The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaugh. (Or, It’s the second Hobbit movie.)
In what had been my most eagerly anticipated film of the year, Peter Jackson pretty much delivers on every expectation and then some. Wide sweeping action scenes, intensely emotional moments, and the ever present darkness of an impending threat all converge in the latest installation to the incredibly successful “Lord of the Rings” films- which is where the first problem begins for me. The first Hobbit had a good number of nods to the Trilogy, but this film full-out attempts to capture the tone and mood of those later films and it ultimately fails to be a “Hobbit” film as a result. Bilbo’s endeavors with the magic ring, only later identified as the “One” ring, are fraught with ominous peril and far too many jump-scares as the Eye already seems to begin the search that the later films are so dependent upon. Thorins’ hubris overwhelms the potential heroism of the character throughout the film- the tone captured at the end of the first film is completely lost within the first half hour. And, furthermore, scenes that should have had far more attention and time to develop much loved characters are rushed through while Jackson lingers on long moments in River Town and a number of scenes with Orcs to show us how vicious and angry they all are- or something. Beorn barely makes his presence felt, the journey through the forest barely touches on the various dangers the Dwarves and their Hobbit burglar face, and the movie just goes on and on and on.
I would normally respond quite well to the length of a film of this magnitude, but the whole thing results in what is essentially a tease. There’s no closure- it’s not like a cliffhanger, either. The movie just abruptly ends with an impending doom. There’s a sense in most second films in a trilogy to leave the heroes wounded, broken, and battered- but there’s essentially a bit of closure to the chapter and we’re just waiting for the heroes to get up again. That’s not the case with this film. The heroes aren’t broken, we’re not waiting for them to get up, we’re just left waiting- and that’s not a good thing. I don’t mind that the story isn’t complete, I mind that the chapter is left open and I have to wait a year for the end and then for the next chapter to begin. And I’ve read the book, so I know how the chapter should have ended and I know how the next chapter begins, and I know what the big looming darkness is and how it’s met.
Peter Jackson may have received instructions from up on high for the film to be closer to Lord of the Rings, but he should have fought a little harder and reminded the studio that the Hobbit is essentially a childrens’ book. It’s not the sweeping epic the latter books were, it’s not as dark, it’s not as threatening, and it requires a lighter touch. That’s not to say the film was a total failure, however- far from it. It's an amazing film. There are some amazing moments! The Barrel chase is a thing of absolute beauty, the introduction of Tauriel as a female elf interested in the Dwarves and their quest was a nice touch and allowed Jackson to bring in the wildly popular Legolas for support, and the presentation of Smaugh was as grand and amazing as it should have been. Far more of the film worked than didn’t so I do recommend it.
4 out of 5.