The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: an LOTR geek’s dilemma

the hobbit desolation of smaug

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+

30 thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: an LOTR geek’s dilemma

  1. Yeah, I think Jackson tried to stretch out a book way too much! Through his fame he has gotten a little long winded with his films. He needs to bring in a fresh editor to help him cut out all the extra crap in these films. They are way too long with not much to say.

    • I appreciate a few of the things he’s done to complicate the plot (especially showing us Gandalf’s quest), but there’s just so much that could be cut down. Still a good film–just not great.

  2. I absolutely loved this film and the first as well, I can’t believe you thought it dragged along! We can no longer be besties…I’m kidding ;). Seriously though, the Smaug section, last forty minutes or so, is astounding to say the least.

    • Hahaha. I’m glad my opinion has not affected our bestie status!! I will say that the Smaug section is the best part of the film visually (the liquid gold part was soooo cool), but for me it still dragged. I think my high regard for the book threw a wrench in completely enjoying the film.

  3. Good review. A bit better than the first, however, there are still aspects of this movie that I hope Jackson himself at least improves on for the next movie. Just so that he can go out with a bang of some sorts.

    • Yeah I’m very interested to see how he’s going to handle it. There’s a pretty thin sliver left to address in the book, so it’s basically going to come down to a lot of original stuff from Jackson. We’ll see…

  4. First. I am totally judging you for that Legolas poster. Just as you should be judging yourself. 🙂

    Second, I’m not a terribly big fan of Tolkein’s writing (The Hobbit included) and I too think stretching a frivolous kid’s book into three dark films filled ominous threat and tone unnecessary, and so . . . you’re luke warm review doesn’t inspire me. I’m sure I’ll see it eventually, because I see so many new films, but I’m still skeptical.

    • I was young!!! Don’t judge!!! Hahaha. You’re not a Tolkien fan?! This surprises me! I will admit that his style can get a little long-winded–especially in the LOTR books–but I think The Hobbit is a fantastic book. As for the film, I definitely wish the tone was lighter. Maybe that’s part of the problem I had with this one–it’s much darker than An Unexpected Journey. If you do end up seeing it, I can’t wait for your review! 🙂

      • I’m not. I don’t think he defines character well, and I think he spends too much time focusing on setting. I consider characters the most important element in a novel, and setting the least. So Tolkein and I tend not to see eye to eye. 😉

        Darker than the first? Hmmm. The first was already pretty dark, and I thought that one of the problems. Now I might be even less excited.

        • I see what you mean. LOTR tends to get that way sometimes, but I actually think in The Hobbit that Bilbo is a well-developed character! The dwarves…well, not so much. Lol. But I still love that book. I would give the film a chance. You never know! I’ve heard from a lot of people that they loved it…

        • I’ve seen that on this flick, too. I’m sure I’ll see it at some point – I’m just not terribly excited is all. 🙂

          And I agree. Bilbo is well developed, more or less. So was Frodo in LOTR, but a good novel has more than one good character.

          The movies actually develop characters better than the books, which one of many reasons I prefer the LOTR films.

  5. I completely agree with your review of this. There was fluff, as you put it, and the original content felt stretched. Less of Bilbo this time around but Martin Freeman continues to impress me. And omg, that initial exchange with Smaug. Magic!
    I love Legolas so I’d never complain about his unexpected presence, and I liked new character Tauriel (thought Evangeline Lilly did a good job) but agree about the love triangle. Not needed.
    Anyway, great review!

    • Thanks, V! Glad we’re on the same page with this one. Yes, isn’t Martin Freeman the best as Bilbo?! I also think he’s the best as Watson…Basically, in my book he can do no wrong. Lol.

  6. Great review, I had a brilliant time watching this film 😀

    Its still a bit too long but if I had to stay in any imaginary world middle earth isn’t too bad ;D

    Smaug stole the show and I am glad he did, great visuals and just an all over better film than the first hobbit, hope the trend continues into part 3 😀

  7. “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.” – I am SO glad to see we can agree. You are not being “that girl”, I totally get it. I can accept he was broadening the world and all, but you know what? He should have given us The Hobbit, and then the rest like the Tales of Middle Earth or something! Great review!

    • THANK YOU, ZOE. Happy to hear I’m not the only one that feels this way!! 🙂 Also, at this point I would be very surprised of he didn’t continue riding the Tolkien train. There are, after all, more books…

      • Nope, definitely not, and glad to hear that I am not alone either hahaha! There are… and I mean I could get on board with him changing things up a bit if they were GREAT and all that (eg Elves fighting alongside the Men at Helm’s Deep… the attack of the Wolves of Isengard on the way to Helm’s Deep), but I don’t know… I really don’t know if I feel like going to cinema for this. I think I will wait.

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