‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ review: Feeling a lack of something. Satisfaction.

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December 13, 2013 by Hope W.

The dwarves looking on the ruins of Dale, or

The dwarves looking on the ruins of Dale, or “the Desolation of Smaug”, in a still from the movie

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was… ok? I’m not sure what I feel about it.

As a film by itself, it is grander, more sombre, stakes raised higher, and quicker-paced than An Unexpected Journey (no feasting, dishwashing, arguments with trolls, or waiting 40 minutes to begin their journey this time!) However, to my extreme disappointment, it lacks a proper ending. Which would have been fine — The Empire Strikes Back ended similarly after all — if not for the fact that the subtitle misleads you into thinking there would be one. If you thought you are going to see Smaug’s destruction in this movie, let me spoil it for you now: it doesn’t happen. I would hate for you to experience the letdown that I did after two plus hours of waiting for… nothing.

The adventure begins almost immediately — after the prologue — with Beorn’s (Mikael Persbrandt) startling and fleeting appearance, and doesn’t stop there. However, the movie still feels so long, and disjointed to boot, that by the end of it, I forgot Beorn even appeared at all. The way it was paced makes it feel like they are jumping from one action scene to another, and every lull in between is just a buildup to the next climatic event for Peter Jackson to go overboard trying to wow audiences with impossible stunts and distracting CGI wizardry.

Looking at it as a film adaptation — which really should have been only two movies, not stretched to three — it felt like I was watching Peter Jackson’s fanfiction of The Hobbit, because they took tons of liberties with canon. Some worked, some didn’t. (And frankly, I would prefer it if fanfiction remained as just that, instead of being turned into a movie.)

For instance, the introduction of the original character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) as the female Wood-elf captain, in the filmmakers’ bid to offset the overwhelming masculinity of the book, actually did as intended and helped the film. It’s their shoehorning in hints of a romance between her, Kili (Aidan Turner) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) that didn’t. This is not to say it isn’t sweet — because it is, a little, when Kili goes on a lovesick rambling spiel while delirious — it just had no place being there.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

And don’t get me started on the scene where Tauriel heals Kili. (Yes, readers of the book, he gets injured and will be in need of some Elvish healing!) It is so cheesy and unsubtle in every way, I wanted to hide my face out of embarrassment for the actors, the filmmakers, everyone involved in making that scene, who agreed to keep that scene instead of leaving it on the cutting room floor, and the audiences who had to watch it.

Plus, Evangeline Lilly, when she’s not fighting orcs, interacts with other characters with a look of constant surprise. (Witness her dazed look as she suddenly plucks a bunch of athelas from Bofur’s hands as though accepting a bouquet of flowers from a suitor! When Bofur asks her “What are you doing?”, I was thinking the exact same thing. I would really like to say it’s her, but I want to know what made Peter Jackson approve that take — he, who made Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen do at least 24 takes of two lines during filming of The Fellowship of the Ring!)

I predict that Tauriel won’t survive the next film. One of the reasons being that she isn’t really part of canon in the first place — and we all know what happens to characters who show up where they shouldn’t in canon, and are not vital to the continuation of the story, aka *Haldir*.

(By the way, before I forget: people with arachnophobia should find somewhere else to be 30 minutes into the film. Those Mirkwood spiders are truly freaky.)

The barrel escape down the river was great. They amped it up a whole lot with orcs that had no business being there, and elves that had no business being there, but it was really fun so it worked.

Peter Jackson directing the barrel escape scene

Peter Jackson directing the barrel escape scene

I can’t say the same for the scene of the orcs in Laketown. Actually, I can’t say I like the presence of orcs anywhere else besides where they should be, which is in the last film, during the Battle of the Five Armies (and they really should be goblins anyway, but that’s just nitpicking now). I hated the introduction of Azog the Defiler in the first place, because I don’t believe in bringing in characters outside of canon just so your hero has an arch-nemesis as a foil and your audience has a tangible enemy to hate.

Annoying characters are focused on too much in Laketown, but Luke Evans is likeable as Bard the Bowman. (He also bears a startling resemblance to Orlando Bloom.) In addition, Stephen Colbert, host of the late night satirical political talk show The Colbert Report, diehard Tolkien fan, and one of my favourite people in the world, makes a cameo there, which instantly makes the movie ten times better.

Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman

Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman

Smaug is menacing in Benedict Cumberbatch’s digitally enhanced dulcet baritones, but after several minutes of flattery/debate/intimidation, his confrontation with Bilbo, and then with the dwarves, started to drag. Also, I didn’t get what Thorin and gang were trying to do to him in the final act of the film; I’m only surprised they didn’t die doing it. Why would they think encasing the dragon in gold would harm him? He’s a dragon! His fires are hot enough to melt gold!

Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Bilbo's (Martin Freeman) confrontation in his lair in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Bilbo’s (Martin Freeman) confrontation in his lair in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Other observations made:

The very first scene is reminiscent of a scene in the exact same spot in The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson cameo and all. Love the throwback!

I’ve forgotten who half the dwarves are; and the ones that I forgot, the movie didn’t bother to remind me of who they are.

Legolas’ eyes look an unnatural, possessed blue. I noticed it in the trailer, but I thought it was just a colour correction problem which they would make right in the film. They didn’t.

Thranduil is colder and more calculating than expected. I suppose it comes with the territory of darkening the tone of the book, but it also villainised him unfairly, since he’s actually pretty decent.

The ending song, “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, is haunting and really lovely.

In short: I don’t hate the film. I don’t love it all that much either. But I’ll admit that if the subtitle had not given me false expectations that Smaug would be destroyed at the end of it, I could have liked it more.

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