The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug | Review

(New Line Cinema / Warner Bros. Pictures)

The second part of Peter Jackson’s vastly extended trilogy of Tolkien’s shortest novel minimizes the slow motion hero shots, musical numbers and tourist guides to New Zealand, yet still manages to feel extremely bloated. There are so many things happening, only about 30% of which comes from the novel, that by the time the titular dragon appears, Bjorn and Mirkwood feel like a distant memory from a completely different movie.

What Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug does well, it does very well. The action sequences are nicely put together, intricate, detailed and mostly successful. Creatures of Middle Earth are well visualized, including the giant spiders, the orcs and especially Smaug himself. There is also a good amount of characterization added in this installment and while this doesn’t necessarily lend any more emotional resonance to anyone other than the characters we already know from the original trilogy, it does make it so that dwarves are more than just a lump of hairy folks who weren’t in Lord of the Rings. And of course, anyone who enjoys Legolas being an unstoppable killing machine will thoroughly enjoy this latest litany of victims.

Yet the problem with what Hobbit does well is that it does it too much. The action is at times so detailed that it’s hard to follow and unravels with little to no explanation of why what is happening is happening, particularly when the result is nothing. Effects are as often unimpressive as impressive, especially whenever superimposing live action characters on a CGI background or vice verse, the difference in realities is glaring. Plot developments are given no time or explanation other than an implied “no time to explain.” Characters aren’t given much of a chance to make us actually care unless they’re pretty or they’re fighting against the creatures the other characters are fighting against and their pretentious dialog adds no appeal. And anyone who wasn’t a fan of LotR’s elf worship and super assassin Legolas will be less of a fan of Hobbit’s ultra assassin.

Readers of the book may also notice that Jackson favors his own creations over those of Tolkien. Tolkien’s Mirkwood is a terrifying place but Jackson dispenses with it minutes while added orcs vs. elves fights last exponentially longer. Meanwhile Gandalf continues in a solo quest which at this point has no connection to this narrative, serving instead as background for the first series.

None of this is to say that The Desolation of Smaug is a bad movie. It’s entertaining enough – tempered by length (should be noted here that everyone in my party of three came close to falling asleep) – and an improvement over the previous film (astute readers may notice the first got a higher rating, upon further review I vastly overrated An Unexpected Journey due to its technical achievements, now I’d rate it around 2.5) which fixes many problems from the original, primarily lengthy introductions and wandering, while leaving a major problem in place. Someone desperately needs to teach Jackson the importance of leaving some things off screen or unspoken.



About Jess Kroll

Jess Kroll
Jess Kroll is a novelist and university professor born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and based in Daegu, South Korea. He has been writing film reviews since 2004 and has been exclusive to Pop Mythology since 2012. His novels include 'Land of Smiles' from Monsoon Books and young adult series 'The One' and 'Werewolf Council' from Epic Press.


  1. Vanessa Conceicao via Facebook


  2. This is my problem with J: “Jackson favors his own creations over those of Tolkien.” Yep. I prefer Tolkien’s.

  3. Yes! I agree, Trelawney! This film adaptation seems to be going the way of fan fiction more than anything else. (–hobbit–filmmakers-broke-to-evangeline-lilly-211339686.html)

  4. This isn’t ‘Peter Pan’. Fans aren’t allowed to add to the source material. So why has Peter Jackson been given free reign to do so?

  5. I would agree that it is more Jackson. It’s a cracking good film but you have to let go of things you hold dear from the books. I’m hoping some may creep back in the extended version. ( the music is lovely btw)

  6. I only saw the trailer in a 3D IMAX theater and it looked amazing.

  7. It is NOT the book: IT IS THE MOVIE. It is another artist’s conception of the book translated into another medium. I simply cannot understand why people do not comprehend this. When we discuss the book, we all see it differently because of our own unique way of looking at the world and our experiences. Enjoy it for what it is, not what you want it to be.

  8. Agree, saw it twice already and still think it’s an excelent film if you don’t think much on the book… like i said many times, different kinds of art, mind the difference…

  9. I saw it yesterday and enjoyed it tremendously. Of course it is more Jackson and thank the goddess for it. If it were to be pure Tolkien it would be a children´s tale and that is what Tolkien intended the book to be. He wrote the book for his children, for goodness sake! How much ignoarence people show when they quack about the movie not adhering to the book. The merit of Jackson is that he has transformed it into a product for young adults, adults and elderly folk like me! He has given us the gift to revist Middle Earth again and again. Let us thank him for it instead of nagging like old hags!

  10. it’s a movie. I understand that. I saw the first one and didn’t like it. I don’t understand why people do not comprehend this.

  11. who are you calling old hags?

  12. The people that put down Jackson and criticise him for taking a different path from that of the book. It is normally elderly folk (mind you some my age) who dont want to change, to transform, to evolve!

  13. you mean prople whose viwpoint is different to your own? Can we go on with this discussion without the name-calling please?

  14. We should evolve into the Peter Jackson Society! 😉

  15. “Evolve?” I would say, in this case, devolve.

  16. And is not a matter of my point being different. If you read the Hobbit it is definitely a child´s tale, for children intended. And I dont think that it´s an opinion. It´s a fact.

  17. ” I simply cannot understand why people do not comprehend this” Oh, we understand it very well; what the folks who advance this argument fail to understand is that the “two mediums” analysis does NOT somehow mandate the many, many, many changes and alterations Jackson has made, still less the addition of made-up material that has nothi to do with Tolkien. There is nothing about film as a medium distinct from prose which requires Nazgul tombs or Morgul-arrows or bunny-sleds.

  18. Jackson has simply done something different.

  19. Yes, very, very different. And the thing about difference is that invites comparison.

  20. I would like for Jackson to change the end and have Thorin survive. jajajajaja now that is an opinion!

  21. To quote David Bratman: “Here’s what happens in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”

    Thorin and Company visit Beorn, and ride borrowed steeds to the eaves of Mirkwood, where Gandalf leaves them to deal with Dol Guldur. In the forest, Bilbo climbs a tree to have a lookout. They’re attacked by spiders, and the dwarves are captured by the Elves. Bilbo swipes a key and releases them, and they escape in barrels, and go to Laketown. At the Mountain, Thorin
    opens the side door with the key; Bilbo goes down and talks with Smaug; the dragon flies off to attack Laketown.

    That’s it. Nearly three hours long, and that single paragraph of plot is, as far as I can make it, the entire sum total of what this movie took from _The Hobbit_. Everything else in it, nearly three hours of it, is STUFF PJ MADE UP.”

  22. It’s one thing to eat and enjoy steak; but when somebody takes a bit of steak, grinds it up, mixes it with minced pig-lips, offal, ‘byproduct’ and filler and stuffs it into a length of intestine, you might very well enjoy the resultant sausage but it certainly isn’t steak.

  23. What about if they make black pudding? Mmmm…

  24. I believe there is nothing wrong about having favourite parts of the book and lamenting their absence from the film. Songs found their way into Hobbit UA extended version. I’m hoping to spend longer at Beorn’s crib when the DoS extended version is released. Minding that something from the book hasn ‘t made the film doesn’t make me old or inclined to oppose artistic expression. It’s a rip-roaring film.

  25. Comparisons and discussions (eg Bill’s steak & sausage) are fine by me, but I think we all need to be aware that some of the carping about the films can come across to our younger members as trollish bullying. I’d also say that there is a difference between expression of frustation with the negative viewpoints (‘old hags’) and a direct response calling a prior commenter an idiot.

  26. He has taken a lot of liberties with the plot. On the other hand, he has created a sensible explanation for the dwarves seeking a “burglar”. And most of the new stuff is brilliant!

  27. true Ian. some are saddened that “kids” understand the word “trolls” from the internet more insistently and firstly and not via old hag(wives) tales formerly known as fairy stories? this strikes near to the book/movie divide I think. From whence nourishment? An important question!? it may seem trivial but we are arguing about what sort of a world we wish to live in through these “pop” matters? Once enough time has passed and the majority of young children will have seen the movies first, it will be interesting to “compare” the results.

  28. I always thought that “trolling” on the internet actually came originally from fishing, rather than folklore, ie. “trolling” for a reaction.

  29. it’s a film adaptation jesus christ. And tolkien’s dead! there’s no possible way to have everything accurately!

  30. No possible way to have everything accurately- true enough, but there is rather a gap between “everything” and “very, very little.” If one shoots “everything accurately” one puts five rounds in the 10-ring; there is something of a scoring continuum between that, and one round at the edge of the paper plus four that miss the target entirely.

    I don’t see why it’s too much to expect NRA qualifying-standard accuracy of 40 points.

  31. Should we look to traditional story telling and think about how stories would change. Jackson gives a clue in Hobbit UA where Gandalf says something like “all great stories are made to be embellished.” I think he has a fair point.

  32. John, I don’t think many children understand ‘trolls’ first from the internet. I have a six year old who goes looking for trolls under bridges. That’s normal. He has seen some of the LotR films, though he wanders off after a while due to a child’s short attention span; he has The Hobbit and Roverandum as bedtime stories quite often.

  33. I’m getting a wee bit tired of people who say that those who discuss the differences between the movies and the books are demanding literal, page by page rendition. It would be nice to see our arguments fairly characterised and represented. There are many forms of adaptation and many ways that a book’s ethos, philosophy, and characters can be translated into film and most of us recognise that.

  34. The different mediums point is valid because these films aren’t an attempt to replace the books, or even to stand alongside them – unless you want them to. There are these books. The author sold the film rights. A film maker went on to produce some films based on those books. As far as I’m aware Tolkien was fairly ambiguous about the dramatisation of his works.- cash or kudos-

  35. David, I haven’t said the point about different media is invalid. My point is that the book fans’ arguments are usually mischaracterised as wanting a literal depiction and that is not the case.

  36. ….but then went on, when sent the first proposed film “treatment”, to absolutely savage it.

    The media are not separated by such a vast chasm that every aspect of the narrative art is sundered like Middle-earth from Valinor. There are a few – I emphasize, a few – where the conversion from prose to film requires a different approach. But in many (or most) case what we have instead is an effort to tell the story differently (or tell a different story); in which case I think it’s perfectly legitimate to inquire as to which version does a better job of storytelling, or, in other words, whether the movie would have been better as a movie had an approach been used for which there already exists an exemplar.

    Of course, really that only applies to the LR trilogy; it’s clear that with TH your “two different things” approach is almost the only applicable one because at this stage PJ is making a completely different story, one premised entirely off fights and chases and wholly-invented plotlines, that pays the merest lip-service to anything Tolkien ever wrote.

    I just wish he had had the integrity to title it “1000 Ways For Orcs to Die”

  37. I’m a book fan. I’ve just decided that the films are a totally different thing. I watch them as films with a vague connection to the books, nothing more. And there are some very nice bits in the films, some scenes of great beauty, some fun, some action, some weirdness, and some fantastic acting. There are many, many worse films out there.

  38. kate you sound like an awesome parent. I am looking out a few years into the future when fishing has disappeared along with reading lol. Is it possible to read and agree with every post here and still hold to my correct private contrary opinion? I like to think so 🙂

  39. And let’s be honest, there are some directors who could have made absolutely authentic adaptations of the books which would have so po-faced and up their own bottoms that they would have been unwatchable.

  40. Gee, you wouldn’t be referencing anyone named for a famous explorer, would you….?

  41. I don’t worry about the films replacing the books, as the sort of person who would think “Oh I’ll just watch the film and not read the book” is the sort of person who would never even have read the book in the first place!

  42. Tolkien’s books are inside of us. neither a movie nor director will EVER change that… namarie

  43. Oh gosh darn it, David Marley, you are so right. Why, that “absolutely authentic adaptation” of Gone With The Wind by David O. Selznick has been utterly unwatchable for generations.

  44. Rode Gutiérrez Vergara – mae govannen (well met). I agree with you – Tolkien’s works are inside all of us. 🙂

  45. This is not an authentic adaptation of TH. Was anyone expecting that from PJ? Maybe at some point in the future we’ll get that, maybe we won’t. Maybe if we get it it will be fantastic, maybe it won’t. My point is, if I want to experience Tolkien’s Hobbit I’ll read the book. If I want an adaptation of the book I’ll either listen to the BBC Radio adaptation, or the Jackanory re-telling. Same with LotR – I find the BBC Radio adaptation comes closest to the book. Yes, the films ‘don’t get’ Tolkien in lots of ways -they are what they are and I watch them for what they are. And sorry to sound a bit heretical but there are plenty of bits the book that are annoying – the cockerney trolls are a bit silly in both book and film, the tra-la-la-lallying elves get on my wick, and Beorn’s animal serving staff walking on their hind legs and carrying food trays are dumb. And let’s not get started on the tweeness of the narrator’s voice, which was annoying even for a 1930’s children’s book. Yes, it grows and matures as it goes, but its NOT LotR and I’m far more uncomfortable with the liberties taken with the earlier trilogy than with this romp.

  46. I agree nothing to do with the book but hey does anyone under thirty read anymore ?

  47. I’ve got a son at 22 and a daughter at 14, both of whom read voraciously.

  48. My daughters (23 and 21) are both avid readers.

  49. I am glad to hear that I suppose I was making a bit of a sweeping statement but have found many people who have seen the “Hobbit” and ” LOR ” have not read the books and it’s a shame that the original stories are changed somewhat however I am not a prude and enjoyed ” LOR” not so much “The Hobbit “the films I mean

  50. I think the members and children of members of a literary society are possibly a rather biased sample to use 😉

    I am sure that you are right – a great number of those who have watched the films (or any other film adaptation of a book for the past many years) haven’t read the book, and that would go whether they watched the film or no. What may sadden me is that they believe that they know the story after watching the film.

    Personally I pity such people – the written word can work a magic that no film would ever be able to approach (while the reverse is, in my experience, not true) when the author managed to find and use the words that are worth more than a thousand pictures (each).

  51. You are right when we read a book our mind creates the faces of the characters and we can picture the scenery etc this is an experience unique to reading we can also experience the thoughts and perceptions emotional and otherwise I am grateful I was brought up in a time when reading was important ! Let’s hope that it does not get lost in this tidal wave of instant communication and technological creativity !

  52. I’m optimistic. With both the Kindle and the success of so many ‘young adult’ series lately, more young people seem to be reading. And the types of books they’re reading, such as Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Wool, His Dark Materials (I like all of these, too), etc it’s likely they will move on to Tolkien’s books. I’m not mentioning Twilight 😉

  53. Leatherbarrow now their is a great Hobbit Name ,very Tookish ,it seems to me .So my question, if I might ask with all ,this Gimbling and Gamling, about the Movie with the Dragon, Who of us do you think has the Most Middle Earth Name . I do not of course , but a Baker is always a useful .

  54. I read a lot and I have to admit that this will be my least favorite of the 6 Middle Earth movies, (unless the last one is more awful than I can imagine). It is a good movie and if I did not know the stories as well as I do then I think I would enjoy it more but there is too much story tried to be jammed together and a few too many ‘artistic liberties’ taken for my liking.

  55. I expect the extended edition will add about half an hour and it will feel less hectic than the cinema cut. Certainly more of Beorn’s house, Thranduil’s halls and Laketown would make it feel less rushed and cluttered.

  56. Matthew, I am very much like a Baggins, but thank you for not asking if I also have hairy feet 😉

  57. That name must have a history Kate !

  58. Certainly does! From what I can gather (I do genealogy) it’s solidly Lancastrian, but it hints at derivation from Latterbarrow in Cumbria – word roots being Norse/Old English.

  59. Well, it will definitely have an extra half an hour of something, and those were the bits that felt ‘edited down’ to me. There well be more of Beorn’s backstory, more of Bilbo’s time in the halls-that escape was too quick and easy (and I expect more Kili and Tauriel stuff, which is not a love story so much as a Gimli/Galadriel thing), and there was obviously a big feast in Laketown which we see Bofur waking up from, so I’m expecting another song there – well, those are my thoughts, and possibly more White Council stuff….

  60. Fascinating sir names are really interesting i pictured your ancestors early builders pushing round leather wheelbarrows !

  61. Kristin Quackenbush via Facebook

    I definitely had a life-size cardboard cutout of Legolas back in high school…

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