Thorin Okenshield (Richard Armitage), the second part of this overly long adaptation of Tolkein‘s children’s tale by Peter Jackson picks up right where the first left off.  Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the company of dwarves are still on the run from the ruthless orcs chasing them down as they attempt to make it to the Lonely Mountain in order to reclaim the dwarf kingdom from the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

For Tolkien aficionados, this tale includes the visit with Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), the trip through Mirkwood, the arrival at Laketown, and the burglary of Erebor.  For those who don’t know what I am talking about, this movie includes adventures with shape shifters, giant spiders, wood elves, regular men, and a fierce dragon.  Oh, and also orcs galore, and evil incarnate, since Peter Jackson insists on the embellishment of what was originally a simple, self contained, adventure tale.

Though I can appreciate and accept the side events involving Gandalf being shown here, as they did happen tangentially according to various appendices and other material in Tolkein’s universe, they still feel like a distraction, detracting from the original quest of The Hobbit.  When these events bleed over into the primary story line, creating scenarios that never existed in the source material, the problem grows worse.  Yes, it strengthens the position of this trilogy as being a direct precursor to The Lord of the Rings, but that’s not how The Hobbit was originally written.  Making it as such detracts from the quest of Bilbo and the dwarves, making their mission seem both less meaningful to us, as well as more important than it ever was intended to be, by trying to integrate it into the larger over arcing fight against evil in a way that it wasn’t written to be.

In trying to connect Tolkien’s tales so tightly, Jackson has created a movie here that feels distinctly like a prequel and not much else.  With overt symbolism and lines that reflect things we saw and heard in his Rings trilogy already, Desolation lacks its own life.  Instead of being a somewhat lighthearted quest of treasure and dragons, Jackson desperately tries to recreate the massive scale of Rings, cramming in all the set pieces, action, and dialogue that he must have wished could have been included in his original trilogy.  As a result, Desolation is suffocated by connecting threads, a deluge of characters that are introduced simply to service those connections, sub-plots expanded to create a more epic story to fill out a needlessly long new trilogy, and scenes so over the top that they feel like they belong in a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.  That style of film making might work here, had they stuck with the lighter tone of the source material but when we are spinning down a theme park water ride with people bouncing off each others heads one minute and seeing some of those heads gruesomely decapitated the next it just doesn’t work.

The seriousness that the events surrounding the story of Bilbo are given, completely overshadow the actual quest and characters of The Hobbit.  Gone is any humor, clever characters, and lightheartedness.  We lose almost all sense of Bilbo being a clever and capable character rather than just a generic pawn in an ever increasingly complex game of thrones.  Instead we are treated to bombastic action, rushing from peril to peril, and a tepid (and awkward) love triangle created exclusively for our viewing displeasure.  It is as if Jackson is scared people would be bored by something that doesn’t match or exceed the epic feel of his Rings films.  Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is shoehorned into this story to provide further connection to the first franchise, while a totally new character played by Lost‘s Evangaline Lily is a bad-ass warrior she-elf who is admittedly pretty awesome, but is just another out of place element in Jackson’s expanded universe style take on Tolkien’s world.

There are numerous problems that mostly Tolkien fans will take issue with.  The most glaring of which is how the Ring is handled.  As in it isn’t, very often.  Yes, we know that the Ring is quite evil and dangerous, but that’s not discovered or felt until much later.  Bilbo is quite happy with his clever toy and uses it quite often to get out of sticky situations.  In this film, however, he acts fearful of it, and seems to prefer running around hiding from an angry dragon behind pillars rather than, you know, become invisible.  There are other things too, like how people like Bard (Luke Evans) are given complicated back stories for no good reason, and questionable encounters happening outside of the “main” quest, but suffice to say, if you are looking for a faithful adaptation, this is not one.

Is there anything to like here?  Well, there’s Smaug, though he’s given more importance than in the story.  Still, the dragon is mesmerizing any time any time Cumberbatch’s voice graces the screen, and even silent, he has a great and fearful presence.  There are some fantastic, if tiring visuals.  The CGI characters still, unfortunately, look like something out of an X-Box cutscene, but they don’t have as much screentime here as before.  There’s Smaug, who looks fantastic.  There is some inspired imagery in one of the few cases where one of Jackson’s many attempts to draw parallels from The Hobbit to LOTR succeeds.  There’s that dragon named Smaug.  Did I mention Smaug?  He’s really the best part of this film – as he should be – but sadly one of the only parts worth your time.  Just as Smaug has desolated the cities around him, so has Peter Jackson done to the clever heartfelt tale this film is based upon.

Mrs. Hamster says:

“It’s like the movie has been Disneyfied.”

My Rating: Two out of five hats

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Trailer:

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug destroys 3,903 theaters in 2D, 3D, HFR 3D, and IMAX 3D December 13.