Movie Review: "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"


Generally I only review movies I get to watch early for whatever reason, and this wasn’t one of them, but some kind of completion anxiety started kicking in when I saw that I had reviewed the first one and not this. Boy this one’s gonna be confusing. I just read through my review of “An Unexpected Journey”, which I might have written in a good mood because I don’t remember enjoying that movie nearly as much as I apparently did.

Having said that, I think in general I did enjoy this second one a bit more than I enjoyed the first, though I can’t put my finger on exactly why. There is a lot to be enjoyed in “The Desolation of Smaug” but for me, there was also a lot to groan over. My biggest beef is still the fact that this trilogy has to be the most excessive, overproduced thing Hollywood has ever made; this shit makes "Transformers" look minimalistic.

Which is funny considering how the movie keeps going on about how “Greed is bad, m’kay?”

It came to me pretty early into “The Desolation of Smaug” what it was that wasn’t grooving with me. In a very fundamental level, there is a certain magic and charm missing—something that was easily found in any frame of “The Lord of the Rings”. But more importantly, everything in this movie feels artificial. The unnecessary CGI effects are artificial, the prosthetic makeup is sometimes artificial, the storytelling is artificial as hell—it’s like a Barbie doll that just lacks heart.

This is what the movie should be all about.
I don’t understand for the life of someone else why the fuck they keep choosing to spend unbelievable amounts of money on CG effects that just aren’t fucking necessary. Everything looked so much better in the other trilogy that’s over 10 years old and that’s because Jackson decided he really wanted to get an SFX Oscar. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie that just straight up decides to digitally add everything they possibly can—this is some “Star Wars” prequels shit.

Remember the awful green screen in “King Kong” that looked like crap but some people defended as an aesthetic choice to mimic old-time movie effects? What’s the reason behind it here? Why is the green screen so glaringly obvious in this one when you could barely tell when it was being used in the original trilogy? I said it in the other review and I say it again—this shit is excessive and overproduced.

Now I’m finally ‘getting’ what Jackson was trying to do here. “The Hobbit”, the book, isn’t an epic. It’s barely a fairy tale full of heart and adventure. Characters don’t really have personalities, barely have back-stories, there are no side-stories or subplots, just a lot of adventure. I understand now that they wanted to turn that charming little thing into huge fucking epic just like “The Lord of the Rings” was.

But you know what? “The Lord of the Rings” was epic because the books were epic. The essence of the source material is untouched and translated incredibly well. I read the book very recently and can tell you that this movie adapted roughly 75 pages. That’s 75 pages of large type adventure translated into a painfully long movie. I’m figuring only about 25% of the action on-screen came from those 75 pages—the rest is just greedy filler partially drawn from the extended Middle Earth universe.

This should be a ride at a theme park. Someone get on it.
And I wouldn’t mind the added material considering that I’m not a fan of the book’s simplicity (I like my fantasy high, low, dark, or epic; not just dainty and charming), but it was just so poorly fucking paced. The bulk of the movie adapts fewer than 30-ish pages. It rushes past the gang’s adventures in Mirkwood and then lingers for an unforgivable amount of time in Laketown, adding new characters and plots that were just painful. Who gives a rabid fuck about that Will Turner looking guy? Who gives a livid fuck about some civil unrest—or some shit—in Laketown? Do we really need to suggest a love story for one of the dwarves everyone knows isn’t going to go anywhere? Throw in more Radagast scenes that were entirely unnecessary, Gandalf wasting everyone’s time and one hell of a pointless climax (exactly what was the point of the whole furnace set-piece with Smaug?) and you get the slowest-baking shit cake of all time.

I think the most artificial thing of all is the actual drama. There is a scene near the end when the dwarves pretty much give up on their quest with extreme ease. The movie tried to play it like some “Aw shit all is lost!” moment, but it just made them seem weaker as characters, especially Thorin. There’s a lot more stuff added for the sake of drama that just didn’t work—mainly just some ultra-side characters’ sob back stories—but I won’t spoil. In general it feels like not one character moves forward at all, but that might just be because it suffers from being the middle child (*cough* this wasn’t an issue in “The Two Towers” though *cough*).

The ending cut-off here is some serious bullshit, too. Even the first one had some sort of resolution before ending it. Here it’s just a cliffhanger that feels even more insulting considering it follows a completely pointless 30-minute action scene.

Will Turner leaks into the movie and is more boring than ever.
So yeah, they almost completely skipped the fun adventure that made the book so much fun to add artificial and unnecessary drama with characters you can’t possibly give a fuck about. It’s painful to see how far to the side Bilbo is being pushed in his own adventure. At least, and as much as it pains me to say this because I don’t like Legolas, his plotline in here, though shallow, didn’t feel as out of place and unnecessary as the others. Why did his eyes look so fake though?

Now don’t get me wrong—there is a lot of fun to be had here when the movie doesn’t feel like it’s purposefully wasting your time. There was an action scene involving orcs, elves, and barrels that was the most amazingly absurd and over the top thing you have ever seen. You think Legolas killing the elephant in “Return of the King” was over the top? Hold on to your fucking hats because this shit is Tom Cruise crazier.

Something they continue to do very well was the addition of personalities to faceless characters from the book, including and especially Bilbo. Bilbo is a giant boob, but he’s a likeable boob; Martin Freeman never lets go of the fact that the main thing about this little guy is that he’s supposed to be charming, and is pretty much the only character whose charm doesn’t clash with the attempted dark epicness Jackson was shooting for. Well that’s probably because it’s the only character that is actually charming. There really isn’t anything else going on with any other character except Thorin and I think Gandalf. I think.

As always, it’s awesome to see Middle Earth on the big screen. The natural sights are great and the set design (even the fake CGI ones) is beautiful. I particularly loved that place Gandalf was at for his plotline’s climax. That place was pretty fucking badass, and that entire scene was great, especially the promising ending. Yeah, it’s mainly because Azog the Defiler is still the baddest, bold, bladed motherfucker on Middle Earth, but it’s pretty rad still.

Bad, bold, bladed motherfucker.
Not only that; there are a lot of scenes to enjoy here. Bilbo’s initial conversation with Smaug is also brilliantly written and performed (even if the dragon suddenly decided to never ever fucking shut up) by both Freeman and Cucumber Batch.

I realize I sound bitter and cynical here, so let me remind you that I still sort of enjoyed it—more than the first, at least. It just left me angry because it just has a certain smugness to it; it almost feels like Jackson is saying “Yeah, I’m doing this shit and you will enjoy it because it’s Middle Earth, you quifftart.” Fuck you dude; two movies would’ve made the epic you wanted without making you look like another greedy bearded little man.

Addendum (minor spoiler): At some point an orc beats the living shit out of Legolas and that was right up there with "You bow to no one" in terms of dramatic gratification.

Addendum 2: In retrospective, considering how shittily the book handles the main story's climax, I can appreciate Bard and Laketown a bit more.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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2 comments:

  1. If ever there was a time a sequel needed to improve upon the first film, it's now, and that's exactly what Peter Jackson has done, even if only by a hair. Good review.

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  2. Man, I gotta say that I pretty much agree. The movie just didn't tickle me like I thought it would, and to be honest, I liked it LESS than the first. To me, it just felt like most of the adventure was already over from the get go, and they just spent SO MUCH time lingering. So much damn filler, and I definitely hated how Bilbo was pushed to the side, almost like a background prop. They made it about the Dwarves, and the story isn't called The Dwarves, it's called THE HOBBIT.

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