The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

There was a hope, perhaps only a fool’s hope, that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey would be the lead-footed start to the new trilogy, only for the action and awesome to be more present the in the follow-up films. Alas, after watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, whatever artistic hopes for the series are completely dashed. Yes, there is more action, but there is even less happening.

The Players:

The Plot:

After escaping in the last film, the dwarves, Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) and Gandalf (McKellan) have much more traveling to do, though Gandalf leaves them to check on something important. The rest of the group make their way through a forest filled with elves, and then get to  Laketown before arriving at The Misty Mountain. It’s there where Bilbo is sent to steal a special rock from the dragon Smaug.

The Good:

  • More Action: Where An Unexpected Journey took an hour to introduce its characters and then get them on the road, here there are much more exciting things afoot, with a battle with spiders, a barrel-based escape from the Elves, and finally a fight with Smaug to keep things interesting. On top of which, though you know they’re special effects, there is a scale and scope to everything on screen that is breathtaking, especially the work on the dragon.

The Bad:

  • Where is your Story?: Nothing is resolved in this film. Sure it’s a middle chapter, but there’s zero additional character development for the returning players, on top of a bunch of new characters added into the mix and no sense of accomplishment. If the main complaint about the original Lord of the Rings film was that it was about people walking to a destination for nine hours, there was at least a richer source material to draw from and more interesting incidents. To pad things out there’s an additional action sequences, but there’s a sense of repetition and pointlessness to it after a certain point. If one were to make a fan edit of this franchise, it’s hard to suggest there’s much more than forty minutes of material from this film that’s really needed to advance the story. Where in The Lord of the Rings, it was a fight for humanity (or whatever-anity) with evil attempting to take over the world. Here there are no grand stakes, and only arbitrary deadlines advancing the story, while we’re still stuck with thirteen dwarves of which about three are memorable for anything besides their looks.
  • More Lame: In the first Hobbit, there was a new Orc character introduced to have a big bad guy for one of the dwarves to fight, and it seemed like with so little at stake in the first film he would be killed so there would be a sense of closure to An Unexpected Journey. Not only does that character survive the second film, he introduces a second lieutenant. Guess what? That character survives too. And though Orcs are beheaded like crazy otherwise, there’s no sense that you’ve watched anything but filler because the nature of the threat hasn’t changed. It seems that maybe there’s more of them, but because it’s such a ill-defined threat, it’s hard to say. So the villains show up when needed, and most are killed easily except for the ones that are singled out, but they don’t die, while none of the Orcs manage to do much more than wound one Dwarf. This is G.I. Joe cartoon silly, which would be more palatable if there weren’t so many beheadings.
  • Intercutting: The decision to make this three movies means that more material was added in after the fact. As such how the events cut together is thrown out of balance. Characters disappear for huge chunks of running time, and when you come back to them, you forgot what they were up to and why it was important. This expansion also seems to hurt the narrative in other ways. Towards the end of the film something is hidden that will surely be recovered in the third film. But it seems like a story element that should be called back in the film you’re watching, not something that won’t be paid off until the next film. There was word that the original idea was doing the Hobbit as one film and doing a bridge story as the second, but it appears that this trilogy has expanded the book The Hobbit into three films with additional filler. Perhaps we’ll get some of that bridge material at the end of the third film, but it looks like it’s going to take another two hours to finish the adaptation of a three hundred page book.
  • Hey, Do You Remember Lord of the Rings?: As this functions as a prequel series, Jackson slathers on references to LotR. And that’s understandable, but they are very much nudges at the audience to goose up the film. Orlando Bloom’s Legolas shows up, and it seems mostly to just make the audience like the movies more. But when Gandalf confronts a glowing eye, and knowing that LotR takes place years and years later, it doesn’t make sense for now.
  • Peter Jackson No Longer Understands How Gravity Works: The endless falling and last minute saves, and all… most of the action would kill or couldn’t be accomplished by a human. When that happens, it’s distancing.

Overall:

This new series may have started out as a good idea for two movies (may have), but now that it’s three films, it can really only be described as a pointless cash grab in which all the good stuff is going to happen in the third film, much like the Star Wars prequels. But the road getting there is so tainted with pointless exposition and poor narrative choices that it’s hard not to look at this as a cynical ripping off of fans of the original trilogy. I love The Lord of the Rings film, but at this point I don’t know if I care to see the final installment of this trilogy. I know I never want to watch the first two Hobbit films again.

Rating: 4/10

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is in theaters everywhere December 13.

Photos:

Trailer: