Be warned, spoilers live in this post. If you haven’t read The Hobbit, or if you haven’t seen the first and second movie, turn back now lest said spoilers blow your mind.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll get on to my movie review of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. Click more to keep going–you know you want to.
Better than the first movie
Yes, that’s right, this is better than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. There are fewer wild antics (the fall down the goblin tunnels in the first movie made me sad), and the story is (mostly) more straightforward. I say “mostly” because Gandalf’s little side adventure to investigate the “necromancer” (Sauron) seems disconnected from the rest of the film.
I understand WHY they fleshed out Gandalf’s role (in the books, he just kind of disappears, and only vague references are made as to where he goes), but I think it could have been done more smoothly. Maybe it didn’t need such a long segment either?
Anyway, I digress–this movie has less padding, and does a better job of cleverly adding to the material from the book.
But there’s still some fluff . . .
The barrel scene . . . it’s really long. I’m torn here. On the one hand, I absolutely love the way Bilbo gets the dwarves out of trouble in the books. It’s quiet and sneaky, and is one of the ways in which Bilbo proves himself a burgler and earns dwarven trust.
On the other hand, there were parts of the barrel chase that I really enjoyed. It was also nice to see the dwarves show some skill–these are supposed to be great warriors, but in the book, they mostly get into trouble and have to rely on the dumb luck of Bilbo Baggins to get them out of it. In this massively long barrel chase, they do manage to kick some arse, and Kili saves the day (which was very cool).
On yet another hand (why not?), the chase was too bloody long. This happens a lot in the movie. Gandalf’s side-quest is too long, Legolas is in the movie too much (though, I’m surprised to find that I don’t mind him being there–just a little less would have been good), Smaug’s monologue was almost silly (but saved with a great performance and effects), there were too many orcs, and . . . well, you get the idea.
In short, there be padding here. Less of it than was in the first too, and that’s a good thing.
A note on roasting hobbits and dwarves
Smaug monologues so much that Syndrome would be embarrassed for him. I think Bilbo’s interaction with Smaug in the book is much more plausible, but Peter Jackson just had to get in another battle/chase scene.
So, instead of the invisible Hobbit outwitting the arrogant dragon, we get a clumsy Hobbit who somehow doesn’t get roasted alive (mostly because Smaug is too busy being smug and fire isn’t, apparently, all that hot) and doesn’t succeed.
A review on Arstechnica (which I mostly agree with) points out that this extra chase/battle gets the dwarves more invested in the story–after all, they traveled all that way to take back the mountain, wouldn’t they want to confront the dragon?
It’s a good point, but I still think that they’d have been more apt to wait for the burgler (the whole reason Bilbo is there) to come out with the Arkenstone. The idea was to get the stone, then use it to rally support to Thorin’s banner. With that support, they would defeat the dragon and take back the mountain.
Anyway, the dwarves use the tricks of their ancestral home to try to kill Smaug. This is yet another scene were we see that the dwarves are more than just bumbling idiots, which I greatly appreciate. However, the scene is just too long, and the dragon passes up several opportunities to kill the dwarves. After a rigorous romp through the Lonely Mountain, all Thorin and company mange to accomplish is to tick Smaug off.
Smaug is so very angry with them, in fact, that he decides to leave them alone and go burn a town instead of eating, roasting, or smashing his prey. Yeah. I know.
What the movie got right
It added a strong female lead (Tauriel) who is also a love interest for Kili (which is awesome). This, among other things, adds some much needed character development for the dwarves in the company. Oh, and the original book didn’t really have female characters, so adding one in the movie is a good thing.
Desolation added Legolas in a reasonable way too. By sticking him in there where they did, the Mirkwood Elves’ kingdom gets fleshed out a bit. In the book, there really wasn’t a detail there. Legolas lent a little more gravity to the situation, and tied The Hobbit in more closely with The Lord of the Rings.
Bard was done right. The role was played well, and I think that the depth of character was needed if the (spoiler coming) death of Smaug in the last movie is going to be as climactic as it should be. While he’s a little cliche, the character fit the expanded story, and you just really wanted to like him.
Speaking of Smaug–he is, despite not making the most logical choices, awesome; just like a dragon should be.
The movie’s worst sin
What about Bilbo? Watching the movie, I like the little guy, but when you read the book, you can’t help but love him. We’re paying so much attention to action scenes, chases, Legolas jumping off people’s heads, and Sauron (yeah, he’s in there too) that we lose track of the best thing about The Hobbit. That thing is, Bilbo, a.k.a. “The Hobbit.”
Seriously, Peter Jackson, Bilbo needs some more love. Part of the whole point of the story is to show that this innocent guy could be clever and brave enough to survive a harrowing journey (and save several of his friends in the process). Bilbo is supposed to be lucky, yes, but he’s also supposed to be brilliant, super-sneaky, and braver than he ever though he could be.
The whole reason the book was so successful was Bilbo–he’s the guy we relate to. He’s the average person, living a quiet life, content at not doing much of anything. That’s where your audience empathy comes from.
I agree that it’s important to flesh out the dwarves (and other characters), but not at Bilbo’s expense!
Don’t get me wrong, I like the movie Bilbo, but he’s not filling the shoes of one of my favorite characters of all time, book Bilbo. Gimmie more book Bilbo in the next movie, please!
To wrap up
Go see the movie (if you like fantasy movies or just the Lord of the Rings). It’s better than the first by a decent amount. It’s not perfect, but it was pretty entertaining, and didn’t drag as much as you’d expect with over 2 hours and 40 minutes worth of content. I’ll buy it on Blu-Ray for sure, and I may just go check it out in theaters again too!