The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Remove the final half hour and you've really got something there
Last Year, when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out, I had high hopes but low expectations. Overall, the movie was well enough made and enjoyable, but it ended up with too much Lord of the Rings in it for my taste. I still like it, but it wasn't the Hobbit movie I wanted.
But a lot of that could be blamed on expectations. I didn't know what to expect, just what I wanted.
This time around, I basically knew what to expect, and for the most part, I was right. And if the movie were, say, about 20 to 30 minutes shorter, I would say I definitely prefer The Desolation of Smaug over the previous outing. I'm okay with where the story ends. I just really don't enjoy the 20 to 30 minutes that lead up to that ending.
But first, the story
As we start our film, we get a quick scene in Bree where Thorin (Guy of Gisborne) meets the wizard Gandalf the Gray (renaissance fair Magneto), and they hatch a plan to stage their own Ocean's Fourteen.
Fast forward and we catch up with our heroes at the tail end of an action scene that started at the end of the last movie, so if you've decided to jump into the middle movie of a trilogy, not only are you misguided, but … what's up with you?
Anyway, they end up at the edge of Hogwart's Dark Forest—a.k.a. Mirkwood—and just as Bilbo (Dent Arthur Dent) and his thirteen house elves are about to enter the forest, Gandalf (homeless Dumbledore) gets a sudden urge to be anywhere else and quickly excuses himself.
While the group of diminutive delvers head into the forest, Gandalf meets up with Radagast the Brown (Dr. Who) and the two of them go off to do … something. It doesn't really have any significance to the movie except to allow Gandalf fans to think he's still important.
Anyway, in the woods, the dwarfs and Bilbo encounter giant spiders and are captured by wood elves. Among their ranks is one Legolas (baby face girly boy), the son of king Thranduil (the Pie Maker).
The fates of the dwarfs lay in the hands of the titular hobbit, and along the way the team meets up with barge driver Bard (Zeus / Apollo), Master of Lake Town (Mycroft Holmes), and one very happy and delightful dragon (Sherlock Noonien Singh).
Dot dot dot
Okay, I know my synopsis got a bit unfocused there. But that's largely the main problem I have with the movie.
If you've read the book, you know the general story. And if you saw An Unexpected Journey, you should know roughly the kinds of additions to the story you should expect. And on the whole, most of the elements that were added this time around worked well enough for me. All except the end.
Being the middle film in a trilogy, TDOS follows the tradition of not really ending their story, and that doesn't really bug me that much. But there's a long, somewhat boring chase/fight scene after Bilbo and the dwarfs (yes, dwarfs) enter the lonely mountain and try to defeat Smaug themselves. My problem is, knowing the actual demise of Smaug, I knew the whole time that the fight was pointless and would accomplish nothing, unless the filmmakers had decided to make a major and annoying change. Which just made the whole scene tedious.
If you were to take that scene out of consideration, though, I actually liked TDOS a fair amount more than AUJ. There's fun and charm. There's well-told adventure.
And there's a swarm of giant spiders.
Myself, I would have loved for the spider scene to go on longer than it does. That was one of my favorite parts when I was a kid. But the filmmakers apparently felt it was more important to get that over with immediately so they could quickly get to their precious action sequences.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Trailer
Now as with most middle-of-the-trilogy movies that don't actually end, we also sort of need to reserve final judgment until the story is actually complete, and I don't know exactly what they have planned for the next movie. But as I watched TDOS, I began to really understand what Bibo had said at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While speaking with Gandalf, Bilbo grows quiet and says something like, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like one book scraped over too many movies.” Or something like that.
And to stretch the movie out, there's just so much filler. Some additions work better than others. We already know that Legolas is from Mirkwood, so even though he's not in the book, it's not a problem to bring him into the movie. The action sequence to escape the elves is completely invented but actually fun. Even Gandalf's storyline, which isn't even hinted at in the book, is at least interesting, to a point. It's just that ending.
But what do you think of the movie?
If it weren't for the last half hour, I would have been happy to give The Desolation of Smaug a higher rating than An Unexpected Journey. As it is, the frustrating “final” battle scene at the end just leaves a sour taste in my mouth and drops the rating back down to a frustrating 7 / 10.
Oh, and if you're very attentive, you might just get a glimpse of a quick cameo by self-proclaimed preeminent Tolkien expert, and honorary DFA Stephen T. Colbert. But it's a quick shot, so keep your eyes open.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence (not entirely bloodless) and some frightening images (such as the all too short spider sequence).