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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Carolynne Cunningham, 
Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, 
Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, 
Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, 
Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, 
Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Stephen Fry

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is the second installment in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit series.

Sigh. 

I’m getting a little tired of these trilogies (that keep turning into quad-rilogies.

I read The Hobbit over ten years ago, so I can only assume that this second film represents a middle segment of the novel.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, SparkNote it before you go because it’s a long, unclear compilation of tidbit stories overridden by special effects that poorly compensate for the slow-moving and tonally inconsistent plotlines.

Highly disappointing.

Peter Jackson did an excellent job with the Lord of the Rings films.

Three movies for three books, so each film was self-contained and exciting. Desolation of Smaug doesn’t have a clear story. It’s middle ground that’s murky and unfinished. The group of dwarves travels, they get into trouble, they meet some elves, orcs are ever-presently growling, and they meet Smaug, the dragon. The little backstory that’s meant to intrigue falls flat and sappy.

Was I supposed to care about another descendent of a family and town that Smaug desolated so many years ago?

If so, fail.

Jackson’s LOTR second installment, The Two Towers, was done right, so it was an epic follow-up to Fellowship of the Ring. There is more depth given to each character, battles were rich with emotion and gore.  The special effects looked real – the snarling Orcs were terrifying, landscapes were vast and gorgeous, and Legolas was the embodiment of a majestic creature, fluid and precise.

In Desolation of Smaug, the elves are overly made-up drama-queens, the setting looks like just that, a set, and the movement of characters switches to full-on animation so often that it looks like you’re watching a video game segment. Similarly, the Orcs look ridiculous and completely fake. To those in charge of choreographing those claustrophobic fight-scenes, actual stuntmen and realistic movements are helpful in suspending disbelief.

The reason Jackson’s previous series worked well was because each film told a story, each added to the next, but were still strong enough to stand alone. Desolation of Smaug cannot stand on its own. It doesn’t add anything to the previous story, the characters are forgettable and don’t inspire sympathy.

I was rooting for Aragorn in Two Towers. But I couldn’t care less about Thorin Oakenshield. I know he’s supposed to be important. But he’s not lovable. Bilbo is the enjoyable character, but even still, Martin Freeman’s performance feels tired and uncreative.

The biggest highlight was seeing Watson and Sherlock, excuse me, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch interact as Bilbo and Smaug. And Smaug was beautiful. All of the special effects efforts must have been poured into the creation of the fantastic beast. From his dilating pupils to the sagging skin beneath his enormous jaw, the dragon was incredible. It’s just a pity that Smaug is the only memorable character in Desolation – Fili and Kili are a sad substitute for Merry, Pippin, and Samwise.  Just saying.

Peter Jackson had a chance to do something special with The Hobbit. One great film for one great book that could bring Tolkien’s world to a younger audience, while giving LOTR fans another journey through Middle Earth. Instead, The Hobbit will become a cautionary tale where artistic merit is lost in the desire to maximize profits.

If you’ve read the book a hundred times, you’ll enjoy the show and actually appreciate the few hidden jokes that fly completely over the remaining viewers’ heads.

Otherwise, read the book, it’ll go quicker.

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