Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), PG-13, 161 minutes - I'm generally pretty good at compartmentalizing things.  It's a trait that I'm proud of (although my wife would probably tell you that it makes me difficult to deal with sometimes).  Unfortunately, this ability often makes it hard for me to determine how I feel about a film like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Allow me to explain:

First off, I enjoyed the film.  Even the two and a half hour running time didn't cause me to look at my watch once.  As has become a staple of Peter Jackson's adaptations of Middle Earth, The Desolation of Smaug had a good blend of drama, action, and comedy.  He even slipped in a little fledgling romance for good measure.  And once again the cast was excellent.  A large portion of which returned from last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  I felt that Martin Freeman (Bilbo) was wonderful with what little he was asked to do.  Outside of one key, albeit lengthy scene towards the film's climax, his inclusion in this portion of the story was relatively limited (more on that later).  Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin) and Aidan Turner (Kili) were the most prominent of the returning characters, and trilogy newcomers Luke Evans (Bard) and Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel) also play substantial roles.  Another important contribution to the cast is that made by Benedict Cumberbatch whose voice over performance really brings Smaug to life.  The visuals are also stunning.  Smaug is probably the best looking dragon I've seen in a movie and Azog (the white orc) didn't look out of place as he did in An Unexpected Journey (to me at least).

That all sounds pretty good right?  So what's my problem you ask?  As most probably know The Hobbit is J.R.R. Tolkien's more lighthearted prequel to The Lord of the Rings.  It was a single book (which was shorter than the shortest of the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings).  Originally, it was envisioned as being adapted into two films.  Once production began though, it was decided to stretch The Hobbit into its own trilogy.  In doing so, material and characters not included in Tolkien's works were injected into the story.  This film very easily could have been subtitled 'This Didn't Happen In The Book' instead of 'The Desolation of Smaug'.  I'm not the world's biggest Tolkien fanatic, but The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are still near the the top of my list of favorite books.  It is that appreciation for these legendary works that causes issues for me.  While this is an entertaining film, it just isn't The Hobbit.  The Hobbit for which it is named is very much a secondary character in this film.  There may have been many other things going on around Bilbo in the book, but he was always at the center of things.  The big problem for me isn't the film itself, but the wrappings.  Dragging out The Hobbit into three films just doesn't feel necessary.  The majority of what happens in The Desolation of Smaug could have very easily been a spin-off film.

See what I mean about compartmentalizing?  If I look at the film by itself, I enjoyed it.  I certainly wouldn't suggest that someone avoid it, but when I compare it to what I know The Hobbit to be, I have a hard time not taking issue with the changes that were made, even if they were executed well (the creation/inclusion of Tauriel for example).

So there you go.  The Desolation of Smaug is worth seeing.  It's an entertaining film that, even though it is rated PG-13, is pretty safe for all ages (there were plenty of youngsters in the theater when I went and no adverse reactions).  Just don't expect to see much of what you remember from the book, and certainly don't expect a true ending.  This is just the second of three films after all.  Despite some of my misgivings, I'll certainly be there a year from now when The Hobbit: There and Back Again concludes this Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy.  I'll just be hoping that the story returns to following the source material more faithfully.


- Just a few seconds into the film, director Peter Jackson has a cameo as someone crossing the street in front of the Prancing Pony.

- It is cool to see locations from the previous Lord of the Rings films (such as the Prancing Pony) pop up along the way in these Hobbit films.

- On one hand, seeing Legolas (Orlando Bloom) was kind of cool.  On the other, he was only included because of the added content that stretched this into a trilogy.  Neat but unnecessary.

- I really did like Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel.  But her inclusion falls in the same category as Bloom's.

- Once again, Martin Freeman really was great as Bilbo.  It's a shame that his role in this film was as limited as it was.

- Am I the only one who was confused by the order of events between the end of An Unexpected Journey and the beginning of this film (other than the scene that clearly stated it was a flashback to Gandalf's and Thorin's first meeting)?  An Unexpected Journey ends with the group having narrowly escaped Azog's horde of orcs, gazing at the Lonely Mountain from a plateau.  This film picks up with the group still trying to outrun Azog's army and doesn't show them referencing how close they are to the Lonely Mountain at all.  I didn't have a chance to re-watch An Unexpected Journey before seeing The Desolation of Smaug, so if my memory is incorrect, please let me know.


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