I’ve always kind of felt like the second of the three “Hobbit” movies would kind of make or break the trilogy.
Better get sweeping.
Picking up shortly after “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” ended, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” finds Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the rest of our merry band of adventurers meeting the mysterious Beorn before venturing into the depths of Mirkwood Forest.
After being captured by giant spiders and then woodland elves, they escape to make their way to Lake Town and eventually into the depths of the lost dwarven kingdom Erebor itself, where they encounter the treacherous dragon Smaug. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) discovers more about the evil power growing to the south.
This portion of J.R.R. Tolkein’s beloved novel is widely regarded to be the most exciting and memorable, which is why it’s so much harder to understand why director Peter Jackson would mess with it so much.
In splitting one book and some supplementary material into three nearly three-hour movies, it’s understandable that he would have to add some filler to both drive little bits of the story and put something on the screen that isn’t just a bunch of dwarves camping. In some cases, this works.
As a fan of Tolkein’s work, I, for the most part, really enjoyed seeing a visual explanation of what Gandalf did while he left the dwarves and Bilbo to fend for themselves. In the original work it’s summed up by a few fairly dry paragraphs. I also liked Jackson’s translation of the original story.
Of course, even then there were problems. But it’s when he got creative that things really went awry.
In the book, the dwarves spend a significant amount of time trying to find their way through Mirkwood Forest, and then a couple of weeks as unwilling guests of the king of the woodland elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace). In the movie, both of those episodes apparently take place within a day or two, which would be fine if the deficit weren’t made up with the longest barrel ride in the history of barrel rides.
I didn’t have a stopwatch or anything, but I’m pretty sure the time it took them to float down the river was longer than from when they entered Mirkwood until they got into the barrels.
Oh, but wait. I forgot. They were in the elven dungeons for a while—long enough for us to get to know Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), who seems like a truly awesome trash-kicking elf until you realize the only reason Jackson created her was to make a disturbing sort of love triangle between her, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Kili (Aiden Turner).
Oh, yeah, Legolas is in here, too, a whole bunch. Which is fine except he’s really not as much fun without Gimli. And I don’t have a problem with Jackson creating Tauriel’s character as much as I do how he cheapened her grit and capability with this completely superfluous, pointless and unbelievable love triangle, even if Kili is one of the cuter dwarves.
The same orcs who were hunting down the dwarves in the first movie are back, and they seem to be smart and stealthy enough to get at the dwarves just about wherever they go. They are obviously a super-smart, super-stealthy variety we didn’t get to see in “The Lord of the Rings.”
Jackson apparently didn’t even think Bilbo sneaking in to steal an item of a dragon’s hoard was exciting enough, so he even toyed with that. For the people who will be watching this film, the melting point of gold is 1063 degrees Celsius. I looked it up as soon as I got home, because that’s what I kept wondering for the entire final third of the movie. Also, not all of the dwarves even made it into Erebor. (Spoiler alert: No, they’re not dead, but that kind of makes it all the more frustrating. One just oversleeps. Why? No idea.)
It feels as if Jackson made all of these changes because he didn’t trust that people could be entertained for three movies from one story (and they can’t, which is why he should have kept it to two movies), and because he didn’t trust either himself to make or audiences to receive a movie that wasn’t filled with scads of violence and a romantic subplot.
There is a huge amount of violence, now that I’ve mentioned it. Not of the kind that made me leave and weep for humanity, and not even the kind that would give a person nightmares, but it’s like all of the battle scenes from “LOTR” reheated and topped with cheese so no one remembers they’ve already seen all that already. And we get that Legolas is incredibly awesome, but how many times does he really need to make a crazy arrow shot or decapitate an orc before either it or we know he even has a knife on him? Basically, I just wanted Legloas to go away before it was over.
Did you hear that? I wanted Legolas, one of my favorite characters from “LOTR,” to just leave.
There are other things I could go on and on about—surprisingly shoddy graphics in some places, unusually poor acting in parts, oddly boring music, a cartoonishly corrupt depiction of Lake Town—but the things I keep coming back to are that awful love triangle and how Peter Jackson obviously feels he’s enough of an authority on Tolkein at this point to completely disregard the master.
On that point, he is sorely mistaken. The difference in quality and storytelling is absurdly plain between what Tolkein wrote and what Jackson thought up. You might as well be watching a 1960s movie with really bad green-screen for how well the two mesh.
And besides being so sloppy, it was just not needed. Tolkein’s story is great. You don’t need a love triangle, you don’t need more orcs, you don’t even need Legolas balancing on moving things and still hitting shots that would make Robin Hood envious.
It’s like if someone thought James Bond needed a better back story, so they made him have a wife and nine adorable children and they all lived happily on a quiet little sheep farm until the evil bank tried to take it all away so that’s why he had to leave them and go into Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Or, if in the “Harry Potter” movies someone thought Dobby needed to be a little more relatable, so they gave him a cute little she-house elf to fall in love with—only the twist is that Hagrid also fancies her.
Or if it turned out the reason that Little Bo Peep lost her sheep was because she has a degenerative eye condition and also her mother died, so her father remarried a witch in disguise, who put a spell on Bo Peep, so she kept losing things. It’s like—
Sorry, my editor just informed me I’ve reached my limit on ridiculous metaphors. Good thing, too, because I could have gone on all day. (Ooh! Peter Jackson should try getting an editor, too! They’re pretty handy.)
Let me just end with this: I want to beat Peter Jackson senseless with a copy of “The Hobbit” and then make him read it aloud, because I don’t think he’s actually gone through the whole thing before, and write essays at the end of each chapter, plus a big final paper once he’s finished. And then I want to make him write, “I will not defile classic literature” a thousand times on a blackboard.
The worst part is, there’s still a whole ‘nother movie to go, and only six of the 19 chapters left in “The Hobbit.” In contrast, this one took up about seven. Why is this three movies? It doesn’t even make sense.
Someone needs to tell Peter Jackson “no” for a change.
I hate this movie.
Time: 161 minutes