US Release Date: 12-13-2013
Directed by: Peter Jackson
- Ian McKellen, as
- Martin Freeman, as
- Richard Armitage, as
- Ken Stott, as
- Graham McTavish, as
- William Kircher, as
- James Nesbitt, as
- Stephen Hunter, as
- Dean O'Gorman, as
- Aidan Turner, as
- John Callen, as
- Peter Hambleton, as
- Jed Brophy, as
- Mark Hadlow, as
- Adam Brown, as
- Orlando Bloom, as
- Evangeline Lilly, as
- Benedict Cumberbatch, as
- Smaug / Necromancer
- Mikael Persbrandt, as
- Luke Evans, as
- Bard / Girion
- Stephen Fry, as
- Master of Laketown
- Ryan Gage, as
- Cate Blanchett as
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
There's an old saying that goes, "Just because you can do a thing, doesn't mean you should do that thing." It's a saying that Peter Jackson doesn't seem to be familiar with as he continues with his bloated retelling of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. As with the first film in the franchise, there's a great deal to like here and obviously no expense was spared to make a good looking film. However, by dragging this story out, what could have been a great film is now only a good one.
Since this is the second film in the series and the journey of Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves to recover the Dwarven kingdom is well under way, we should be able to jump straight into the action. Instead it starts with a flashback scene that shows the first meeting between Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf the Grey. This one scene sums up all the movie's problems. It's well filmed, with lots of atmosphere. It refers to the LOTR trilogy by taking place in the village of Bree. McKellen and Armitage both do good jobs of acting in it. And it's completely unneeded.
For a short while after this opening the movie resembles the book. We meet Beorn the skinwalker, who can turn into a bear, and our heroes head toward Mirkwood. Then quite quickly the movie diverts from the original source. Gandalf leaves the group at the wood's edge, as he does in the book, but instead of his action taking place off stage as it does in the book, we see what he gets up to as he explores what's going on to the south at the ruined fortress of Dol Guldur. Meanwhile, Bilbo and the Dwarves' journey through Mirkwood, which plays a big part of the story in the book, is sped quickly through, reduced to the Spider attack and the capture by the elves. I'm not implying that a movie has to be slavish to its source material, but simply that Jackson seems more concerned with telling his version of this story rather than Tolkien's.
There's been much talk about the inclusion of two characters who don't appear in the book. Legolas, played by Orlando Bloom as he was in the LOTR trilogy, and a completely new character, Tauriel, played by Lost's Evangeline Lilly. Both elves play a big part of the action in the scene where the Dwarves make their escape from the elven kingdom. While it's true that their inclusion isn't needed, at least they're added to the main plot of the film. Their scenes are entertaining and mostly action filled as they kill orc after orc. It's only the hint of romance between Tauriel and Kili, one of the dwarves, that is the unneeded part of their storyline.
Once the dwarves and Bilbo arrive at Laketown close to the Lonely mountain and the political rivalry between Bard and the Master of Laketown starts happening, you'll be longing for the action scenes of the elves. Stephen Fry is hideous looking as the Master and Luke Evans is appropriately heroic, but one short scene could have defined their characters. All of the scenes in Laketown accomplish is to delay what we all came to see, which is the Dragon Smaug.
The scene with Gollum and his riddles in the dark and Bilbo's meeting with Smaug are the two most iconic scenes from this story. The Gollum scene was the best moment from the first film and the dragon sequence is the best moment in this one. The look of Smaug is perfect as is Benedict Cumberbatch who provides his voice. Sure, they've amped up the action to heights never approached in the book, but for those twenty minutes or so, the movie becomes everything you could ask for from it.
Because of how successful the LOTR films were, Jackson seems to have free reign on these movies. Someone needs to be able to tell him when to stop. The studios are obviously happy for there to be three movies because it means three times the box office, but they'd earn just as much money from three 2 hour films as they will from three 3 hour ones. Actually, they might even earn more from shorter films since more showings could be squeezed into each day.
The Hobbit is supposed to be about Bilbo Baggins. The clue is in the title and yet Martin Freeman doesn't feel like the star of his own story, just a minor player. If you edited out every scene that he doesn't take part in, I would probably be raving about this movie instead of complaining. This is a simple story and it should stay that way. Save the extra scenes for the extended edition DVD.
Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Scott’s first paragraph sums up this film's strengths and weaknesses perfectly. Jackson has many great things going on here. The action and pacing is solid, for the most part. It is just that Jackson does not know when to stop.
I refer to one of the best scenes in the film. Legolas and Tauriel are having a field day slaughtering the orcs that are trying to kill the dwarves and Bilbo. They are trying to escape the elves in barrels on a swiftly moving river. Killi gets wounded. The Elves are outnumbered. There is lots and lots of motion happening on screen. It is tense and exciting.
Then Jackson lost me. Legolas begins doing acrobatic stunts that even involve shooting orcs while balancing on two dwarf’s heads as they move down a rapid river in separate barrels. Another of the dwarf’s barrels rolls up onto shore, knocks over some orcs, bounces over and knocks down some more, then bounces over the river and knocks over still more. This continues for a while before the barrel finally stops on a ledge. The dwarf then stands up with the barrel still on him, grabs two weapons and starts spinning around, cutting down yet more orcs. I understand that much of this film is animated, but does that mean the action has to be cartoonish?
I will disagree with Scott on one point. I enjoyed the hint of romance between Tauriel and Kili. These dwarves are, for the most part, interchangeable. Their personalities never distinguish themselves from each other. Kili having feelings for Tauriel at least separates one of the dwarfs from the pack and helps to add some amount of emotion.
The Hobbit was not an adult story. It was very much a straight forward children’s adventure story but Jackson seems to want it both ways. Sometimes he presents us with a children’s adventure tale and other times he matures it up, treating it like some world changing event. This story was never intended to be on the scale of Lord of the Rings.
As Scott also wrote, Bilbo was the center of the book. It was through him that readers took to this story. Here was a harmless little man who lived a safe and uneventful life. He is childlike, experiencing so many things for the first time. He was the perfect tour guide for our first look at Middle Earth. There is an intimacy to the book that Peter Jackson has completely abandoned.
Orlando Bloom in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Like in the first Hobbit movie there are individual moments of brilliance here, but I have to agree with my brothers that it's all so overblown. Every scene is staged as if it's the most important scene ever filmed. This latest entry in the venerable franchise takes itself way too seriously, at the expense of Tolkien's whimsical charm. Even the meeting with Smaug, that begins so promisingly, quickly turns into an overdone CGI travesty.
I was even disappointed by the inclusion of Legolas, who was my favorite character in the original trilogy. First of all, Orlando Bloom looks noticeably older and heavier here (see photo) even though he is playing an immortal who is supposed to be 60 years younger than he was at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Second, like Eric, I found his big battle with orcs during the barrel chase scene on that river completely ridiculous. As action sequences become more and more animated they also get more and more outlandish. And third, just why the hell was he in the movie in the first place?!
And it isn't just the needless padding, by adding scenes and/or characters that weren't on the page, that they got wrong. Jackson seems to have lost the imaginative tone that is the essence of the book, which he captured perfectly in the LOTR's trilogy. Take the scene with Beorn for example. It lacks the sense of mystery that made it so much fun to read. Ditto the entire Mirkwood sequence. Where was the all pervasive sense of eerie gloom that Tolkien described so well?
Although the cast gamely give it their all and the look of Middle Earth remains impeccable, The Hobbit movie trilogy continues to disappoint. In sports they suspend players who test positive for performance enhancing drugs. By all appearances Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has taken a delightful children's book and injected it with steroids. The result may be bigger, louder and longer but it sure as hell isn't better.
Photos © Copyright New Line Cinema (2013)