The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Critic Consensus: While still slightly hamstrung by "middle chapter" narrative problems and its formidable length, The Desolation of Smaug represents a more confident, exciting second chapter for the Hobbit series.
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|Rating:||PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images)|
|Genre:||Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy|
|Directed By:||Peter Jackson|
|Written By:||J.R.R. Tolkien, Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens|
|In Theaters:||Dec 13, 2013 Wide|
|On DVD:||Apr 8, 2014|
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as Bilbo Baggins
as Thorin Oakenshield
as Bard the Bowman
as Master of Laketown
as Hilda Bianca
as Bill Ferny Snr
as Betsy Butterbur
as Butterbur Snr
as Net Mender
as Old Fisherman
as Fish Monger
as Laketown Spy
as Laketown Spy
as Laketown Spy
as Laketown Spy
as Laketown Spy
as Laketown Spy
as Laketown Spy
as Orc Underling
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Critic Reviews for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is technically "better" than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in the same way Attack of the Clones was technically "better" than The Phantom Menace.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is another grand entry in the Tolkien saga, raising the emotional and physical stakes while revealing more of the sinister forces that we know will ultimately come to threaten the entire world.
"(There) seems to be more action this time around. It's much more thrilling and is, again, pertinent, necessary action. And the character moments just work better in this installment."
For all the great effects it garners, [it] is a cold, and monotonous epic that borders on fan fiction.
Audience Reviews for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
In my original review of the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, I concluded by saying that we couldn't entirely judge it without the context of its subsequent sequels. I spent a lot of my review (both versions of it) addressing audience expectations of the film rather than reviewing the film itself, at least not as directly as perhaps I would normally. As I explained, this was necessary in dealing with a lot of the baggage that
comes with comparisons with The Lord of the Rings, which the film inevitably invites.
With The Desolation of Smaug (Desolation hereafter), we are now able to get a more accurate picture of the artistic and narrative intentions of the trilogy. The sequel to An Unexpected Journey does bring a number of improvements to the table, teasing out a little more subtext from the novel and solving some of the tonal problems. But it's still encumbered by the same narrative flaws of the first film, which the higher stakes unfortunately amplify.
On the good side, the film seems tonally a lot more sure of itself. One of the big problems with An Unexpected Journey was its flipping back and forth between the light-hearted frolics of The Hobbit itself and the darker, more serious matter gleaned from the Lord of the Rings appendices. Here, there is the underlying feeling of a gathering darkness, reflected in both the journey of the dwarfs and Gandalf's investigations of the Necromancer. The success of this latter section could also be used to justify Jackson's decision to draw on the appendices - but we shall come to that a little later.
Through the darkening tone, the film illuminates the underlying theme of greed, which all the major characters come to embody. Bilbo's growing greed towards possession of the ring is matched by the Master's corrupt political hold on Laketown, Thorin's obsession with reclaiming Erebor, Smaug's proud hold over the dwarves' riches, and the Necromancer's business in Dol Goldur. The Middle Earth in Desolation is being gradually destroyed by self-interest in increasingly ruthless forms: its stories are driven and dominated by people who will do whatever they have to, by whatever means necessary, to obtain, increase or avoid losing what they covet.
There is a political point in all of this too, illustrated by the position of the Mirkwood elves. The aloof isolationism practised by their leader Thranduil is contrasted by Tauriel's compulsion to intervene in other peoples' wars. The community is faced with a stark political choice: either they shut themselves in from the growing evil and hope to withstand it, or they actively fight against it to safeguard an unknown future.
The Lord of the Rings is often cited or described as an allegory for World War II, something which I explored in my reviews. While Tolkien did not intend for such conclusions to be drawn, there are parallels and through-lines throughout the work - for instance, regarding the two towers of Orthanc and Barad-Dûr as the twin mights of Germany and Russia, waging war on peaceful people from two sides. If we accept this logic, it is possible to view Desolation as a partial allegory for World War I; the events take place many years before Lord of the Rings, and the Mirkwood elves' isolationism and detachment from the world around them is akin to similar practices by the USA.
In addition to there being more subext, Desolation also benefits from better pacing. The first film badly dragged in a way that The Fellowship of the Ring didn't, possibly because it took a long time to adjust to Jackson's approach with weaving in the extra material. This film, by contrast, starts off very briskly and keeps the pace up all the way through. Even though it's still much too long, we aren't quite so conscious of it this time around.
As with the first film, the set-pieces in Desolation are generally very good. They do have more of a video game sensibility than their Lord of the Rings counterparts, being shot more from a first-person stance and with more unusual camera angles. But Jackson still has a knack for creating interesting character pains and deaths, something in which he has excelled since the days of Bad Taste and Brain Dead. The barrel sequence is especially fun, particularly Bombur's antics of rolling between the banks of the river while taking out a multitude of orcs.
One of the big tests of Desolation was going to be the introduction of its title character. This could have been very disappointing: notwithstanding the silliness of the Rankin Bass version, the darkness of the Lonely Mountain could have deprived us of his beauty, just as many (wrongly) held that Baz Luhrmann's editing in Moulin Rouge! deprived us of seeing the spectacular sets. But Jackson does a very good job, aided by Benedict Cumberbatch's sinister performance and wonderful delivery.
While Smaug himself may be stupendous, many of the other effects are not. Too many of the wide shots and battle sequences are obviously green-screen, in that they consist of actors running around somewhat aimlessly, looking for their marks. It's hard to say whether the increased use of green-screen was a creative decision on Jackson's part or a studio mandate to keep down the already huge budget. Either way, these scenes lack the physicality of the battles in Lord of the Rings, and the molten gold is so fake-looking that you wonder whether George Lucas has snuck onto the set.
Another big problem with Desolation is that the romance elements don't work. Tolkien reportedly tried towards the end of his life to rewrite key parts of his books to make the female characters more active. While the filmmakers can therefore claim to be enacting his wishes, Tauriel as a character is poorly written. Notwithstanding her political symbolism, she comes across as a Mary Sue whose dialogue often resembles fan fiction. Her relationship with Kili doesn't go anywhere, nor does it successfully convey the message about the need for closer ties between the races.
Criticisms like this all point to an underlying question: would it have been better to just give us The Hobbit, on its own with none of the appendices, and let it be a lesser film? The Hobbit is by its very nature a weaker story than Lord of the Rings, and trying to make it closer to the latter by filling in gaps is good for fans but not so good for storytelling. Perhaps it would have been better to do as was originally envisioned by Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, namely to create a very different universe in one film and then bridge that universe with that of Lord of the Rings in another.
This point is further illustrated by the ending, which is very unsatisfying. The final climax itself is a little too long, but the film fails where The Two Towers succeeded in having an end-point of tension and catharsis. Frodo and Sam's journey had reached a point where the trials they had survived were balanced by the scale of what was still facing them, enabling the film to stand on its own. Here, the ending feels altogether arbitrary, as though Jackson had cut where Del Toro would have cut but hadn't rewritten the script around it.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a heavily flawed second instalment of a trilogy which is a shadow of its predecessor. There's still a great deal of fun to be had watching it, and it contains many improvements which should be celebrated. But all these improvements are ultimately balanced out or overshadowed by equally big flaws. One only hopes that The Battle of the Five Armes will give us the kind of ending that we deserve.
Part two of the quest by Bilbo and his party of dwarfs to pinch a jewel from within the lair of the well spoken aristocratic dragon Smaug, the adventure continues. Most definitely a controversial trilogy as we move through this second part which really should probably be the final chapter but as we all know it isn't. So do the liberties taken by Jackson and co work or do they stand out as easy filler?
I really found myself enjoying the film as it starts out in Bree on a dark rainy night, a warm glow emanates from the dirty tavern windows and street lanterns. As the film continues we meet up with new characters and finally into the Mirkwood forest where we get the first bit of real action. I gotta be honest I loved the giant spider sequence in this film, I think its safe to say this whole idea is probably a popular phobia for many folk and its really creepy. The spiders are visually excellent and damn scary to boot! no kids innocence spared here! I really like how we hear the arachnids talking to each other when Bilbo puts on the ring, even though they did all sound like Gollum.
Up to this point I'm loving the film, the travelling band of heroes are a quirky fun bunch, Mirkwood forest is nicely realised and perfectly atmospheric, the spiders made my skin crawl and Beorn the skin-changer was...hmmm OK I guess, bit Twilight-ish. Everything falls apart in a reasonably big way when Legolas and the newly created Tauriel come along and save the group. Within seconds the film goes from being a really decent sensible fantasy to dumbed down superhero crapola just like the original trilogy, in places. Yes I dislike the way Legolas is portrayed in these films, as if he's some kind of invincible super God-like character who can do virtually anything such as defy gravity.
I've heard a lot about the infamous barrel sequence in this film and I was curious to see what it was all about. To my absolute horror it was...horrendous! OK Bilbo and the dwarfs need to escape from the Wood Elf dungeons...even though I'm not entirely sure why they imprisoned our plucky team anyway truth be told. But hey I know, lets have the most ludicrous ridiculous videogame-like sequence we can think of just to pander to the lowest common denominator...sheesh!! The whole idea starts off OK but it descends into such drivel I had to rewatch just to get my head around it. Yeah I know we had the same kind of nonsense in the first trilogy and first Hobbit film, but I hated that kind of stuff then too. It totally takes me out of the film every time watching Legolas leap around like Spider-Man using his bow and arrow like some kind of automatic weapon, hate every second of it.
To make matters worse Jackson felt the need to create a new character who is basically a female opposite to Legolas, this makes me think he's pandering to the female audience just to cover all the bases. Oh and that includes the annoying romance sub plot of course. Yes this female Elf is a solid character who is well portrayed within this universe but why the need to go down 'The Matrix' route (again!) making her into another death defying, gravity defying, never misses her target super Elf overlord of justice. Why must we have this type of nonsense in an otherwise brilliant film!!
To reach the Lonely Mountain this crack team of height restricted heroes must cross a large lake, enter this new trilogies Aragorn in the form of Bard. What I don't quite get is Bard takes them to the lake town of Esgaroth, but why? they wanted to cross the lake, why go to all that trouble to smuggle them into the town? just for weapons?! Anyway the town does look really authentic, I really liked how it has this twisted kooky [i]Monkey Island[/i] type of appearance plus you really feel the chill in the air watching. Excellent visuals and atmosphere for this old creaky wooden fishing port, and kudos on the casting of Stephen Fry as the Town Major or Master.
Finally we reach the pinnacle of the film, the part most have been waiting for, the dragon Smaug. OK I'm gonna be brutally honest here as I always am, I wasn't blown away by this giant reveal. I liked the look of the mountain interior with its hord of dwarf treasure, I think they got the scale of the dragon perfectly and I think Smaug looks good...but not great. I've been more impressed with other dragon films to be truthful, I think the dragons in 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' and 'Reign of Fire' were far superior to this frankly, and the dragon in 'Dragonslayer' still impresses. The CGI just isn't quite as believable for me, it still has that shiny plastic thing going on, but I do like the Dungeons & Dragons look n feel about him. He's not suppose to be a dark savage blood curdling monster, more of a softer traditional fantasy beast, like a unicorn (I think). The other factor is that Smaug talks, I know Tolkien envisioned this but watching this dragons jaws move to speech doesn't really work. Its a creature, a beast, so its gonna be hard to make its mouth work in sync with its speech because its not a human mouth. Would it have worked if Smaug 'thought' his dialog and Bilbo was able to hear his thoughts? risky change but I reckon Smaug would have come across a bit more convincing.
Again the casting of Cumberbatch didn't thrill me as much as the masses, I still feel this guy is merely flavour of the month (for some reason I can't quite pin down). Yes he does a solid job as the voice of Smaug but anyone could of done it really, any actor with a well spoken British accent. Off the top of my head Tim Curry for one. Lets not forget his voice will have been lowered in tone to give that deep booming frequency, so I don't quite understand the overall fever pitch with this.
Despite me picking on bits I did actually enjoy this film a lot more than the first. In fact I enjoyed it a lot more than most of the original trilogy, although much of this is down to natural progression with special effects and much less hokey-ass CGI laden action sequences. Its another visual spectacle for sure with stunning locations, perfect continuity (I like my continuity) and solid acting. I still won't defend the decision to pad out the book into three films as we all know that is purely about the money, another shitsquillion to milk out of it. That being said this film doesn't feel too elongated or forced, its not dull and its not daft either, but I don't feel entirely comfortable with the newly created bits. You know the film is stalling for time but at least Jackson has managed to do it quite well, I was surprised.
Another overly long Hobbit film filled with pointless chase sequences, but the plot does start to develop nicely getting you hooked towards the end where it just abruptly stops in the most annoying cliffhanger ending ever.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Quotes
|Smaug:||Come out. Don't be shy. Step into the light.|
|Bard the Bowman:||Folk in this town are struggling. Times are hard. Food is scarce.|
|Alfrid:||It's not my problem.|
|Bard the Bowman:||And when the people hear that the Master is dumping fish back into the lake? When the rioting starts? Will it be your problem then?|
|Gandalf:||Where is your master? Where is he?|
|Thranduil:||Do not speak to me of dragon fire for I have encountered it myself.|
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