The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey blew me away when I caught it in theaters and I gave it an appropriately high score because of that. It was truly stunning and another epic coming from Peter Jackson, but upon re-watching it the complaints I had with the film stood out even more, especially the fact that the film’s plot was stretched pretty thin to make the movie the length it was. It just felt like padding for the book’s plot.
The Desolation of Smaug does not have this issue. Mostly because the book’s plot is what feels like the additive this time. Yes, it hits its key points, but the stretched feeling is gone because the movie isn’t stretching anything. If you’re a fan of Jackson’s prolific Middle Earth than you’re going to be a fan of this movie. If you came to see the original story of The Hobbit unfold then you’ll like about 20 minutes.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Director: Peter Jackson
Release Date: December 13, 2013
The Desolation of Smaug is an action movie without a doubt. The majority of its two hour and forty minute running time is massive action set pieces and the rest is preparation for massive action set pieces with a bit of character development thrown in. We pick up where the last film left off, with the company of dwarves, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf from the evil goblins chasing them. They eventually escape with the help of the skin changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt). Gandalf leaves to pursue the Sauron sub plot that was not in the books and the dwarves are eventually beset by spiders and then captured by wood elves in the form of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his lady friend Tauriel (Evangaline Lilly), both also not in the books.
Eventually escaping thanks to Bilbo and a fantastically done barrel riding action sequence the party ends up in Lake Town below the Misty Mountain, where Smaug hordes his treasure. Aided by Bard (Luke Evans) they eventually convince the town to let them approach the mountain and Bilbo enters, confronts Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) and then the entire point of him coming is made moot when the dwarves charge in to save him and a thirty minute dragon chase ensues until the climatic cliffhanger ending.
Seem like a lot? That’s not even including half the character sub plots and the entire added in Sauron back story. The improvement here is that the film doesn’t feel like they’re cramming stuff in, but instead like they’re telling the story they want to tell. While this approach does lead to some pretty massive plot holes (especially when you combine the story with the Lord of the Rings films) It makes for a movie that actually feels like it should be nearly three hours.
Once again, the true stand out is the fantastic world that Jackson has created and, of course, the action set pieces. Middle Earth is even more stunning on screen and Jackson’s take on Lake Town and the halls of the fallen dwarf kingdom are worth the price of admission alone. Purist will probably gawp at the fact that the barrel ride down the river is turned into a kung-fu-elf, rabid orc, acrobatic dwarf chase sequences, but those who enjoy fun will simply be stunned by how well put together it is. Same goes for the film’s conclusion, which has the dwarves fighting Smaug in edge-of-your-seat fashion. It may completely obliterate much of the book’s Smaug/Bilbo interactions, but it is fantastically awesome.
Most of the cast remains the same and performs as admirably as the first film. The often griped about addition of Legolas and Turien doesn’t ruin anything and both actors are fine. The character of Beorn seems especially wasted in the movie and Persbrandt doesn’t give him as much gravitas as he deserves. However, Cumberbatch’s motion captured Smaug, much of which was directed by second unit director and Golum actor And Serkis, is amazing. A sleek and somehow sexy dragon whose movements are as important as the digital dragon effect on his voice. It’s a stellar performance and once again raises the question if motion captured actors should at least be considered for awards.
There’s plenty to balk about in The Desolation of Smaug if you’re a purist or want something character driven, and Jackson seems more concerned with excitement than a story this time around, but it is exciting. The film is a grand epic in the best ways and keeps pace from beginning to end by tying together action sequence after action sequence. Once again Jackson has made a movie that could easily piss you off, but in reality is a visual and technical achievement few directors could ever truly pull off.