The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Reviewed by Mitchell Burns
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, and Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug
The Dwarves: Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown.
Based on the Book(s) by: J.R.R. Tolkien
I say “based on the books” because when Peter Jackson decided to make the 300+ page novel The Hobbit into a movie trilogy he decided to pull from other works that J.R.R. Tolkien had written. These other novels or works, also known as the Appendices, expanded on parts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Appendices expands on portions from The Hobbit, portions where Gandalf leaves the dwarves to attend to other concerns in the world of Middle Earth. Many of these concerns actually turn out to be precursors to Saurons return, and the beginning to the events that take place in The Lord of the Rings.
Before I get ahead of myself, I must say that I am an unabashed Lord of the Rings (LOTR) lover, I’ve read all three of the books, and The Hobbit, and I’ve watched the movies a dozen times, they’re amazing. I’ve been excited for the possibility of a Hobbit movie since the credits for The Return of the King Rolled.
The First Hobbit movie wasn’t terrible; I actually included it in my Top 20 movies of 2012, a choice I now regret. My nostalgia overruled my taste in good movies, I was just so happy to be back in Middle Earth that I loved the movie, even with all of its flaws and … walking. In my defense, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Stayed (mostly) true to its source material.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug immediately starts off on the wrong foot; a flashback to Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield’s first meeting. Like many of the unnecessary scenes scattered throughout this movie, this scene is implanted into the script to do nothing but waste time. It’s a scene that might have been halfway interesting as a deleted scene on the extended edition Blu-ray.
TH: DoS jumps immediately to where we last left our hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and his dwarven companions, along with Gandalf the Grey. The group is traveling to The Misty Mountain in order for the dwarves to reclaim their homeland, which was taken from them years ago by an evil dragon named Smaug. The group is being chased by orcs, and now a bear. Gandalf leads the group to the home of Beorn, a character I very much enjoyed from the novel. Unfortunately, even with all of the movies fabricated storylines and missteps, they couldn’t even take the time to make Beorn an interesting character like he is in the novel. Instead, we’re left with a rushed subplot that barely has a place in the movie.
This movie is so excited to move onto its next storyline, it barely gives us time to breath with the ones we remember. In no time at all the group, excluding Gandalf who has run off to deal with some pre-LOTR issues, arrives at Mirkwood. In the novel The Hobbit we are introduced to the Elven King Thranduil, who happens to be the father of Legolas, our favorite elf from LOTR. So, obviously, Legolas is introduced in the movie The Hobbit as a major character, aiding Bilbo and the Dwarves on their journey. I am a big fan of Legolas, and it’s honestly great to see him here again, but he’s never mentioned in the novel. It’s also never, ever mentioned that Legolas met Bilbo previously; you think it would come up once or twice during the trip to destroy the one ring with Frodo, Bilbo’s nephew?
Alas, I rest. With Legolas we are introduced to another new character, Tauriel, played by a personal favorite of mine, Evangeline Lilly. With the introduction of her character comes the inclusion of some unnecessary, borderline bad story choices; for example, a love triangle involving her, Legolas and one of the dwarves! That’s exactly what we LOTR fans were asking for, more twilight with or Middle Earth.
I will not delve into the plot much more, only to say that we spend an unnecessary amount of time in Laketown, to the point where I was bored. When we finally get to meet Smaug, it’s tense and exciting, and very reminiscent of Bilbo’s meeting with Smaug in the novel. Then… They ruin it… by adding stuff. The Smaug sequences, and maybe some of the barrel moments, are really the only scenes in the movie that immersed me completely; the rest of the movie seems to lack any tension at all.
Yes, the films major, major flaw is the addition of plot, to an already wonderful story. The choice to turn this book into a three part movie was a terrible one.
The film has some redeeming qualities; it’s just as beautiful as LOTR ever was. Peter Jackson has a great vision for the world of middle earth, and every detail is wonderfully imagined. Many of the scenes you imagined in your head while reading the classic novel are thrust upon the screen like its projecting straight from your mind.
The acting is great; Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, and Richard Armitage all do a fabulous job. Cumberbatch does a bang up job as the voice of Smaug, and if there was a voice acting awards category, Scarlet Johansson would have some stiff competition (for her voice work in Spike Jonze’s new film Her). Many critics are faulting the movie for its poor character development of the dwarves, beyond Thorin Oakenshield; we don’t get to know the other 12 dwarves very well. I will support the movie here, and say that I barely got to know any of them even from reading the novel. It’s thirteen characters, who all have very similar names and look very much alike, I can’t fault the movie too much for that. Besides, the actors portraying the 13 dwarves all do a swell job. I think my fiancée like the movie a whole lot more thanks to the very plump, red bearded dwarf, who made her laugh constantly.
I enjoy the foreshadowing of LOTR, and if I was to ever watch all six movies in a row (Doubtful), it would play out very nicely in the grand scheme of things. Reading the Hobbit I often wondered why Gandalf was leaving, what he was doing, why he was being so mysterious and it’s very interesting for a fan like me to learn these things.
While I can see people’s enjoyment of these movies, I can’t idly sit by and be happy with what Jackson has done to this franchise I hold so very dear to my heart. It saddens me to think that people are comparing Peter Jackson to the likes of George Lucas and his Star Wars prequel misstep. Jackson has nothing but a deep, deep love for Tolkien and Middle Earth, and you can see it on screen, but he wants to give us too much. Jackson is so immersed at this point that he can only assume that more is better, and it’s not. He wants to spoon feed us as much as possible, when we can only be fed so much.
There is a lot of good in this movie (and the first), but as a whole it’s not a good film. Once all three movies are out, and someone makes a 3-4 hour edit, I will watch that and I’m sure I will love it.
My Grade: C-
Thanks for Reading,
Mitch Burns, The Hollywood Persona