In 1999, George Lucas and co. had the movie world’s attention when they released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Star Wars has such a loyal following that if they even remotely tripped up for the prequel, they would forever be under the wrath of their fans. And what happened? The movie was unprecedentedly and unequivocally terrible, leaving fans with nothing to cling to but shattered expectations. Yesterday, Peter Jackson and co. unleashed The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on theaters worldwide, and much like Lucas 14 years ago, Jackson had the film world’s attention, and everyone was eagerly waiting to see how this piece of a trilogy in a beloved fantasy universe would pan out. The first Hobbit film released to mixed reactions last year; I thought it was loads of fun despite its many issues. This may come as a shock, but this middle film is hardly any better than Lucas’ great catastrophe. I guess the best way to describe this movie would be to say that it should have burned in dragon fire long before any Hobbit or Lord of the Rings fan ever had to suffer through it.
This movie is so bad, I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll start with the one really good thing about it, and that would be how the movie handles the dragon, Smaug. He is among the most fearsome and stunning digital creations I have ever witnessed on screen, and Benedict Cumberbatch voices him as perfectly as Martin Freeman played the part of Bilbo in the first movie. The interaction between the dragon and the Hobbit-burglar is a breath of fresh air, much like the Riddles in the Dark scene was in An Unexpected Journey. The only difference is that the Riddles in the Dark scene pulled the whole thing off flawlessly, whereas the scene with the dragon is only good for about five minutes until it’s brutally twisted beyond the form of anything that happened in the book, or even anything that remotely makes sense. The whole point of bringing Bilbo on the journey was for him to sneak into Smaug’s lair unnoticed, and yet after a few minutes of delightful bantering between Bilbo and Smaug, all the dwarves rush in to try and take him out, even though in actuality they all would have burned instantly had they dared show their faces to the dragon. So even the movie’s one shining moment is quickly brought to senseless ruin.
But this is only the beginning (although the end, chronologically speaking) of the film’s woes. The introduction is no better, and is by no means compelling or attention-grabbing, and from there the movie rarely ceased to bore me. I almost wanted to leave about an hour into the film. There is zero character development and no meaningful dialogue, and all of the great moments in the book are either not present or mercilessly altered and then rushed through so all of Jackson and co.’s artificial and wasteful filler can be given excessive amounts of screen time.
And there is so much needless filler material in this film, I hardly know where to start talking about it all, but I suppose I can give it a shot. There’s a horribly forced romantic subplot between the added female elf character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) that’s shallow, rushed, and makes no sense. Meanwhile, Orlando Bloom reprises his role as Legolas only to act stiffer than cardboard. Like the first film, there are still bands of orcs chasing the Dwarves around everywhere they go and several painfully forced references to the Lord of the Rings films. The “mood swings” of the first film (read my review to see what I mean by that) are thankfully not present here, but it’s akin to putting one missing brick back into place and then proceeding to knock the entire wall down.
One question viewers really ought to be asking themselves throughout all this drudgery is simply this: what of the main characters? Where they were starting to develop quite nicely by the end of An Unexpected Journey, their character growth comes to an abrupt halt and never picks back up in this movie. In fact, Martin Freeman, who played the role of Bilbo so excellently in the first film, is hardly given anything in the script or screenplay to go on, and neither are Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, or any of the other actors whose characters are vitally important to the narrative. The film’s priorities are simply upside-down and inside-out in every way imaginable.
This may not come off quite as strongly to people who haven’t read the book (although it’s still a huge issue), but for those who have, it’s simply unforgivable. It’s like the screenwriters ripped the book in half, put it through a paper shredder, burned the pieces, scattered the ashes into the wind, spat on those ashes, and then repeated the process with 100 other copies of the book for good measure. At first, fans were told that Jackson would be adding things into the Hobbit films, but that those elements were being pulled from different aspects of Middle Earth’s extensive history and background, so I was initially excited to see how the films would play out in that regard. But with Desolation we have a beast so brutalized and twisted beyond anything that remotely resembles how these events occur in the book, and the added material is weak and wasteful. The broader points of the book’s outline are mostly there, but the rest of it is thoroughly gutted and displaced. Many iconic events from the book (the company’s stay at Beorn’s house or Bilbo dealing with the spiders in Mirkwood, for instance) are feverishly rushed through to the point where there is simply no time to develop any tension, suspense, or intrigue.
Pacing is yet another major issue in Desolation. The beginning scenes of the movie at Beorn’s house and Mirkwood happen at an absurd rapid-fire pace, making you wonder what on Middle Earth could possibly fill the remaining running time. So unlike the slower start of the first movie, this one picks the pace up at the beginning only to slow down to a crawl later. Right before it slows down, though, the scene with the dwarves riding down the river in barrels with elves and orcs fighting over them manages to be the only other halfway decent scene in this film; it’s absolutely ridiculous, which is to say that it’s pretty entertaining but requires some extra powerful suspension of disbelief to fully enjoy.
All of this finally culminates in an ending so abrupt that, despite how painful all of this was, I still found a tiny part of myself wanting to see what happened next. If Jackson hadn’t wasted all the screen time money can buy on aimless sideshows, we may have been able to see it in this movie. But since this is, after all, a trilogy (which is in itself a mistake even more glaringly obvious in this film than in the first one), there had to be at least a little material left over for the third film, and thus we have an utterly incompetent and painfully incomplete middle chapter.
I suppose I could summarize all this by saying that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a boring, inconsistent, artificial, unfaithful, and just downright atrocious excuse for a movie. If it were at all possible, Tolkien is surely rolling over in his grave. This film is not only a far cry from his beloved novel, but also just a poorly done movie in nearly every regard. This is Peter Jackson’s Phantom Menace, and at this point, I see about as little hope of recovering for There and Back Again as there was for Lucas with Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and we all know how that turned out (sorry to remind you).
O Peter Jackson, Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities, you, sir, have managed to make like a dragon and burn this film universe to the ground. Bravo.