Usually when I write about a movie or TV show, I try to find some common theme I can focus on, some trend that points towards what this piece of entertainment means in the bigger picture. I have no such thoughts about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The movie was very scattered, jumping from one plot to another seemingly without reason. All three of the Lord of the Rings films work because they exist as individual films AND as one incredibly long story. The Hobbit is one incredibly long film, divided up into three parts seemingly at random. The Desolation of Smaug begins mid-action and ends mid-action, like the editor just snipped the film in three with his eyes closed. So in homage to this movie’s lack of a singularity, here are all of my thoughts, presented in no order whatsoever:
- There is very little Hobbit. About two thirds through the movie, Bilbo said something and I literally turned to my sister and whispered, “I forgot he was in this movie.” The misuse of Martin Freeman is one of this movie’s biggest mistakes. Freeman plays Bilbo as appropriately nervous, cautiously brave, funny and likeable. This is not Elijah Wood playing Frodo as tired, spent, and exhausted. Freeman was multi-layered and fun to watch in the first movie, but doesn’t get nearly enough time to display his talents here. He gets his requisite scenes of saving his dwarf friends from elves, spiders and dragons, but there’s very little focus on his growth as a character. It was as if, in the span of the first film, Bilbo had completely transformed from content hobbit to action star, and then ceased growing. The only change in Bilbo’s characterization here is his burgeoning obsession with the ring. I don’t want to harp too long on the changes Peter Jackson has made in his adaptation of the book, so I’ll get it out of the way here: all of the connections to Sauron and his growing strength are unnecessary and damages the quality of the story. The Hobbit is a fun adventure/fantasy book for kids, unlike the religious allegory and high fantasy of Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit film doesn’t need to match the tone of Lord of the Rings. They exist in the same world, but they are two separate stories with small connections between them. The main theme of The Hobbit is Bilbo’s growing confidence and bravery. By not addressing that transformation, Peter Jackson completely undercuts the story. What we’re left with is Diet Lord of the Rings, which is what everybody feared was going to happen when Jackson announced that The Hobbit would be a trilogy.
- The scenes in which Bilbo does get to shine are among the film’s best. My favorite sequence of the whole film takes place in the psychedelic Mirkwood Forrest. It’s inherently unique from anything else in either the first Hobbit movie or The Lord of The Rings. The confusion and weirdness of that scene are so singular that it seems like it’s coming from a different movie. This is also the best example of Bilbo’s role in the Dwarven crew, as he uses his ingenuity to save the day. The barrel riding scene is really fun too, albeit surprisingly violent. Legolas knows a lot of ways to kill an Orc.
- Speaking of Legolas…you know what? I’m not going to complain about his presence in this movie because that would be too easy. Orlando Bloom plays Legolas as far more brash and arrogant than in the LOTR films, which makes sense, since this is taking place about 80 years in the past. My problem isn’t his inclusion in the film, but how he’s being used. A love triangle? Really? Between Legolas, the sexy dwarf, and Kate from Lost? If somebody tries to tell you that Peter Jackson needed three movies to tell this story, point to all the scenes focused on these three knuckleheads. I have to hope Peter Jackson didn’t decide on his own that what Middle Earth really needed was a Tumblr ‘shipping war between Kiriel and Lauriel.
- Nobody in a million years would ever have guessed that Smaug was voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. There’s so much bass on his voice that it defeats the purpose of that stunt casting. Smaug is actually pretty menacing, but that scene drags out so long and the dwarves’ plan is so convoluted that by the time Smaug heads out to destroy Lake Town and the screen turns to black, I almost cheered.
- Yes, The Hobbit could have been one movie. Cut out Beorn and we’re halfway there.
- I love Ian Mckellen. I love Ian Mckellen as Gandolf. I did not need to see Gandolf going off to investigate the Necromancer. Although, I would watch an entire buddy wizard movie with Gandolf and Radagast. And if nothing else, the scene in which Gandolf faces Sauron gave us the phrase “Fire Breathing Georgia O’Keefe Paintings.” (Thank you, Linda Holmes.)
- Another Linda Holmes observation that I can partially get on board with: “I feel like I’m expected to say that, ‘whatever else, it looks amazing,’ and then have the argument from there. I don’t actually think it looks amazing….” I will say that there are parts of this film that are absolutely beautiful, and all of those shots are taken completely without the use of CGI. One of the big selling points of Lord of the Rings is the gorgeous cinematography. There’s a reason that tourism in New Zealand skyrocketed after The Fellowship of The Ring came out. I don’t understand why we get less scenes set in actual New Zealand fields and mountains and valleys, and less scenes shot in front of a green screen. As transcendent as Peter Jackson might have thought the scene of Bilbo looking over the treetops of Mirkwood forest was, I doesn’t come close to any of the actual New Zealand nature.
- Speaking of the CGI, the Orcs looked like something out of a video game, contrasting poorly with the Orcs in the LOTR trilogy, which were actual humans in costumes. Peter Jackson is one the biggest offenders of doing something CGI for CGI’s sake. We know this from King Kong.
- What was going on with the Lord of Lake Town? If there’s a personification of the weird tonal shifts in this movie, it’s that guy. I don’t know if we’re supposed to laugh at him and his Diet Worm Tongue advisor. These scenes may have made more sense if the movie was a little more light-hearted, but Peter Jackson really could not decide what type of movie he wanted to make. The scene in which Lake Town Lord and Bard confront each other on the steps is easily the worst in the entire movie.
- Bard. Who cares?
My hopes for There and Back Again: Smaug is desolated within the first fifteen minutes and the rest of the film is Bilbo walking home, talking to Gandalf about his love life. Is the Wizard seeing anybody special?