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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.
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.
All Critics (232)
| Top Critics (45)
| Fresh (172)
| Rotten (60)
| DVD (3)
The tale has no emotional resonance, and the thinness of the plot (only five of the book's chapters are adapted here) and the colorless depictions of the leading characters do it no favors.
Be forewarned: Whether through ego, avarice, or unchecked enthusiasm, Jackson has wandered deep into the realm of fan fiction.
With the introductions and bag-packing out of the way from the first film, the new movie jumps straight into the action and doesn't relent until the cliffhanger ending almost three hours later.
For the casual but compelled moviegoer, The Desolation of Smaug is a fine improvement over the first offering. Tolkien aficionados may feel otherwise.
Desolation of Smaug looks as dreary as the title would lead you to believe. The whole thing lingers in the memory as piles of sludge and ash.
I'm not an aficionado of J.R.R. Tolkien's wonderworlds and I was bored with the first Hobbit movie. All this is by way of saying I quite liked its sequel and the second in the trilogy.
The problem with a five (soon to be six) movie franchise is that there can't help but seem a touch of the law of diminishing returns by the latter episodes.
In The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, Jackson revisits his style of elaborate escapist cinema, the visual vitality and expansive storytelling methods to convey Tolkien's visionary landscape of Middle Earth.
If you're a fan of this world and want simply to luxuriate in its various intricacies, then that's fine. But for anyone else, The Desolation of Smaug can't help but feel like a bit of a desolate slog.
[A] glittering bounty of frivolity and spectacle.
I liked it a lot - yet I was painfully aware of how bad the movie was.
Will the beard-jerking, elf-twerking goblets'n'codpieces extravaganza that is Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of The Hobbit ever match the excellence of his first trilogy? After almost three more grinding hours... the feeling is no.
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 (in all 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 all the comparisons made 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 small 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, resulting in an ultimately underwhelming experience.
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 in the first place - 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. Thranduil is a character shares some traits with Theoden from The Two Towers, particularly his decision to retreat to a place of safety rather than "risk open war". While both ultimately join the fray, Theoden is redeemed through his efforts to combat his own guilt and shame, while Thranduil's pride taint his contribution and he ends up losing those closest to him.
In addition to there being more subtext, Desolation also benefits from somewhat better pacing. The first film badly dragged in a way that The Fellowship of the Ring did not, 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 more consistently. Even though it's still much, 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 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 if operatic performance.
While Smaug himself may be stupendous, however many of the other effects are not. Too many of the wide shots and battle sequences are all too obviously green-screen, in that they consist of actors running around somewhat aimlessly, looking for their marks and trying to use their imagination. 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 and make up for lost time. Either way, these scenes lack the physicality of the battles in The Lord of the Rings, and the molten gold in the climax is so depressingly fake-looking that you wonder whether George Lucas had sneaked onto the set.
Another big problem with Desolation is that the romantic element simply doesn't work. Tolkien reportedly tried towards the end of his life to rewrite key parts of his books in order to make the female characters more active. While the filmmakers can therefore claim to be enacting his wishes in a broader sense, Tauriel as a character is poorly written. Notwithstanding her political symbolism, she comes across as a Mary Sue, seemingly capable of everything and perfect in every way, and 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 The Loord of the Rings, and trying to make it closer to the latter by filling in gaps in the lore 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 Jackson's 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 predecessors. There's still a great deal of fun to be had watching it, and it contains some improvements which should be celebrated. But all these improvements are ultimately overbalanced or overshadowed by a number of big, silly flaws. It's watchable but unmemorable, and given the richness of Tolkien's universe, that is arguably its greatest crime.
Now considering the mixed reaction from Critics and people alike on the Hobbit Part 1, many people were skeptical on how part 2 would hold up, and considering this one has a run time of nearly 3 hours, plus this being the live action theatrical debut of arguably one of the most well known fantasy villains, Smaug, there was a lot of reason to be skeptical. But the question remains, does this movie hold up in comparison to Jackson's Ring trilogy? Or is it under the same level that Hobbit Part 1 is to a lot of people?
First off the Acting. Now in a lot of Jackson's film he does make way for development for each of his characters, and considering the length of the Tolkein movies, this should be expected. But one problem a lot of people had with the first film is that it had too many characters and not really enough development to distinguish most of them, and here it is still somewhat the same. With the exception of Balin (Ken Stott), and Kili (Aidan Turner) none of the other Dwarves get any real character development. Even then, Kili has this extremely unessecary and stupid love triangle with and elf named Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who Legolas (reprised by Orlando Bloom) is in love with. Speaking of elves, Tauriel is a character that again, doesn't get all that much character development outside of being in love with Kili, when he should be with Legolas, which could make for some great character development for all 3 of them, but it's all pushed aside for the many other plots following Gandalf, the Dwarfs, the Elves and so on, so it doesn't get a whole lot of focus. The main actors do do well though. Freeman is still good as Bilbo, Mckellan is great as Gandalf as always, and Richard Armitage, while being a bit too broody at points, does play off the character of Thorin well. We do get a few newer characters such as Thranduil (Lee Pace), the elf king and father of Legolas, but he is really just a big cliche in terms of the "villain that you know you can't trust and has way too much power and seems evil just for the sake of being evil," But again, he doesn't get a whole lot of focus, and to be honest, how he is portrayed is not very interesting, the character has this interesting backstory that is somewhat brushed over, and again, he doesn't get a whole lot of screen time. Gioron (Luke Evans) who is helps the Dwarfs get to Laketown, and while he does play the character very well, again he doesn't get a lot of screen time. Stephen Fry plays the Mayor of Laketown, and while having very little screen time, you can tell he was having fun, and he is entertaining in the role. Now I'm sure the characters that don't appear here in this film very much are most likely going to appear in the 3rd film more, but as of right now, we don't get to know these characters very well to care about a lot of them. The one character that definitely makes up for all the new characters, is definitely Smaug. Smaug is one of my favorite villains in literature, and finally seeing him on the big screen was fantastic, and as far as Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as Smaug, he was PERFECT. Cumberbatch is not only fantastic in the role, but he is flat out terrifying in the role. He is savoring every line he gets and the delivery is done so chillingly well with each line it just creeps you out, and don't know what's gonna set him off.
Now Effects. Now Jackson has been very good when it comes to mixing both practical effects and CGI, as illustrated in the past 3 LOTR films. Each scene looked great, and CG was used only when nesecarry which I really wish a lot of people did nowadays. But here, yeah...this is what I call "CG Orgy." What I mean by that is, nearly every scene is obviously filmed in front of a CG background, or has some form of CG effect in the scene, and it's okay for a while, but nearly 3 hours of this, it gets noticeable really fast. Now I'm not saying all the CG in the film is bad, in fact there are some very great looking CG effects, like Azog the Orc still is a great effect (even if the character wasn't in the book and just made him up for the film,) and Smaug, MY GOD! this is one of the best CG creatures I've ever seen. He looks very realistically reptilian, he looks threatening, and he is probably one of the biggest CG creatures I've seen in a fantasy film. But that being said there is one major drawback to having Smaug be so big, that problem being that, during the action scene with him and the Dwarves, he is so massive it is very hard to tell what is going on half the time due to his size. And a few of the backgrounds do look decent, but again, after a while it gets old and easily noticeable on what is clearly CG, and makes you wish there was a little more variety.
Now Action. Now this film does start off very slow, but the film does now how to mix the Action and dialogue in really well. Right at that point where it starts to drag and you get bored, they throw in an action scene, and yes while my CG complaints do hurt the scenes a bit, the scenes are still choreographed and shot really well. Also this film is much more brutal than the first film, since we get much more decapitations, impalements, arrows going through heads, its so violently entertaining to watch, even if it is annoying to me on how perfect (and very CG) Legolas is during the whole Orc battle. The battles are some of the most entertaining in the franchise, my favorite being the Orc battle just due to how adrenaline rushed you get while watching it, I swear in the theatre during most of it I just wanted to stand up and yell "F**K YES!!!" The one battle I was really hoping would be better was the Battle with Smaug, and yes while his size does get in the way sometimes, that's not the reason I think it's only an alright fight scene. The main reason its not a fantastic scene in my opinion is due to the fact that the scene just goes on,and on, and on, to the point that you kind of don't care anymore and you just want to end it, heck they fake you out a couple times make you think it is over, but nope it just keeps going and going. While yes it does go on forever, the scale of the battle is what makes it. How the characters plan on stopping him is very well thought out, and yes it does feel luck a lot of the fight was just luck, it is cool to see all of them working together to stop him. Even if *spoilers* it doesn't work.
Now I do have one complaint before I give my final thoughts, and yes this is a bit of a rant complaint. Now this is potential spoilers for those who haven't read the book, or didn't see this coming before going in. The Dwarves think they've captured Smaug by burying him in gold, but he then flies off to attack Laketown which the Dwarfs were trying to prevent. Bilbo then utters the line "What have we done?" and it cuts to black. Now the first film ended on a note of "Yea that was a good stand alone movie but it also does set itself up for a sequel really well" here it literally just stops saying, "Hey there's a sequel coming if you didn't know. Can't wait to get your money next year suckers." And I'm sorry but I can't stand when Movie or TV does that. Cliffhangers are things that really have to be done right, like the Marvel end credit scenes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, or Batman Dark Knight Returns Part 1, where all of them are good stand alone films but don't just shove the end down your throat by cutting to black before something exciting, which doesn't really make me excited, more so angry since I knew a sequel was already coming and they just ended saying "HEY ANOTHER FILM'S OBVIOUSLY COMING. GIVE US YOUR MONEY MUHAHAHAHA"
Overall, aside from the somewhat annoying use of CG constantly, and the ending cliffhanger, I do think Hobbit Desolation of Smaug is a great movie, a little better than the first honestly. It does know how to balance the action and dialogue out well, has some good CG when it isn't shoved down your throat, and the action scenes are just awesome. If you liked the first hobbit your probably going to like this, for those looking for a good fantasy film to see this year, this is a good choice to go see(though I think Thor 2 Dark world would be a better choice.) Just make sure you have a few hours free.
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.
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