The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Reviews
This movie had a budget of something like 200 million dollars, over double that of any of the individual movies of the original trilogy. Where did all that money go? To that mostly horrid CGI? There was just bloody too much of it like in the first movie. Everything looks so damn fake with the CGI slammed front and center with no artistic attempt to hide its shortcomings. For example, when Legolas starts chasing Bolg out of Laketown, even his horse is made with CGI. Why? Couldn't you afford to rent one horse? The orcs were mostly made with CGI and they weren't menacing in the slightest. The few scenes with actual actors with makeup playing the orcs were far superior. Erebor looked quite good in general with its mountains of coins and treasures but the melted gold looked unbelievably bad. Many of the actual sets in the movie were very well done and I'm really puzzled why they didn't use them more. The CGI in LOTR looked far more convincing and epic, the large establishing shots looked like grand paintings come alive. What happened here? I don't get it. It felt like I was watching a video game and I don't want to feel that way when I'm watching a movie. Granted, the original trilogy did have a bit of silly looking CGI here and there but at least it was constantly grounded by real sets.
There was also some really weird editing here too. The movie is already way too long and they still include absolutely pointless scenes. For example, when Gandalf is climbing the stairs by the mountain and the ledge gives up, the movie suddenly cuts to a sweeping shot of the mountain side. Why not just stay with Gandalf, it would provide more intensity. There's many examples like this. In Mirkwood when Bilbo is snapping at the spider web they shouldn't zoom deep into the web with the camera. Stuff like this tells nothing and adds nothing to the film. This also takes time away from the character development. When one of the dwarfs oversleeps and misses the boat to Erebor, I couldn't even remember who he was and why I should care that he was stranded in Laketown. Also, the most puzzling and distracting choice in the movie was using that weird POV camera footage in the barrel scenes, it looked so utterly different that it took me out of the movie completely.
The action could've been cut down significantly too. There was no real context or meaning for most of it anyway. Also, after Legolas has killed his umpteenth orc in yet another physics-breaking and miraculous way, you simply lose interest. He can apparently do anything. My feeling is that in the original trilogy the "laws of physics" so to say were merely bent somewhat, here they're completely shattered. All of this may sound nitpicky but I'm essentially doing this because the movie didn't get me emotionally invested in it in a positive way at all.
The movie wasn't particularly funny either despite its lighthearted source material, I laughed much more heartily in many parts of the original trilogy. The Gimli joke was quite funny though. There was also absolutely no memorable music in this movie and none of it moved me like much of the music did in the original trilogy. I didn't get shivers at any point of the movie.
It wasn't all bad or mediocre though. Smaug was magnificent and Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job voice acting the dragon, definitely something to witness in a theater. Smaug's discussions with Bilbo were also great. Gandalf's venture into Dol Guldur was also interesting though that is mainly because Ian McKellen is such a fine actor that he can catch your attention with ease. The cameos by Peter Jackson in the beginning eating the carrot and by Stephen Colbert as the Laketown spy were fun even though I think they might've been too distracting had I loved the movie. The pacing in the movie is a bit of a mixed bag. The first movie had bad pacing because it was overly long without anything really happening. Desolation of Smaug swings the pendulum to the other end with endless action sequences pasted after another. Sure it's more exciting to watch but it was dearly missing some slower sequences to digest everything.
I'm a massive fan of the original trilogy but the first two Hobbit movies simply haven't captured the epicness and magic of those movies at all. And if the Hobbit wasn't intended to feel epic, then why make it into three movies? There's also something else I don't get. The original movie trilogy adaptation established what the LOTR universe looked and felt like. Is the Hobbit trilogy still supposed to happen in that same universe? I didn't ever feel like anyone was in any serious danger because they survive crazier and crazier encounters after the next and because of that there's no tension. This wasn't the case with the originals. Huge spiders were very dangerous in LOTR, here Bilbo is just killing them off left and right. I just wish they'd taken much more liberties with the material and really placed this story into the grittier universe that was established by the original trilogy. Or maybe they should've done something completely different instead of trying to imitate the originals and coming short of them. Anything but this.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is more of a bad Steven Seagal clone than an adaptation of well-read literature. The first film in the new trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, was very good, with one problem I'll mention later. If the worst decision Director Peter Jackson made was to include Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly, which seems to be the case for the professional praise-givers, this film would be fantastic. However, it just so happens that there's this little thing Jackson and his fellow writers forgot to do: make sure the movie resembles the book.
I'm sure most people who saw the first movie remember the leading villain Azog. Well, in case you haven't read the book, page 251 of my 1997 Houghton Mifflin copy states "Bolg of the North is coming, O Dain! whose father you slew in Moria." In the section on Durin's Folk in Appendix A of the Lord of the Rings, it is stated that Dain Ironfoot, who is supposed to appear in the next film, slew Azog in the big Dwarf vs. Goblin battle we see as a flashback in film one. This means that the entire Azog subplot is just one big fan-fiction. It is one thing to include the son of the Elven-King (Legolas) even though he is not mentioned in the book, after all, is it so inconceivable that Legolas would be near his father? It is an entirely different matter when a character is included even though he has been dead for over 100 years!
Continuing with our game of "What is timeline consistency?", we come across Gandalf. Gandalf ends movie 2 in a cage at Dol Guldur. Beyond the fact that there is no rationale for such a decision, we know from Appendix B that Gandalf reports the existence of Sauron to the White Council and then takes part in the attack on Dol Guldur. After that battle, he proceeds to save Bilbo's life right before the Battle of Five Armies. Based on this film's timeline and what part of the original timeline still remains, Gandalf has but a handful of days to accomplish all that I have listed.
My copy of The Hobbit is 271 pages long. The US edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is 310 pages. Why in the name of Eru do you need three movies for this story? I understand and would have gladly stood behind two films, therefore allowing for extended action sequences and a limited reduction in content. Three films should be more than enough to cover the entire book but apparently not for Peter Jackson.
Beorn is trimmed down to the importance of Celeborn, then we watch a ridiculously long giant spider sequence, then the dwarfs are captured for maybe three hours Middle-Earth time, then we watch an overly long fan-fiction chapter about Azog's friends being killed by our two elf heroes. Note that Bolg is able to attack the dwarfs because Jackson changed the escape from Mirkwood scene in order to allow for more combat.
After our craziest bloodbath yet, we have an overly long scene introducing another Jackson creation: Bard, the Barge-Sailer who apparently got mixed up with Bard, the Captain of the Guard. You see, the former makes a whole bunch of claims that are actually true about the latter. Why do we need to mess up the Lake-Town sequence? If you guessed "To set up another impossible bloodbath", give yourself a vacation to a combat zone. This round of combat is only after we leave four dwarfs behind because one of them got the Witch-King's knife disease that Frodo got in Fellowship but this time it came from an arrow fired by Bolg who has absolutely nothing better to do since Azog took all his screen time. Of course, Kili is saved by Tauriel, Captain of the Guard of the Woodland Realm who somehow has the same healing capability as Lord Elrond Half-Elven, wielder of one of the three Elven Rings of Power and a direct descendant of the Kings of the Noldor. It is rather fortunate Tauriel is there, because otherwise, Kili would have to wait for the next movie to have his deathbed dialogue, provided Jackson even sends Fili and Kili to Erebor where they're supposed to be. I'm all for the suspension of disbelief, but this doesn't even make sense in the fantasy universe.
And don't forget the dragon. In Lake-Town, the viewer is reminded multiple times that Smaug can only be killed by a special ballista-bolt, strangely called an arrow, and only in one tiny spot on his stomach. In the mountain, Bilbo points it out again. But Peter Jackson apparently pays no heed to the script with his own name on it and gives the viewer a 30 minute "Let's Kill the Dragon Sequence". Take a guess who doesn't die in this sequence. If you said Smaug, the Fire- Breathing Dragon, you are more qualified to direct this movie than Peter Jackson.
I loved the Rings film trilogy and, with the exception of Azog, the first Hobbit film. This film though, has almost no plot development, almost no consistency with the timeline given by Tolkien, almost no attention paid to its own script, and entirely too much combat. I remember Jackson being criticised for the warg battle in Towers but that did not require any plot change except for the location of the death of Hama (a very minor change) and the whole Aragorn-cliff- dream-thing which serves to heighten the tension before a battle that is done far better in the film. The warg battle helped to make a good fantasy film. This film seems like it is trying to see how many people can be killed before it gets an R rating from the MPAA. Deviations from the book are good if it enables better cinema but not when it allows for "Let's Kill Everything We See: The Movie".
GREG: (Greg Smith, Founder of Agile Writers of Richmond, VA) You mean the second installment of three from a novel that was the size of The Lord of the Rings? Ok. Let s recap
SCOTT: Our hero, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), has been recruited by the Dwarves, led by King Thorin (Richard Armitage), to steal the Arkenstone from the dragon-guarded mountain. There are, of course, many obstacles in their way. Evil Orcs are after them and attack frequently. A huge house owned by a man who transforms into a large bear becomes their brief refuge. Later, huge, vicious spiders almost eat them. Bilbo and the dwarves are then captured by elves, and the beautiful and dangerous She-Elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) falls in love with the handsome dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner).
GREG: Well that covers about the first half of the film. This was an action-packed recreation of the classic Tolkien novel, The Hobbit . The Desolation of Smaug is the second installment of Peter Jackson s reimagining of the middle part of the book. As such it had more action and engagement than the first installment. Our heroes make their way into the king s mountain where the great dragon Smaug lies sleeping in a sea of gold and gems. Scott, the animation in this film is amazing. Smaug looks less like a CGI image and more like a real animal. Peter Jackson s animation crew have really outdone themselves.
SCOTT: I agree, Greg. The visuals in this movie are sheer brilliance. The production value is unsurpassed, and one wonders what movies two decades from now can possibly do to exceed what we see on the screen today. I had the good fortune to watch Desolation of Smaug in 3D, and the experience was mind-blowing. But what about substance? There certainly is no shortage of interesting characters. I wouldn t say that these characters are complex or mysterious in any way, but nor are they one-dimensional either. They serve their roles in commendable fashion. The plot is definitely action-driven as our heroes are subjected to one terrifying situation after another, and somehow are able to extricate themselves either through magic, their own cleverness, or both.
GREG: I know I m going to catch a lot of flack for this from the fantasy crowd, but there are just too many characters to keep track of. I found the dwarves to be virtually interchangeable. With one or two notable exceptions most of the dwarves are unnecessary to the story. In fact, they are so unnecessary that when we reach the climax of this segment, half the party is left behind. So much of what happens in this story is world building for the purpose of world building alone. That being said, I can now understand why Peter Jackson expanded his version of the classic into 3 parts. It s a complex story with a lot of moving parts. The only way to do it justice is either gut the original story, or take a leisurely time telling the story in immense detail. And of course Jackson chose the latter. I had to remind myself that this story was going to take another two hours to tell as I was watching so that I didn t get discouraged wondering where the story was going. This is the middle part of a 6-hour epic.
SCOTT: You re right, there s a lot going on here, and the movie clocks in at 161 bladder-bursting minutes. As Greg knows, I pride myself at never having to take a bathroom break during a movie, but The Desolation of Smaug truly tested my tank. And yes, there are many characters, all of them doing many things, with many villains and sidekicks and monsters lurking everywhere. You either have to buy into this complex world and appreciate it, or not. Personally, I m a buyer. But I d prefer a trimmed down version of this movie that doesn t leave me frantically crossing my legs for the last half-hour.
GREG: TMI, perhaps? The action is great as well. The elf-orc battles are amazing and could only be choreographed in a computer. And, as with all middle installments (remember The Empire Strikes Back) we re left hanging. There is a theme to this middle installment: sins of the father. There are many characters who have father figures who either have fallen or failed to live up to the expectations of those around them. And the sons of the fathers are on the hook to redeem these father figures. Tolkien clearly understood mythology as this is a common theme since antiquity.
SCOTT: For me, all these Hobbit movies are an opportunity to turn my brain off and just witness a visual feast that tells of a great adventure in a strange world. There are many, many fight scenes that involve physical feats that simply cannot happen in the universe that we inhabit, but we let it slide because we know this is a fantasy genre. So, with these expectations in mind, I believe Smaug accomplishes what it sets out to do, and therefore I award it 3 Reels out of 5. The hero story is somewhat difficult to grade as this installment is but a small part of a larger whole. Bilbo doesn t really evolve or change much. He s loveable and capable, and he rather enjoys being underestimated by all those around him. There are many fine characters supporting him and challenging him, and as you note, Greg, there are plenty of classic elements of the hero journey in place, such as mentors, father figures, and love interests. I m going to award Bilbo a solid 3 Heroes out of 5. Movie: Hero:
GREG: Scott, this is one of those rare times when I wish I could give a half-point score. The production values of this movie are off the scale. The story itself is time-tested and (with the exception of previously non-existent love triangle) keeps to the original. But it is the middle part of a larger story and can be confusing to keep all the players in mind. So I wish I could award 3.5 Reels - but as Smaug is amazing storytelling I ll give the tie to the runner and score it 4 out of 5 Reels. Unlike you, I had no trouble finding the heroic themes in this story. I can see where the classic mythical atonement with the father is being set up in not just one thread but in three. And Bilbo is growing. He even states it in the trailer - I found something back in the cave - my courage. It is a challenge to treat the hero s journey well for one character, but to keep the threads straight with so many is genius. And then to convey that complexity in the confines of a motion picture is super genius. My hat off to Bilbo and the rest of the heroes in this story: 4 out of 5 Heroes. Movie: Hero:
I found I enjoyed this more than the 1st...(but then there is a lot less set up needed for this) so you can get straight into the story. There is a lot more action, but less of the big set pieces that defined the 1st .At over 2 and half hours the downside of this film is definitely the runtime. There are a couple of scenes that could have been missed out...but at the same time I didn‚(TM)t feel like the time dragged. At no point does the film lose its pace...and it is a credit to the filmmakers that it keeps you interested/entertained all the way through.
Some purists will complain...but the return of Legolas and the elves was welcome in my eyes and he once again provides some of the best action. There is some fantastic slaying of Orcs‚¶as always precise and effortless‚¶ and a killer move or two brought back from the glory of The Two Towers.
The returning cast are all still good in reprising their roles and there are some welcome new additions in Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Cumberbatch lends his voice to the ‚baddie‚? of the series, the titular Smaug the Dragon. Visually, Smaug is stunning‚¶elegant and regal whilst still remaining vicious with an evil glint in his eye. The voice fits perfectly and Cumberbatch pulls it off with dramatic vigour and at no point drifts into cheesy. Genuinely sinister. By film 2, Martin Freeman has definitely grown into the to the role of Bilbo. There are some comic touches that really made smile. He keeps the tone light in a fairly dark film. Overall Hobbit is very CG heavy which is to be expected...but this only noticeable on a few ocassions.
I am still really enjoying joining Peter Jackson on his glorious trips through Middle Earth.
Director: We spend too much time on the forest elves, so we're going to end the film with the dragon in mid flight.
Me: What the FU$K!