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.