The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Rating: 3.5 of 5 ★★★½☆ 

Seeing this Hobbit was an interesting experience because for the first time in a long while I couldn’t remember that much about the book. It’s been 6-7 years since I read it. And I remembered the big set pieces enough to know what to expect from the first movie, and wonder how in the world Peter Jackson was going to pull the rest of the story into two more movies. And then he goes and pulls the story apart into three movies and I actually didn’t always know what was in the story and what he created.

Which could have worked to his advantage, if he’d handled the material better. Because my biggest complaint with the first Hobbit was the awful way he introduced new material to Tolkien’s story. But the only reason I didn’t noticed, without having to remember, what he added and what he adapted was that the whole movie lacked resonance.

Tolkien’s story and his characters had significance. And Peter Jackson’s movie has plots and words and characters that don’t really matter, not with the weight Tolkien gave them. It’s that wonder and power that’s sorely lacking. Like the kingsfoil. It wasn’t some magic herb that the elves could evoke with the proper spell like something out of Harry Potter. It had power in the hands of the king. Because Tolkien understood nobility and the power of being a king that had nothing to do with magic.

And hiding spells and Gandalf going around casting magic like he’s Dumbledore, it was ridiculous. Because that wasn’t how magic worked in Tolkien’s world and it wasn’t how power was handled. I don’t mind that he expanded on the world, he’s right that there’s a lot of material to build from and a lot of off stage action to work with. He just didn’t do it very well this time around.

Because he did it very well in the Lord of the Rings films. But this felt more like an indulgence by a director without any studio constraint rather than a well crafted film.

Though Smaug was a great dragon. He was wily and terrifying and vain and unpredictable. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as that voice.

And, admittedly, I liked some of the changes Peter Jackson made. It was a lot of fun to see Legolas again. Those fight scenes with the elves were really good. And Evangeline Lily as Tauriel was pretty fantastic. I thought she did the best job of bringing weight to her character and she was one of the only ones actually allowed any character development. But that whole pseudo-romance with Kili weird – it just didn’t fit into the story at all. The whole story felt half formed and unfinished. Though Luke Evans and Orlando Bloom in the same movie is just aces without even trying.

Peter Jackson definitely brought breadth to Tolkien’s work. Just not any depth.

Writing:★★¾☆☆ 
Characters:★★★¼☆ 
Performances:★★★★☆ 
Directing:★★¾☆☆ 
Production:★★★★½ 
Overall:★★★½☆ 

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