The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (MOVIE REVIEW)

I finally had the chance to sit down and watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this evening, and it was great fun falling back into the cinematic Tolkien world that Jackson has crafted. But I couldn’t help but feel a sinking disappointment throughout it all. Despite the beautiful choreography and the lathered on make-up and sets and setting and cameos, the core of the movie felt like a grasping at wind, at long-lost nostalgia. But before I get into my review, let me give you some background.

I grew up with my father telling me about “his generation”. The Star Wars generation. He remembers with great detail the impact the trilogy had on him and his life and his imagination. In my lifetime, or rather my youth, I’ve seen plenty of filmic trilogies come and go, each impacting me in subtle ways forming me into the proud geek I am today. To name a few I think back to fondly from my formative years, there’s Bryan Singer’s X-Men trilogy, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, The Bourne Trilogy… even a prequel Star Wars trilogy. But the one that has and always shall stand out to me is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I love them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they were the “Star Wars” of my generation. I read the books. I read The Hobbit. I also tried to read The Silmarillion (and failed… but I tried). When I watch them, they need to be the Extended Editions, and even then they’re too short for me. I get completely lost in the wonder of Middle Earth that any portion of the trilogy is too small unless it’s the full thing. I find that Howard Shore’s compositions come to mind easier than nearly any John Williams tune, and I can honestly tell which scene each recording belongs to. When people ask me what my favorite movie is, I find it very easy answer, but they don’t always get it. I say “The Lord of the Rings,” and they ask “which one?” In my mind they are all-together 1 flawless film.

When An Unexpected Journey was released in 2012 I was ECSTATIC. Although I realized off the bat it didn’t have the epic feel of Lord of the Rings I’d hoped for, just being in Middle Earth again was something truly special for me. I then spent two months in Costa Rica (Dec 2013-Jan 2014) and I missed seeing The Desolation of Smaug in theatres. All my friends, my family – they thought it was excellent. Far better than the first. Now that I’ve had the chance to see it though, I feel like it fell quite flat for me, despite being very entertaining and a hell of a romp.

As is The Two Towers in the LotR trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug isn’t a complete film. This has been mentioned by other critics, but it has no true beginning or end. It is simply the middle of the story. But with its roller-coaster storytelling, the climax felt oddly level with the rest of the film. Which is odd seeing as how they finally introduce Smaug the Terrible to us. But this is merely a byproduct of turning one story into many for the sake of creating a trilogy. By implanting meat into a story you dilute the source material. And by injecting steroids into a children’s book (yes, The Hobbit was a children’s book) you’ve effectively given it a faux-epic feel that pales in comparison to the truly epic Lord of the Rings. By both implanting meat and injecting steroids to the film in order to split it into three whole parts you find it really doesn’t gel very well after it’s all said and done. The foundation is there. The key lore is there. The beautiful, unbelievable New Zealand is there. But the love for the source material is lost.

Despite all this, seeing Legolas back on my screen drew a smile ripe across my face. As did seeing Bree and the Prancing Pony, and that blink-and-you-miss-it cameo that Peter Jackson makes (in fact the same cameo he did in Fellowship). Getting to see Beorn on screen oddly reminded me of how we DIDN’T get to see Tom Bombadil in the original trilogy, which also brought a smile to my face. Legolas hopping over the heads of the dwarves was just as magical if not more-so than him bringing down an Olaphant or jumping onto a sprinting horse. Gandalf’s magic on full display as he took on the power of the Necromancer Sauron himself – always cool. It’s like finally getting to see Yoda fight.

I even liked the completely non-canon Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lily. The Hobbit is distinctly lacking in a love story, so it only made sense to include something of that vein. Tauriel was effectively playing and homaging to the roles of Arwen and Éowyn from the original trilogy, sometimes excelling, sometimes failing. I truly disliked her use of the Elven language while tending to Kili’s wound, a scene who’s only purpose was homaging to Arwen and Frodo so as to reclaim nostalgia amongst fans. It fell flat for me. But Kili’s words afterward did touch my heart and I think that was far more inspiring. Whether I like the added drama that Legolas is after her heart as well… I dunno. Also thought Thranduil was a bit too emotion-heavy for a true elf king.

They did very well at not relying so heavily on CGI when it came to costuming this time around. It just doesn’t look as good as the real thing. The orcs felt more like they were supposed to than they did in An Unexpected Journey. But that being said, the added plot references to the Necromancer and Sauron and the tombs of the nine Nazgûl were, in my opinion, totally unnecessary. Cool yes. Enjoyable yes. But this added plot that derived from other Tolkien works/notes being morphed to working for this film did it ultimately a great disservice. It helped connect dots that didn’t need connecting, and explained plot points from the original trilogy that destroy the mystique and imagination it originally evoked.

Last but not least is Smaug. What a fantastic job they did there. I know I said previously that the climax didn’t exactly feel like one, but I’d be hard pressed to deny that it was a beautiful scene. The creation of Smaug is, as far as I can remember, the best realization of any dragon I’ve ever seen in any movie. Benedict Cumberbatch delectably voicing the great dragon, counterpointed by Martin Freeman’s inherent innocence is such a great combination that one must deduce they’ve worked in together in some fashion previously, however improbable that may seem. The way they created the chambers in Erebor filled with unmeasurable wealth in gold was brilliant as well. I could re-watch that scene over and over really.

All in all, I liked the film. But I feel no more happy or complete now that I’ve finally seen it, compared to beforehand. This is in stark contrast to The Lord of the Rings, which undoubtedly makes my geekdom a far richer and more imaginative realm than without. This is the fundamental difference I feel in the pit of my stomach, and why I find it hard to love this new trilogy as it is currently. If The Lord of the Rings really was the Star Wars of my generation, then I guess this must be how it felt for original trilogy Star Wars fans to watch the prequels. They’re just not the same.

6 thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (MOVIE REVIEW)

  1. I hate to say I feel the same. I want to live these film so much. As you say, The Lord of the Rings was our Star Wars, but the new films aren’t hitting the mark.


  2. For a start, having been a d&d fan of the 70’s and 80’s and having to use my imagination for the world of Middle Earth, when Jackson’s LOTR franchise hit the screens I absolutely loved 95% of it, even if it never ever matched my own personal imagined version of the books. In fact there are still parts of the Ralph Bakshi animated movie that I think are worlds apart from PJ’s version. BUT credit where its due, without Peter Jacksons drive and determination we still would be without a film version.
    Which leads me onto where it all went sadly so so wrong with the Hobbit. Don’t get me wrong I am still a fan but with these new films I get the unnerving feeling I’m being had BIG TIME. The Hobbit was NEVER 3 films. NO NO NO NO. I’d accept 2 using the Appendices and being faithful to the original but 3 films??? COME ON! That said I still stumped up the cash to watch the first 2 instalments as soon as they came out. Passing over the 3D gimmick which I still find a waste of time I have to say I loved the first film. But then it all went wrong. The golden statue end scene was beyond ridiculous but the escape from Mirkwood barrel scene and the Spiders were excellent. No my beef is with the suddenly even more Superhero indestructible godlike Legolas. I was happy to see him rock up in Mirkwood playing the traditional elven role but then he went on a quasi (anti-tolkien) crusade, where the viewer was left thinking he was indestructible. Most of this was pointless padding running about Laketown and as such gets a massive thumbs down from this fan. That said I’ll still end up rushing to see the final chapter and no doubt moaning about how not to flog a dead horse!


  3. I agree 100%. Also the lack of the Misty Mountain Song from film 1 was weird given that you’d think its subthemes would be swelling in the background of the musical score of film 2.

    It seems that Hobbit films are meant to eventually be in the same box set as the LOTR but if they are going to follow these with Tree and Leaf or Silmarillion they are going to need to put more Tolkien and less Hollywood into their thinking. By which I mean- long epic films came back with the LOTR as it is simply impossible to tell the story any other way. Hobbit on the other hand would have been better suited to a television format more like Agents of SHIELD- at least Hobbit as presented in these films.

    But I still love watching it and listening to the score- in the same world where Fast and Furious is on film 6 we need to put the demigodlike achievement of filming Tolkien in its correct context…


    1. After The Hobbit I doubt we’ll see other Tolkien stuff filmed, as a lot of it doesn’t have the gravitas or the story of either LotR or the Hobbit. But I’m not apposed to the idea. I didn’t even realize they hadn’t used the Misty Mountain song… I wonder if that’s because they’d already passed over the Misty Mountain? Hmm


      1. I would say “never say never” regarding other Tolkien works being filmed, for three reasons: money, the arrogance of lesser souls in the media who feel perfectly free to ‘reimagine’ or ‘adapt’ works of genius, and the need for one conglomerate to maintain its trademark farm as against other conglomerates. Also, money. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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