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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

The Hobbit should have been one very good movie, even if it went over three hours. I feared for the worst when I heard Jackson wanted to expand it to two films, then gave up all hope of being satisfied when he finally settled on making it a trilogy. I was not wrong to feel that way. After all, The Hobbit is barely the length of half of one of the Lord of the Rings novels, and the longest extended edition of one of those films is less than four and a half hours. An Unexpected Journey was cluttered with characters and scenes that were not in the very short novel, and now Jackson has one-upped himself by not only again including characters from the Lord of the Rings trilogy that did not appear in The Hobbit, he went and created a totally new character that never appeared in any Tolkien text.

I really like Evangeline Lilly, as an actress and as a beautiful woman, and it was great seeing her on the big screen. She does a very good job within the confining restrictions of the script, both in the action scenes and in the more intimate, emotional ones. However, there was no reason for her appearance at all. None of the woodland Elves were named in The Hobbit, not even their king. Thranduil (Lee Pace) was the king of the woodland Elves, but he wasn't even mentioned by name in the literature until The Fellowship of the Ring, and then only in passing, being identified as the father of Legolas (Orlando Bloom), during the scene of the Council of Elrond. Just as with some characters that were in last year's film, I am sure Legolas was included in this one simply because he was part of the very successful (and much better) Lord of the Rings films. Some of this is acceptable of course, since Thranduil and Legolas must have been part of the action even if not named, but then there's Tauriel. She is supposed to be a member of the lower class of Elves, a soldier, so not worthy of the attention of a prince like Legolas, but Thranduil fears that is what is happening. Bad enough to expand the story and give Legolas a love interest, but much worse when she is apparently also attracted to one of the dwarves. At least she picked Kili (Aidan Turner), about the only one besides Thorin who could be considered attractive even by another dwarf. [After more thought, I suppose Jackson might have included this story line as a way for Legolas to learn that it is okay to be friends with a dwarf. Perhaps we'll see that in the next film.]

Yes, there were quite a few changes in the adaptations of the Rings trilogy, but nothing as egregious as what is going on in The Hobbit. Orcs are mentioned a couple of times in the book, but they don't appear until the Battle of Five Armies at the conclusion of the story. In these films they have been pursuing the dwarves relentlessly from the very beginning of their journey. A scene toward the end of the first movie had Bilbo and the dwarves trapped in the trees with the orcs menacing them from below. The orcs were riding wargs, large wolf-like creatures. In the book it was just the wargs that had treed them, they weren't ridden by orcs. In the current movie the orcs again are in pursuit, and they attack the dwarves as they escape the Elves. This is a very long, tedious and repetitive scene, included I am sure because today's audiences have to have as much action as possible, or at least that is what the filmmakers think. Again, nothing like that was in the book, neither the orc attacks, nor Legolas and Tauriel fighting the orcs, which enables Bilbo's party to get away and end up down river at Lake Town. Jackson wasn't satisfied I guess. There is another action scene in Lake Town as the orcs attack again. Of course, NOT IN THE BOOK!

I guess I shouldn't be this hard on these films, and in fact almost decided not to review this one. But these additions are far from the only things wrong. I thought the special effects in the first film were very good, but there are several scenes in Desolation that are not. One of them is the first orc attack I mentioned, another is later when Bilbo encounters Smaug. The dragon is rendered fairly well, but the immense mounds of treasure in his keep was poorly done, especially in scenes when bunches of coins and jewels were cascading down a slope. It looked very fake and cheaply animated. I fear Jackson is rushing these films and not taking the care that he should to ensure top-of-the-line effects. The third film was originally scheduled to premiere this summer, but was pushed back to December, and even that might not be enough time to get it right. Both fans of Tolkien's books and fans of the Rings films deserve the best possible production values, and I don't think they are getting them.

I don't want to give the impression there is nothing worthwhile in this film. I thought Beorn's sequence was well done, both the CGI rendering of his countenace as a bear, as well as the writing and the acting of Mikael Persbrandt in the confrontation with Thorin. The giant spiders were much better than the Shelob sequence in Return of the King, however the resolution to this scene differs from the book. Bilbo was able to free his comrades from the spiders' webs, but in the film it is Legolas and Tauriel who come to their rescue. As much as I have been complaining about things added to the story, I have to say I was very disappointed that he left out one of my favorite sequences from the book. Before the spiders, before they were captured and imprisoned by the Elves, Bilbo and party had seen the Elves feasting and celebrating in the forest. When they attempted to approach them to beg for food and shelter, the Elves immediately disappeared and their fires went out, leaving our heroes in the dark, still famished and exhausted. This occured three separate times, all with the same result. Why was this not in the movie?

Even the title of this film is off. What was described as the desolation of Smaug didn't occur in the book until after the final action shown in this film. There is little more than 50 pages (out of 255 in my copy) left to go in the story now, which probably means the third film will also be expanded in several areas, most likely very much so in the Battle of Five Armies, along with the addition of other extraneous characters. If I had been enjoying these films I would likely say I couldn't wait for the third, but it's exactly the opposite. I would rather wait several more years for Jackson to finish There and Back Again [WAIT: Now it's title is "The Battle of Five Armies"] to assure a satisfying conclusion to the story.

Related Links:
My review of the preceding film, An Unexpected Journey.
And, now the conclusion, The Battle of the Five Armies.


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Peter Jackson

Fran Walsh
Philippa Boyens
Peter Jackson
Guillermo del Toro

December 13, 2013

Martin Freeman
Ian McKellen
Richard Armitage
Aidan Turner
Mikael Persbrandt
Orlando Bloom
Evangeline Lily
Lee Pace
Sylvester McCoy
Luke Evans
Stephen Fry

Full Credits at IMDb

On DVD and Blu-Ray
April 8