The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Hobbit2_1Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Manu Bennett, Lawrence Makoare

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: The highest of high.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is both better and worse than its predecessor. While An Unexpected Journey focused on Bilbo and his character arc, The Desolation of Smaug is more about the action and the adventurous journey. Even though we find ourselves exploring previously unseen regions of Middle Earth, there isn’t the same sense of wonder draped over The Desolation of Smaug. We’re no longer just seeing this world through Bilbo’s eyes, and while this leads to some incredible set-pieces and a lot of fun, without the wonder it’s much harder to be dazzled by this film in the same way.

But like how An Unexpected Journey did not dazzle in exactly the same way as Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings films, The Desolation of Smaug is its own beast and should be allowed to flourish in its own way. And it does. Rather well, actually. This is a much darker, almost purely adventure section of the journey, which the film’s muted color palette helps to convey, but coincidentally this is also Jackson’s funniest Middle Earth film. Well… as long as you are on-board with Jackson’s dark sense of humor, where the biggest chuckles come from creative decapitations and other grisly treats. (Is this a record for decapitations in a PG-13 movie? I should think so.)

Hobbit2_2Storywise, if you’re reading this I’m going to assume you know what’s going on. Like the book it is based on, the Hobbit films are all about the thrill of the journey and the fun of adventuring, so there are a myriad of trials and tribulations for Bilbo and the dwarves to get through on their way to the Lonely Mountain. This seems to be the major point of contention around these films (that they don’t just get on with it), but anyone arguing this as a valid criticism is missing the point. A fantasy novel adaptation allowed such room to breathe as Jackson is given here is an absolute joy for the fans. I can’t begin to imagine how inferior a two-film version would be and I’m glad that the LOTR films were successful enough to allow for The Hobbit to deliver extended fantasy fun of a three-film magnitude.

In terms of action, The Desolation of Smaug is much different that what was seen in An Unexpected Journey. The first film’s struggles felt more tense, but the ones here are light and relentlessly entertaining. And oddly enough, the best bits seems to be creations added entirely by Jackson and the screenwriting team. Everyone will have their own favorites, of course, but for me these were the slick elven combat and the incredible finale inside Erebor. As for the finale I will say this: Watch it and try to contain your shit-eating grin, it’s not possible! I don’t want to discuss specifics on the finale, so I’ll just let leave it at that.  The elves on the other hand…

If you thought Legolas was badass in the Lord of the Rings films, then you need to see The Desolation of Smaug. Not only are we treated to Legolas pulling out all the combat stops, Jackson and co. have added a female elf to the story, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and she is a fierce competitor to Legolas for the “Most Badass Elven Warrior” award. The choreography for their movements is so precise, superhuman and impressive, it’s like the elves can see the battle five moves ahead and are merely going through the obvious motions to keep it flowing. It’s something that comes up throughout Lord of the Rings in small bursts, but it is never allowed to flourish like it is in The Desolation of Smaug. Is is too late for Jackson to be talked into making a movie solely about the elves? These elven warriors also contribute a good majority of those clever decapitations, bringing my delight during their battles to an absolute fever-pitch.

The Desolation of Smaug is a grand adventure designed first and foremost to thrill and delight. Where An Unexpected Journey brought its audiences the wonderment of being out in the world on a journey for the first time, The Desolation of Smaug shatters the dream and shows us just how dangerous and sinister the world beyond the Shire really is. The ties to Lord of the Rings are shaping up nicely as well, providing us with an interesting context to the events in those films. True, none of that is actually told in the pages of The Hobbit, but to simply make a joyous version of The Hobbit that strictly adheres to the book and ignores Lord of the Rings would be an absolute travesty. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit is excellent fun, and is exactly what a prequel should be. I eagerly await next December and the release of the final installment.

7 comments to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

  • It may be a tad bit shorter than the first one, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it. Still though, I had enough fun with it. Good review Will.

  • Top work Will. I thought this film had a far better sense of itself than Unexpected Journey did – I guess with the preamble out of the way, Jackson could get straight into the adventure. Loved Cumberbatch as Smaug, loved the Barrels sequence, loved Legolas’ ass-kicking alongside Tauriel, and I loved Gandalf’s moment to shine in Dol Goldur. A lot to love, really.

    • To me this one was more a bunch of awesome stuff all packed into one movie than a movie proper. It felt like there was so little development of characters or any themes or anything. It was just “OK, let’s just have some fun now!” This is basically how the book is too, so I can’t fault them for this, but it does make me think of this one as a less successful film. Which is strange, because this one is more fun and I imagine would be much easier to re-watch over and over specifically because of its lack of character development.

      I also loved those things you mentioned. Oh man, that Gandalf stuff was gnarly! They really brought life to those few sentences that related next to nothing about Gandalf confronting the Necromancer in Tolkien’s Appendices.

  • Stephen

    Well, here I am, late to the party as usual. Your first paragraph sums up my mood perfectly. I couldn’t get into the film as much as I could with the first. Somehow It had a lack of tension that left me unengaged despite the cool stuff happening all over the place. As with the first film, it was the ending that kind of felt flat. I spent the whole time wondering just what the dwarves were trying to do that it left me rather confounded. I was so caught up in my knowledge of what Smaug was going to do afterwards that I was just left wondering what the point of all the forges and stuff were and what role they were going to have in the plot.

    But I also think it will hold up better after a rewatch, just like the first one did for me. This was a case where the novel kind of spoiled things for me. And since I hadn’t read the novel in a long time, I was constantly left wondering whether scenes were brand new, or just something I had forgotten. Maybe I ought to read the book again before the third film comes out, but at the same time I feel like that would ruin the freshness of seeing the film. I’m a bit torn on the issue.

    By far my favorite part was the barrel riding scene. The moment one of the dwarves (Bofur maybe?) bounced out of the river was classic. I knew right off that he would fall back in, but I never expected it to go on so long. I had to restrain myself from disturbing the rest of the audience with my glee.

    Oddly enough, and despite your earlier comments, this movie felt a lot quicker to me than the first one. I was kind of surprised when the credits started rolling. Apparently I wasn’t alone either, as the guy in front of me moaned a regretful “No!” the moment the credits popped up, though I think he was more dismayed by the cliffhanger ending than the length of the film.

    • No worries about being late to the party here! I am the ultimate “watch a movie years after release and then try to start a party” guy, so the party’s always going on here!

      There is a lack of tension here, which I think is more Tolkien’s fault than Jackson’s. The story is just kinda like that. I do think this one will feel much better on a re-watch because I won’t be expecting something like the first Hobbit film. I think the ending to the first film is perfect, but I do agree that the dwarves vs. Smaug stuff is a little much. I loved it, though, but I can’t fault anyone for not buying into it because it’s so unbelievable and ridiculous and overly convenient. I totally loved the cliffhanger, but it did seem to take the people in my audience by surprise as well. And agreed, that barrel scene is great stuff. I felt exactly the same way you did about it.

      I haven’t read the novel in years and my knowledge of the plot specifics are so hazy that it didn’t affect my experience at all. I did know going in that Tauriel was a new creation and that Legolas wasn’t in the book originally, so I think that helped too. I vote that you don’t read the book again and just let the third movie do it’s thing. I wanted to re-read the book as well, but I know it’ll kill some of the enjoyment of the movie so I’m abstaining. I’m considering finally trying to read The Silmarilion to fill the Tolkien void.

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