Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Ridley Scott Says 'Exodus' Would Never Get Financed Starring "Mohammad So-and-So From Such-And-Such” Ridley Scott Says 'Exodus' Would Never Get Financed Starring "Mohammad So-and-So From Such-And-Such” James Cameron Says 'Avatar' Sequels Will Make You "Sh*t Yourself With Your Mouth Wide Open” James Cameron Says 'Avatar' Sequels Will Make You "Sh*t Yourself With Your Mouth Wide Open” Welcome Back To The Park: The First Trailer For 'Jurassic World' Is Here Welcome Back To The Park: The First Trailer For 'Jurassic World' Is Here Watch: 2-Hour 'Deleted Magic' Explores Deleted Scenes & Alternate Footage From The Original 'Star Wars' Trilogy Watch: 2-Hour 'Deleted Magic' Explores Deleted Scenes & Alternate Footage From The Original 'Star Wars' Trilogy New Character And Plot Details Emerge For 'True Detective' Season 2 As More Cast Members Confirmed New Character And Plot Details Emerge For 'True Detective' Season 2 As More Cast Members Confirmed James Gunn Says Shared Universe Model Is "Flawed," Plus Listen To "Awesome Mixtape Volume Zero" For 'Guardians' James Gunn Says Shared Universe Model Is "Flawed," Plus Listen To "Awesome Mixtape Volume Zero" For 'Guardians' 'Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens' Trailer Hits Theaters This Friday 'Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens' Trailer Hits Theaters This Friday Christian Bale Admits He Was Initially "Jealous" When Ben Affleck Was Cast As Batman Christian Bale Admits He Was Initially "Jealous" When Ben Affleck Was Cast As Batman Watch: First Trailer For Thomas Vinterberg's 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Starring Carey Mulligan Watch: First Trailer For Thomas Vinterberg's 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Starring Carey Mulligan Watch: Zac Efron Talks About His Masturbation Techniques In 'The Interview' Segment With James Franco Watch: Zac Efron Talks About His Masturbation Techniques In 'The Interview' Segment With James Franco Watch: Footage From "Sick," Unreleased Marilyn Manson Video, Directed By Eli Roth & Featuring Lana Del Rey Watch: Footage From "Sick," Unreleased Marilyn Manson Video, Directed By Eli Roth & Featuring Lana Del Rey Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... SXSW Review: Spierig Brothers 'Predestination'  Starring Ethan Hawke SXSW Review: Spierig Brothers 'Predestination' Starring Ethan Hawke From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug’ Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen & More

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist December 6, 2013 at 4:49PM

If the “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was a bloated 2 hour and 49 minute slog, replete with dull merriment, songs and a distended prologue that threatened to put you to sleep, then in contrast, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a brisk, engagingly paced 2 hours and 41 minutes which goes to show that length never matters—it’s how well your narrative engine runs.
127
The Hobbit: Desolation Of Smaug

If the “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was a bloated 2 hour and 49 minute slog, replete with dull merriment, songs and a distended prologue that threatened to put you to sleep, then in contrast, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a brisk, engagingly paced 2 hours and 41 minutes which goes to show that length never matters—it’s how well your narrative engine runs.

And yet, conversely (and ironically), pace isn't always the salve either. To wit: the Peter Jackson-directed ‘Hobbit’ sequel might be the more vigorous, action-packed, darker and more (superficially) engaging version of the series thus far, but that doesn’t actually mean it’s a keeper of any sort. In fact, rather than calling it a sequel, 'The Desolation of Smaug' is better served described as an episode. And the episodic, middle chapter-itis that is currently hurting the modern-day tentpole sequel is fully evinced.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

As facile and conventional as these ideas may be, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ was actually about something; a quest that touched upon friendship and fellowship (yep, all that stuff again) with Bilbo Baggins’ (Martin Freeman) main character arc involving earning the trust, respect and admiration of the initially disdainful, ornery and skeptical pack of thirteen dwarves he was traveling with (none of this is particularly revelatory, but occasionally it was touching in the same way these themes were in the ‘LOTR’ films). In contrast, ‘Smaug’ is about almost absolutely nothing. “The Further Adventures Of Chasing Gemstones That Mean Something Or Other To The Dwarves” might be a better suited subtitle as it is simply designed to keep this behemoth franchise moving forward and nothing more.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

So while ‘Smaug’ has forward-momentum, and is chockablock with battles and evil conflicts (Orcs, giant spiders, a Necromancer, a pointless digression with a shape shifter that hates dwarves, suspicious and selfish elves), it’s actually the lesser and emptier of the two films (though I concede most audiences are probably not in need of much more and are likely going to enjoy this episode better).

But for those who desire more than just dynamic roller coasters, they might feel incredibly stymied. The strain of what was originally conceived as one story running the course of two movies, now stretched to its limits with a third picture, is deeply felt. The character arcs are negligible, and what exists instead are moods—mostly “dark” and “irritable” as ‘Smaug’ is certainly the most angsty of all the ‘LOTR/Hobbit’ films to date. Bilbo Baggins is beginning to get hooked in the throngs of early “precious” ring addiction, which makes him a bit of a dick, but that’s all about his story amounts to. Bilbo is hiding his ring smack compulsion from Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen), but like far too many of the film's story elements, it's just a set up which will pay off in another episode and therefore holds no weight.

Dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is also being quite the dick, becoming power hungry and falling prey to the madness of greed that also destroyed his ancestors. As the quest progresses, Oakenshield becomes more ruthless and merciless, putting the importance of the gemstone above all other individuals in his company going so far as leaving injured dwarves behind (leave no dwarf left behind!). This is less of an arc and more of a thing that happens to Oakenshield, and again, something that will likely pay off or become resolved in episode three. None of it is remotely moving or even barely interesting on a character, story or thematic level.

The Hobbit: Desolation Of Smaug

However, if you want sizzle and action that’s even more violent than what we’ve seen in previous films, you’ve come to the right place, as ‘Smaug’ is more aggressive with its fight sequences and battles. One involved set-piece with dwarves in wine barrels spilling down a river while Orcs and elves chase them is positively thrilling, matching and surpassing the visually dazzling sequences in Steven Spielberg’s panoramic “The Adventures of Tintin.” Those who want “bad-ass” will be satisfied, but like the animated Spielberg picture, it all feels ultimately like a video game that’s neat to look at, but not especially meaningful in any way.

Smaug the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) serves much of the same function. He’s a visual effects spectacle to behold (a CGI marvel, really)—nasty, mean and a massive threat, but the character doesn’t add up to more than an infuriated bad guy who chases people around and burns their bums with fire because they’ve woken him up.

Elsewhere in the various tangents of this overlong story, nothing of merit is really taking place, other than the building blocks for 'There And Back Again.' The always unreliable Gandalf takes off from his friends for the umpteenth time to go investigate something or other (which is basically Gandalf’s modus operandi in every film; side quests! What a total flake). If you think some of the dwarves had fuck all to do in 'An Unexpected Journey,' you probably can’t even imagine the sheer boredom that must have set in for actors playing anyone not named Thorin, Balin (Ken Stott), Dwalin (Graham McTavish) and to a lesser degree Bofur (James Nesbitt). Sure, the handsome Kili (Aidan Turner) gets his own subplot centering on a deathly injury and a coquettish flirtation with Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel, but again (sigh) it’s all narrative teases that amounts to TUNE INTO THE NEXT EPISODE TO FIND OUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENS.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Assholes are in plentiful number in ‘Smaug,’ apart from the aforementioned cantankerous characters. Thranduil (Lee Pace), the selfish Elvin king is a racist/xenophobe and doesn’t care what happens to the rest of the world. His son Legolas (Orlando Bloom) follows his lead and is also basically a jerk (also there’s little reason for this beloved character to be back for this film other than to dynamically kick-ass like he did in the ‘LOTR’ films). Sure he’s got a thing for Tauriel and that’s going to eventually evolve him into the Elf we know and love, but … yep, next installment. (Luke Evans also co-stars as Aragorn, I mean, Bard the Bowman; he doesn't like the dwarves' gemstone-finding motives, but you'll learn more about that Christmas 2014.)

The one character of any substance in the picture is Tauriel. A fictionalized creation that's not in the book, if you’re looking for the barest of superficial character texture, you’re thanking the gods Peter Jackson and his co-writers invented her. Empathetic and at odds with her people’s cynical outlook on Middle Earth, Tauriel actually cares about people in need of help (including dwarves, the sworn rivals of elves), so it’s her internal conflict that gives the movie its only shallow of humanistic depth.

In case you need reminding, “Lord of the Rings” lays in the background, sometimes not all that subtly; the ring, Sauron, the evil that is about to engulf Middle Earth and a prequel-like sequence that should be called, “How Sting [Bilbo’s Sword] Got Her Groove.” The truth is, audiences are going to approve of this sequel. It’s entertaining, it’s engaging and it’s got thrills, but all at the expense and to the detriment of what stories, narrative and filmmaking should be about. See you at the next chapter. [C]

This article is related to: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, James Nesbitt, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Aidan Turner, Reviews, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates