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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

It has been pointed out to me (on several occasions) that before I had even seen this film, I had decided that I wouldn’t like it. I’m not sure such an accusation is entirely fair. It is fair to say that I have never been a Tolkein fan. Forced to read The Hobbit in the seventh grade, I despised the novel; with its plethora of adult themes but with language (and terribly twee Dwarven names) to amuse a six-year-old, thrown in with Dickensian and soap opera-esque coincidences. I thought The Lord of The Rings were dull as books (didn’t get past about page 100) and the films were in desperate need of a good edit (but then they released extended editions – and people actually bought them?!).

I whole heartedly admit to a little bit of negative position before entering the film, but doesn’t everyone go in to a film with some kind of preconceived notions? Maybe they are negative, positive, or completely indifferent, but they’re there. I’m not so different from even the biggest Hobbit and LOTR fans – they just go into any new film based in Middle Earth determined to love it. Films don’t exist in a vacuum – and neither do people’s opinions (and therefore any and all film reviews). I will try to do my best to review the film in as neutral tones as I can muster – but be warned, I may go off on a rant at points (entirely valid rants of course).


This is The Hobbit. Do I really need to go into the plot? Surely everyone has at least a vague idea of how the story goes (even with Peter Jackson’s extremely liberal interpretation of the source material)? How’s this? Big dragon, little dwarves, and an even littler Bilbo Baggins fight over some treasure. There’s some questing involved too (like any good high fantasy story). There’s an evil necromancer and some grumpy orcs. Oh yeah, and an awesome water theme park ride with Elven wine barrels. Totally a thing.

Generally speaking, lots of stuff happens (oh, I’m so eloquent, no?!). But this is, after all, a middle film. So while it keeps the action levels high, there isn’t a whole lot of resolution. You have to wait for the next one for that.


The highs

A long film for the short attention span masses

The biggest high note for this film is probably its ability to actually keep the audience interested throughout its 161 minute running time. This is a big improvement on the first one – where by the end I was more concerned with the numbness of my buttocks than what was occurring on screen. There is always something happening to keep the tension up. If it isn’t something that’s keeping the main party of Dwarves down, it is Gandalf off facing bigger foes. Oh yeah, and then there’s the Elves. Who knew they were such total badasses?!

A dragon worthy of legends

Voiced by the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch, the character design was brilliant. It was really nice to see a great looking dragon, where the scale of the creature really did get across the sheer enormity of its size. I was impressed with the CG used for Smaug – I never usually find that CG can create a realistic-looking eye, but I thought his were great. I really did feel like I could be looking at an actual creature.

And the Oscar goes to…

There’s no denying that there are some brilliant bloody actors in these films. Ian McKellan is amazing whenever he’s on screen – as Gandalf, Magneto, King Lear, Richard III, a disembodied narrator… you get the idea. And Martin Freeman simply is Bilbo Baggins. Richard Armitage (aka the man under all the hair) is fantastic as Thorin – I really did buy into his personal demons and genuinely wondered whether he would come through for Bilbo. Then of course, there’s something for the ladies as well. Aidan Turner (of Being Human fame), is lovely to look at. 


The lows

Like china in your hand

Has anyone told Peter Jackson that these films are indeed films – you know, intended for a cinematic release – and not music videos for 80’s power ballads? The slow motion long lingering shots on Thorin’s long locks blowing in the wind would suggest otherwise. I half expected Aerosmith to appear behind. It was bad enough that we had a moment like this in the first Hobbit film (as Thorin gets off the tree to face Azog), but this is far, far worse. There’s not just one 80’s power ballad moment, but several.

And the Razzie goes to…

While there are the likes of Ian McKellan, there’s also a handful of actors that dropped the ball on this one. It isn’t always their fault – for instance, Stephen Fry (who I am a massive fan of, by the way), is hopelessly miscast. It just doesn’t work. Every time he was on screen I thought I was watching Blackadder. James Nesbitt, as in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, doesn’t manage to pull off anything other than ‘James Nesbitt in a silly hat’. I also found Bard’s children utterly infuriating – but I admit this could be my predisposition to despise any and all children.

A long, long time ago… I entered the cinema

The-Desolation-of-Smaug-Richard-ArmitageThe first film clocked in at 169 minutes. Jackson gave us an eight minute reprieve with the second in the trilogy, keeping our bums numb for only 161 minutes. How kind of him! These films are just far too long. Some films really benefit from a long running time, but it seems completely unnecessary in this instance. First of all, Jackson has managed to adapt a novel of 95,022 words (approximately 300 pages) into a three film saga (when previously he adapted three books totaling 455,125 words into the same). In order to truly make the most of this money making venture, he’s slotted in bits of The Silmarillion as well as entirely fabricated other plot points.

Perhaps I should take my ire out on Harry Potter, being one of the first to split a book adaptation into two. Since then, we’ve had the same thing happen with Twilight (really, one was more than enough) and the currently filming Mockinjay (The Hunger Games part 3). Sometimes I can understand this – some stories can’t be done justice in 90 minutes (or 169). So it makes sense to break them up and make better films overall. But really, The Hobbit did not need it. And my ass would like to regain feeling now. So please, Peter, make the next one shorter. K?!

Where id was, there ego shall be

If you ever become a big Hollywood film maker, can you promise me one thing? Don’t let your ego get the better of you. Peter Jackson is the very first thing you see in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I couldn’t help but shake my head at such an outrageously self-obsessed move on Jackson’s part. Soon he’ll need to buy his ego its own seat on the airplane.

A good story is a simple story, simply told

Supposedly Peter Jackson is a good director. Right? That’s what all those Academy Awards would suggest anyway. But the directing in this film was awful. With all the pans and fancy camera movements, I was never able to forget that I was in a cinema… even for a moment. If that weren’t infuriating enough, every time the mood turned even slightly emotional, the patronizing soundtrack felt it had to beat me over the head with music cues. I get it, I’m supposed to know that the tension’s building… I’M NOT A MORON. Honestly Howard Shore, what’s going on there? Have you so little faith in the visual material that you think the music needs to do all the work?! The soundtrack should complement the action, not run it.


Verdict: Much better than its predecessor, and certainly fun (at times), but it is still disappointing. With such epic source material, any film of The Hobbit should be infinitely better.


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About Megan Leigh

Writer and editor of Pop Verse. Co-host of Breaking the Glass Slipper. My special interests include publishing, creative writing, and geekery.

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