The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Review)


Yesterday I watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug with the family. We arrived at the theater around 1PM for a 1:25PM showing. During our last trek to this theater traffic made us late, so this time we left an hour early so we weren’t sure what kind of dystopian urban evil to expect. It turns out the drive itself was fifteen minutes long, as was circling the parking garage (you must understand the garage to be a part of the garage–it was all very zen). We arrived and got to stand in line at the kiosk to watch peoples’ credit cards being declined. We got prepurchased tickets. Daniel decided Zac Efron looks good holding a kitten, and that Michael B. Jordan isn’t the basketball player. Alex wanted to know why a movie called Labor Day was being released in January.

My ticket stub to The Hobbit. $16.75?? Thank God I didn't need the $7 popcorn.
My ticket stub to The Hobbit. $16.75?? Thank God I didn’t need the $7 popcorn.

We marched into the IMAX theater that was so completely dark, we couldn’t make out the people, the seats, or even the screen. Finally, we plonked down with our Big Belch-sized drinks and sat through 20 minutes of movie trailers, none of which (with the possible exception of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) I had any desire to see whatsoever.

I started out with high hopes for the film, since Peter Jackson had the forethought to include Beorn the skin-changer (he decided to leave out Tom Bombadil from his Lord of the Rings trilogy, after all). I was impressed with the cinematography, with dwarves crossing high rocky plains and copses of forest before entering Mirkwood.

Bilbo struggled with his desire to use the One Ring throughout the story, going so far as to deny its existence to Gandalf (this is canonical) and staring at it for long periods of time with concern, hesitation, great desire and possibly gas (this is not).

I was impressed with the visual effects Peter Jackson used to create Mirkwood, especially when Bilbo climbed the tree to escape the oppressive forest and get bearings for Thorin’s company. The spiders were leggy and creepy, their home was dark–you could almost smell the spider-stink; they had my wife cringing.

Jackson also did us a great service by sparing us Tolkien’s ridiculous “attercop” rhyme while Thorin and Company were fighting the giant spiders. If I had any gripe with the first film of this series, it was that Jackson made it too corny and childish. The dwarfs looked unrealistic and the plate-throwing scene, while whimsical, made me groan. I noticed that Jackson also left out the scene from Tolkien’s original, where Bombur fell into an enchanted stream and fell asleep for a good long while, dreaming about delicious food and hairy women.

Thranduil, the king of the wood elves, was rigid and annoying, just as I pictured him. I noticed the elf-king’s crown looked quite similar to the one worn by the cartoon king in the Rankin-Bass Hobbit (I loved this, and the record version when I was young).  Legolas is the son of Thranduil so, although he wasn’t in Tolkien’s original, he conceivably would have met Thorin and Company during their trek through Mirkwood and the dungeons. I didn’t mind seeing the guy. 

Then, frankly, Jackson lost the story. Who is Tauriel, and why should I care? The barrel riders were locked out at the gate. Epic orc battle that lasted far too long. Haggling with Bard. His (and his family’s) backstory. His screeching girl–I hoped the orcs would eat her just so my eardrums would be saved. Being smuggled in under tons of fish. Alfrid (who looked like so much like Nigel Terry’s Prince John from The Lion in Winter they were indistinguishable in my mind). The drunken Stephen Fry (who looked so much like Stephen Fry that he was also indistinguishable). Thinking “there’s that damn girl elf AND Legolas again. Can’t they just leave us alone?” Kili was stabbed by a Morgul blade? If Kingsfoil (athelas) is so awesome, why does everyone in middle earth not know of its properties? Gandalf storming Dol Guldur. The “My-God-when-will-this-end” battle with Smaug inside Erebor. Wondering “Why doesn’t all that dragon fire melt the gold?”

I guess I’m saying the last 90 minutes of the 161-minute film so much like filler, that my numb behind really wanted to visit the food court and eat lousy Chinese food.  Also, it felt just a bit too much like New Line Cinema could make money from three movies instead of two.

A few remaining points:

  • I love Radagast! What a weirdo! I want a magic bunny sleigh! I could do without a forehead covered in bird shit. It’s just not a look everybody can pull off.
  • Stephen Colbert and his children were Laketown spies in the film. I knew he made a cameo but forgot to check beforehand to see where. Now I want to rewind. Oops.
  • “Da–why are dwarves coming out of our toilet?” Best line of the movie.
  • I love Bree. The meeting between Thorin and Gandalf at the Prancing Pony was very cool.
  • I like the work-together-and-defeat-anything fighting style of the dwarves, which serves as a fine bookend to the solo child-prodigy super-flashy never-ever-miss style of the elves.

My post-film thoughts?  Lousy Chinese food? Check! Next-day diarrhea? Check! Also, I found a plainly-marked (they must have built it when I was in the theater) exit from the parking lot.  Oh, and I really, really never want to wear 3-D glasses again.

So… The film wasn’t awful. Unfortunately Peter Jackson did not leave me with much desire to see the next one. This never bodes well when a director is making a trilogy. I give it 2.5 of 5 stars.

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7 thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Review)”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on The Hobbit 2. Did you watch the extended version of the first part? Is it worth it? (I’m using “worth” not just in terms of the price of the DVD but also in reference to giving up 3h13m of my life to watch the film a third time.)

    I walked out of the cinema during part 1, called my wife to whinge about character development (Hmmm, okay I know Bilbo likes food, so this recipe swap with the trolls works for me as a way to buy time. Oh great, Gandalf saves the expedition by breaking another stone in half with his staff. …All right, returning to the Lonely Mountain to take back the ancestral home is motivation enough for the dwarves to run across the beautiful New Zealand landscape, so what’s with ratcheting up the tension with “there’s the dwarf that chopped off me arm” and “hey, that’s the orc that killed grandpa” dialog and ensuing brawls? Aw, what the heck, I can overlook another fight scene for a few more hours in Middle Earth. …OK, if Bilbo does … he did it: I walked.), then after hanging up I decided to walk back in and watch the rest of the movie because I was probably just being crabby from sleep lost during a week of giving and grading exams. And I’d paid about twenty bucks to a Japanese movie theater chain for the ticket.

    Later, my wife and I watched the DVD and I enjoyed it more the second time, but the fight scenes seemed more excessive than they had the first time I watched it. There was a lot of running around and fighting in LOTR 2, but it didn’t seem as manufactured to me in that film as it did in The Hobbit 1. There were other events that helped to drive the plot forward, and the story lines were much more interesting in LOTR 2. And there were Ents and fine examples of dwarf humor (My favorite: Gimli–“Talking trees! What have trees got to talk about except the consistency of squirrel droppings?”).

    Should I splash out the equivalent of another Jackson for a movie theater experience when The Hobbit 2 comes out in Japan in February? Should I wait for the extended version DVD before next Christmas? Any advice?

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    1. Loren–I’d wait for the DVD. Then I’d rent the DVD. Then I’d probably never, ever watch it again. It was worth it because… Uh. Sexy, leggy elf chick? Creepy spiders? Bilbo grows a pair? You like extended fight scenes?

      It’s all I got.

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  2. I think that some of the Legolas bit was both set up for the 3rd installment of The Hobbit, and also for back story to LOTR. The whole Tauriel-loves-a-dwarf-and-not-me angle gives him a better excuse for his dislike of Gimli. It’s just as credible an excuse as my-father-is-a-prick, which was also portrayed. Also, just before he rides off into the sunset to chase the orc (Bolg?) they show him bleeding a little from the nose and being surprised by it. I don’t think we’ve seen elves bleed before, have we? I thought that might be setting up something for the next movie.

    I was impressed by some of the makeup work in this film. I particularly noticed the dwarfs’ hands, all stubby and plump. After very recently seeing Richard Armitage (Thorin) in the BBC Robin Hood series (Netflix!), I know that he has rather long, elegant hands, so they must have used gloves or makeup or post-production CGI or something to make his dwarf-hands look stubby.

    And spiders are icky. Ask Ron Weasley.

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  3. After watching it last night (not in 3D), I must concur with the fighting scenes. If you could be anyone, wouldn’t it be an elf/elve? They never miss a trick. They’re like Tolkien superheroes. Seems like there always has to be a romance angle, hence Tauriel. I liked Smaug the best. The interaction between the dragon and Bilbo was fun. Random thoughts: Elves also have the best hair. Dwarves, not so much.

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