The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
Release Date: December 13, 2013
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans
Director: Peter Jackson
Studio: New Line Cinema, MGM, Wingnut Film
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure
Based On The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
So, Desolation of Smaug. I mean, for a movie that is definitely in the middle of an opus, it was solid. I gave it three stars after I saw the movie a few times, because I felt like my original 4 stars might have been a little too high. Honestly it deserves something in between, like a 3.5 or 3.8. Let’s address some of the issues that I have with this movie first before I gush about how much I actually really enjoyed it.
Let me precursor my analysis with something that I feel like has been said a lot but hasn’t been heard a lot, that is the fact that this “short” book is a three movie opus. Now a lot of people are blaming the industry for wanting more money, and that may be true, and so they are stretching out a very small book. But I feel like you need to know that this is a children’s book that has been adapted for film.
Tolkien was a master story teller, he understood what a children’s book was and what an epic was. But just because The Hobbit is a children’s book doesn’t make it any less of an epic tale. Epic tales need time, and they need intricate story telling, especially for a modern audience. So to all of the people complaining about this three movie business, trust me if it was only one movie you’d be nit picking your little asses off even more. So calm down.
The largest scene I had an issue with was purely because I didn’t think it needed to be there, and that is the scenes with Beorn. I love Beorn, but the scenes in his home felt long winded. From the lull of the buzzing bees to the feeling that he was there for no reason, Beorn was too much an auxiliary character. Maybe it was because of all of the scenes in the movie, he had a very separated part. Sure, he was there to tell them where to go and discourage them and give them ponies, but he could have easily been taken out. Whereas the scenes in Mirkwood played in with the story of this movie, so did the (somewhat long and arduous) scenes in Dol Goldur.
Speaking of Dol Goldur, this was another one of those settings where it seemed to be just a little off from the movie. Much like Frodo and Sam’s part of the journey in The Lord of the Rings this was one of the darkest parts of the movie, however, unlike Frodo and Sam’s part this didn’t seem crucial. I know that it’s important to see where the armies of Dol Goldur come from, but the sudden switch in the movie from action scenes to Gandalf walking around with his staff kept the mood stressingly uneven.
In a movie about The Hobbit it seemed to lack a lot of Bilbo. We got a few great scenes with Martin Freeman, but it was rarely about Bilbo’s journey. This series is no longer a story about the book The Hobbit, it’s bringing in things from all over, and that’s fine, but when you call a movie The Hobbit, one would imagine seeing more of the said hobbit. Of course he has a massive scene in which he flatters Smaug, but in the scope of the story, it’s a small slice of the tale.
Instead of Bilbo holding the screen time, it seems to be Thorin, or maybe Bard, or Gandalf, or even the elves of Mirkwood. The elves play quite a large part in the film, from taking part in the barrel ride down the river to fighting in Laketown to having the singular romantic plot in the movie. Yeah, I kind of had a problem with it. I mean the movie never ever attempts to pass the Bechdel test, but when you create a character solely so that the pretty dwarf can have his romantic moment in the light, it made me a little uncomfortable.
Of course, I’m also a sucker for romance, so I gave in to cooing at Kili and Tauriel while Legolas scowled on the side.
It seems that Peter Jackson thinks that we don’t know this is a Tolkien story, because he kept dropping little connections between the movie and the LOTR series. Whether it was to incite nostalgia or part of some kind of fan service, it could be likened to every time someone mentions the battle of New York on Agents of SHIELD and therefore kind of gimmicky.
And throwing in something like a morgul arrow? Really, Peter? I’m suppose to believe some rando orc is carrying around a quiver of morgul arrows? I think not. I think if they had just taken out Legolas, I wouldn’t have been as uncomfortable with Tauriel and the whole morgul arrow thing. But the forced romantic triangle between them, and Legolas’s Draco Malfoy attitude was enough to annoy me.
However, what I lost in Legolas, I gained in Thranduil. I mean, in some ways, he was definitely fulfilling Lucius Malfoy’s role, but that wasn’t all that he was about. Lee Pace’s Thranduil perfectly portrays what I imagine Mirkwood elves to be like, and his greed for the (suggested) silmarils and fortune won me back. He’s a funner character than the more vanilla Elrond (though admittedly Hugo Weaving plays him perfectly).
Now, it seems like all I have to say are negative things about the film, but that’s just not true.
I absolutely LOVED Thorin’s transformation. The scene in the beginning of the film with him and Gandalf in the Prancing Pony was a perfect reminder to the audience of why we need the Arkenstone, and his slow change from courageous selfless leader to gold hungry dwarf is illustrated well. It’s clear that by the end of this film, he is not the grateful dwarf that he was in An Unexpected Journey. When a proposed hero starts dropping phrases like “I won’t endanger the mission for just one person” in an epic, you can pretty much guarantee shit is going down.
But he wasn’t all selfish, his scenes with Kili and Fili were the only moments we saw him soften. They were small scenes, but ones with a lot of weight behind them.
Similarly, the slow change of Bilbo’s relationship with his ring is great. Martin Freeman does a killer job with his facial expressions as he fights a baby spider for his ring, going from violent and voracious to shocked and even afraid. His attachment to the ring is not as drastic as Frodo’s but the effects of the ring are starting to wear on him.
Visually, the most beautiful and horrifying place had to be the tomb of the nine kings/ringwraiths. It was one of the rare moments when a reference to the earlier trilogy didn’t make me cringe. The light humorous appearance of Radagast played off perfectly with the dark nature of the scene. The broken cells and perilous location define it was a place of not only evil, but horror.
The dwarves’ trip down the river in their barrels was whimsical but still a great scene between the darkness of Dol Goldur and the dangers of the Lonely Mountain. With axes and daggers and swords flying around and Bombur flying into the air knocking out orcs as he goes, that scene alone is worth the price of admission.
The trip to Laketown and the inevitable arrival of Bard pretty much won every prize for me. I may be incredibly biased because I will never ever stop loving Luke Evans and Stephen Fry, but it also gave us a look at how man is fairing. Unlike LOTR, where we got Aragorn and Rohan and Gondor, this has mainly been a film about dwarves and elves (and of course, a hobbit…and a wizard). Basically, never about men. We’ve heard over and over the failings of men, but in Bard we see the good that comes with mankind. His story is one of an epic hero and he deserves every moment of screen time they give him.
And then of course, there’s the dragon. Smaug, the terrible. Smaug, the tyrannical. Smaug, the jealous girlfriend. Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job playing both fire breathing Smaug and the proverbial Dark Lord/Necromancer. We only got a tiny glimpse of Smaug in the first film, but this one had him all over the place. His lines with Bilbo are both insightful and hilarious. Clearly taken over with greed, he is suspicious of everyone coming in and taking his gold and obsesses over his riches. Well replace gold with a boyfriend, and we pretty much have jealous girlfriend.
I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes with Smaug, but played intermittently with the Laketown action made it feel slow. When the action finally started up inside the mountain, with the dwarves, it was a long process in which the movie practiced trust with their audience. Trusting them to wait just a little bit longer to see the result of the dwarves’ plot. While I love a gilded dragon, it definitely kind of felt like a waste. I mean, I understand their purpose, but didn’t we learn from years of legends that it’s exceedingly difficult to kill a dragon?
Anyways, the movie had its high points and its low points, but for a movie in the middle of a trilogy, it was great. It did exactly what it was suppose to do, it built up every plot line and left us in a moment of complete despair. Smaug’s final words can only allude to the utter destruction, nay, desolation he is going to lay upon the people and we are totally ready for it. Also, can we talk about how I’ve been listening to Ed Sheeran’s contribution to this movie non-stop since I’ve left the theater? I’ll put it at the bottom for you to enjoy.
Final Thoughts: It is undoubtedly a long three hour movie, but Tolkien fans will enjoy every moment of it. It does the job that every middle movie should, that is it sets up the climax of the story perfectly.