Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
PLOT: Picking up where the first film left off, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf companions, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitrage) continue their journey to Erebor to face Smaug the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Along the way, they encounter elves- including Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lily)- and human Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), heir to the throne of old Dale.
REVIEW: THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is the second part of Peter Jackson new epic trilogy, all of which are based on a rather slim volume, J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, which is only about 300 pages depending on the edition. Many felt the films would be stretched out, being based on such a limited amount of material. To that end, Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens have expanded on the novel with material from Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS appendices, and original material of their own.
The first film, AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, seemed to give the naysayers (including myself) ammunition. It was too long, and felt stretched to epic length just to be consistent with the original LOTR trilogy- to which the simpler plot of THE HOBBIT just can't compare. The good news for the faithful is that THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is actually quite a bit better than the first film, even if it suffers from a lot of the same issues- chiefly the length.
The best thing about THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is that the action starts right away. There are no more long drawn-out sequences set in The Shire. Rather, we pick up on our heroes right after Bilbo’s confrontation with Gollum, as the ring is starting to work its evil magic on the poor Hobbit. The first part of the film deals with Bilbo using his new powers to help the Dwarves escape their various foes (including a great water-barrel escape), with Ian McKellen’s Gandalf going on a quest early on that pretty much takes him out of the film, other than a handful of appearances.
THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG hits its stride around the time Legolas and Tauriel get introduced. Ten years later, Bloom looks the same as he did in the original LOTR trilogy, and hasn’t lost a beat, although he’s portrayed as slightly sterner than he was in the first trilogy, having not yet been matured by his quest as part of the fellowship. Evangeline Lilly’s addition as Tauriel is inspired, with her bringing a much needed feminine energy to the trilogy, giving the films the touch of romance and sex appeal that AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY desperately lacked (although die-hard Tolkien fans may disagree).
The middle section of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG deals mostly with Luke Evans’ Bard the Bowman, and here Bilbo and the dwarves end up downgraded to supporting actor status, with them being regulated to a few cutaway shots and gags. To some this may seem a misstep, but Evans brings a rugged energy to the films that’s closer to what Viggo Mortensen did in the original trilogy than anyone here has gotten.
However, while most of the new additions are good, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG still suffers from one major problem: it’s too slow. Once again, Jackson feels like he’s drawing things out, and large chunks of the movie play out like something that should have been left for the “extended cut” rather than the theatrical version. The first trilogy earned the running times. Here, a borderline three hour movie seems unnecessary, and the pace lags frequently, especially in the second half of the film. Things pick up once Smaug is introduced, with Weta outdoing themselves in the VFX department. Cumberbatch's voice acting is the icing on the cake.
It’s worth noting that unlike the first film, the press screening I attended did not feature the controversial 48fps version, so I can’t say whether or not the jarring process has been improved. However, the conventional 24fps version I saw suffered from some issues. The colors felt oddly bland for a series that’s known to be so striking visually, and everything has a bit of a muted, greasy look. The 3D also felt flat, although it’ll likely look much better in 48fps.
Overall, I was fine with THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, even if the series will likely never come close to the heights achieved by the original trilogy. Those films were made with passion, and to me that urgency is lacking from these films. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably still love this (and I hope you do) but to a casual fan like myself, it’s good, if far from great.