This is one I’ve been anxious to see. I might not have spouted about it much on here, but I am a pretty big Lord of the Rings geek. I watch the films over and over, I’ve read the first two books (Return of the King is next on my list), I have this LOTR GameCube game that I’ve beaten about ten times, and I play Lego LOTR on my Wii regularly. Oh yeah, and I used to have a giant poster of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas on my wall…Don’t judge me. Anyway, when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out last year, I was thrilled that director Peter Jackson was going to show us more of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. And I ended up liking the film quite a bit. Maybe not as much as the LOTR trilogy, but I love Martin Freeman in the role of reluctant hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins, and I think the story is fun—so fun that it inspired me to read the book, which has since become one of my all-time favorite reads.
So that brings us to part two of the Hobbit trilogy: The Desolation of Smaug. I went in hoping for and even expecting greatness equal to the LOTR trilogy. After all, this film covers some of the best moments in the book. Yet I find myself…disappointed. I see that Jackson is trying to bridge the gap between The Hobbit and LOTR by combining everything Tolkien into a giant, cohesive world, and sometimes it works. Other times, it just doesn’t. I liked this film, but with a lot of fluff that adds up to a running time of 2 hours and 41 minutes, I can’t quite say I loved it.
Synopsis: “The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. Bilbo Baggins is in possession of a mysterious and magical ring.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: Once again, Jackson presents us with a visual treat. The effects are phenomenal (especially those involving Smaug the dragon) and the scenery is detailed and thoroughly imagined. The settings and many of the scenes are brilliantly adapted from the book. Mirkwood, Laketown, and Erebor all translate beautifully to screen, and there are lots of visually impressive moments in these places. And, of course, the actors and their characters are wonderful. Freeman remains fantastic as lovable Bilbo (one of my all-time favorite casting choices). Sir Ian McKellan was basically born to play wise and cheeky wizard Gandalf (possibly my favorite casting choice ever). All of the dwarves are interesting characters with fun quirks. LOTR favorite Legolas makes a triumphant return, and Lee Pace plays his father, Thranduil, an ice-cold elf king with an unsettling facial tic. Then there’s the newbies. Evangeline Lilly is tough elf captain Tauriel (who is actually an original character created by Jackson). Luke Evans is mysterious Bard the Bowman. Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely KILLS IT as the voice and motion capture of Smaug/the Necromancer. As a whole, the film has an epic storyline, plenty of action, and nice doses of humor to move everything along at a fairly steady clip. Favorite scene: Bilbo’s initial confrontation with Smaug is a treat. They have all the wonderful rapport I’d hoped for after reading the book. However, a close second for favorite scene is definitely when Bombur (Stephen Hunter) becomes a barrel of destruction. I’ll let you wonder about that until you see the film.
The Bad: The length. I can deal with a long film when every moment is important (see Prisoners), but I’m gonna say at least 20 minutes could be shaved off of this one. The opening scene, for instance, is not at all needed. And neither is the drawn-out encounter with Smaug. When it’s just Smaug and Bilbo, it’s fine, but when the dwarves get involved it stretches on and on until it gets downright silly. On the flip side of that, some scenes that could use a few more minutes are cut regrettably short. The encounter with Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), a man who can shapeshift into a giant bear, is over in the blink of an eye—a disappointment for readers, as Beorn is a cool character in the book. Much more time could be spent in Mirkwood, which I find to be one of the most fascinating places in the book. Also, I’d like point out that for a film with “hobbit” in the title, there is very little time spent developing Bilbo’s character. But how do we make room for him when we’re dividing our time between the Mirkwood elves, Gandalf’s quest, Bard the Bowman, and all the dwarves’ shenanigans? I understand why Jackson spends time on all of these characters, but sometimes I don’t believe their extra moments are justified. Tauriel, for instance, seems specifically created to become part of an unnecessary (and, frankly, dumb) love triangle. I like her well enough, but do we really need her? On top of all of that, there are several differences from the book’s plot that bother me. I’m sorry—I’m being “that girl,” aren’t I? I can’t help it. Why mess with a good thing, Jackson? Least favorite scene: Instead of a least favorite scene, I’m going to lament a lost quote. Smaug rightly identifies Bilbo as a hired burglar, and in the book, as the hobbit sneaks away from his first risky encounter with the dragon, he delivers a sassy parting shot: “Well, I really must not detain Your Magnificence any longer or keep you from much needed rest. Ponies take some catching, I believe, after a long start. And so do burglars.” Smaug is furious and Bilbo barely gets away from a burst of flame. I was looking forward to this line from Freeman the whole time. But it never came…
To Sum It Up: I’ve been harsh on this film, but only because 1) I’m very fond of the book, 2) I’m reluctant to accept all of the changes Jackson has incorporated, 3) the length of the film seems unnecessary, and 4) it irks me that one slender book has been made into three massive films. However, The Desolation of Smaug is not bad. In fact, it’s quite a bit of fun. Many people have even praised it as an improvement over An Unexpected Journey. I don’t know if I necessarily agree, but if you’re a fan of LOTR and The Hobbit, I doubt you’ll regret catching a matinee showing of this.
My Grade: B+