To be honest I was not completely excited to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It is the first time I have not waited in line with a big nerdy grin for one of Peter Jackson’s presentations of Middle Earth on opening day; I still made it on opening day because I was at least interested. An Unexpected Journey definitely made me happy but there were some worrisome aspects to the film. It relied far too heavily upon CGI; granted the Lord of the Ring movies had plenty but there was still grittiness to Middle Earth which allowed the viewer to escape. In the first Hobbit movie everything was clean and sparkly and it was obvious the world had been created on a computer. Also, far too much attention was given to Thorin the dwarf leader, which in turn took away from Bilbo who I was excited to see portrayed by Martin Freeman. What this led to was an entire arch to the story which I was not entirely comfortable with but in the end made peace with assuming it helped draw in the expanded Middle Earth universe. The only part I did not like at all in the first Hobbit movie was the final scene in the trees, where Thorin comes down and battles the ridiculous looking pale Orc (I didn’t like him either). Overall I was happy, but hoped these more troublesome elements of Peter Jackson’s vision would be worked out. That did not happen.
The rest of this review is one big spoiler.
The Desolation of Smaug begins with Gandalf and the little people being chased through wilderness by a band of Orcs, led by the stupid looking pale one. Why? The first movie ended with the Dwarf party being whisked away by the Eagles to Carrack, a giant hill near the house of Beorn. How did the Orcs catch up to them? I suppose the movie needed to start with some action. They outrun the orcs to Beorn the skin changer’s house and I was geared up for the character I have been most anticipating. Unfortunately, he did a quick shape shift, spoke a few generic lines about his family, and after about five minutes the scene was over. It was if Beorn was thrown in as a nod instead of as a fascinating stop along an unexpected journey. Fail!
Then Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves came to the entrance of the forest. I liked how Gandalf’s decision to leave the party was illustrated but the forest scene was overall a disappointment. The walk through the forest was a crucial part of The Hobbit. It was supposed to be a test of patience and of how well they followed the wisdom of Gandalf. “Don’t stray from the path or you will never find it again,” Gandalf warned them. The landscape was unnecessarily elaborate and unrealistic, and the enchantment caused by the forest was more like an LSD trip than a test of will. This was a lazy way of demonstrating the hopelessness Bilbo and the Dwarves faced there. In the novel, they are captured by the spiders only after they stray from the path which was due to the trickery of the elves and their own despair. Instead Peter Jackson used this as an excuse for another battle scene and a chance to give Orlando Bloom a job. At least I think that was Orlando Bloom; most of the time he looked like a computer generated character from The Polar Express.
The depiction of the Kingdom of the Wood Elves was cool, and I did not mind the addition of Turiel the female Elf, but then Peter Jackson felt too much time had passed with no action so the barrel escape was turned into an indulgence of CGI and artistic liberties. Fili the dwarf is shot with an Orc arrow, Legolas does some acrobatics, and while the action was at times fun, it ultimately took away from Tolkien’s vision and it was at this point I decided I did not like the movie. Laketown was a bit of a blur to me because I nodded off a couple times so I will skip to the title scene.
Three dwarves get left behind. Why? Bard gets thrown in jail. Why? Orcs attack the town. Why? I’ve read this book three times and I was unable to follow the story. The exchange between Smaug and Bilbo was a highlight. It showcased Martin Freeman’s skills, the reasons he was picked to play Bilbo, and allowed us to finally see the magnificent dragon. Unfortunately it also allowed us to pine over the lack of Bilbo in the whole movie named for him. Then came the nail in the coffin for my opinion of this movie—a ridiculously drawn out battle between the dwarves and Smaug inside the mountain, ending with the dragon being caught by a river of molten gold and thus motivating him to destroy Laketown. First of all, Dragon vs. Dwarves and Hobbit inside the mountain absolutely never took place in the book because Smaug cast a paralyzing dread over everyone. The battle in this movie took away from the brilliance of Bilbo as a burglar, the real reason Smaug attacked Laketown, and from the power and confidence of the dragon in the mountain. Oh and meanwhile there was another ridiculous battle at Laketown. Why?
I believe Peter Jackson has forgotten that Tolkien was the master storyteller and he is just there to put Tolkien’s vision on film. The Hobbit is a children’s tale filled with surprise, peril, and great tests of character. The excitement was in seeing how these unlikely characters found their way out of sticky situations, not in elaborate battle scenes. The story’s enduring popularity has been due to the mischief and wonder involved at the various stages of the book’s journey. War did not drive the plot even when it took place; Bilbo and his development as a character were the story of The Hobbit. Unfortunately, Peter Jackson forgot about the main character and forgot that he did not write this fantasy classic. Instead he made a movie that only shared similar characters and events with Tolkien’s classic, and departed completely from the wonder and adventure that The Hobbit has provided for countless people.