Review – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The-Hobbit-The-Desolation-of-Smaug-poster with Bilbo standing in front of the entrance to the Lonely Mountain

So, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a thing that happened. I watched, I had fun, but like its predecessor it is overly long and the plot, to borrow words from Bilbo himself, feels thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. It did improve upon the first in some ways (though not in others), but there’s no getting around the fact that Peter Jackson is milking this story to the last drop.

I’ll start off with the good. First of all, the opening is much stronger. It gets straight to the good stuff instead of taking half an hour to even get out of the house. There is also a lot less random singing and fewer scenes dedicated to breaking dishes. The characters were much better developed, though with thirteen dwarves many of them don’t get a lot of individual screen time. But the best part was Smaug. Smaug was brilliant. His design was unique while still being traditionally dragon-like. The way he breathed fire was a great special effect, starting with a glow in his belly and then spreading all the way up his throat. It wasn’t just the special effects, though. A big part of his appeal was the portrayal by Benedict Cumberbatch, who provided both the voice and motion capture for the role (an added plus is imagining Cumberbatch rolling around on the floor pretending to be a dragon during filming). Of course Cumberbatch has a voice that could stop traffic, so it’s really only expected that he would be perfect as a menacing dragon, though I was a little disappointed by the obvious alterations that sometimes made his voice unrecognizable. If you’re going to hire an actor with a golden voice, let him use his real voice.

The Hobbit Desolation of Smaug--TaurielNow for the bad. It’s been too long since I’ve read the book for me to do a proper book-to-movie comparison, but even with my faded memories I could usually tell what’s been added, often because it was just too glaring. The addition of Legolas of course was a major break from canon, and even though everyone loves Legolas and he is Thranduil’s son, so he probably would have been there anyway, putting so much emphasis on his character felt like a cheap move. There are enough characters in this story to begin with, many of whom aren’t developed beyond cardboard cutouts (like the majority of the dwarves), so why add more when you’re struggling to do justice to those you already have? Not to mention the overcompensating the makeup and/or CGI department did to make him look younger. He just looked off. And on the subject of elves who shouldn’t have been there, though Tauriel turned out to be a badass with the coolest moves and hair, the fact that her storyline was based on her being the center of a love triangle between her, Legolas, and Kili the Hot Dwarf reduced Jackson’s attempt at injecting a feminine presence into the story to yet another boring and tired example of women-dependent-on-men-to-exist. Tauriel could have been an awesome Captain of the Guard who was just friends with Legolas and decided to go chasing after the orcs because she felt that others outside of Mirkwood deserved to be saved too and not just her own people. But no, they didn’t go that direction. And though the scenes between Tauriel and Kili were sweet, it still bugged the hell out of me that we can’t get a female character whose story arc doesn’t involve romance. It’s made even worse by the fact that Evangeline Lilly had agreed to the role only if there was no love triangle, but then they sneaked one in on her during re-shoots.

Then, of course, the biggest drawback is the sheer length of the movie. The beginning might have been stronger than An Unexpected Journey’s, but the last thirty minutes or so really dragged. In fact, by the time they got to Lake-town you’re starting to wonder: why is it still going, when is it going to end, why isn’t it over, dear god I really have to pee. It’s also disappointing that they’re not letting The Hobbit be The Hobbit; they’re setting it up as a direct prequel to Lord of the Rings. While parts of the story do come back in LotR, such as Bilbo’s ring turning out to be the One Ring, the book itself is a separate story from the trilogy. It feels like they’re trying too hard to connect the two, adding in far too much extra material, canon or not, and ultimately overwhelming the original plot with foreshadowing. The Hobbit is a standalone novel, but this new trilogy of movies will not be, even once it’s complete.

Long story short (as opposed to a short story long, like this trilogy), if you’re a Hobbit fan, you’ll probably like this better than the first one, but on its own it’s still a bloated, meandering story that tests your bladder’s patience. I had fun, but it was far from perfect. I give it two and a half rings for movie goers in their theaters dark.