The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Where to begin with The Hobbit? For a start, I was quite surprised by some of the negative reviews of the first instalment. I really enjoyed it, although I’ll admit the story didn’t have the same impact as The Lord of the Rings, and so perhaps it was a bit strange to try and present it on the same scale. Generally, the reviews of The Desolation of Smaug seem to be more positive though, probably because the story’s already been set up so this instalment can get straight on to the action.

I haven’t seen the first part since watching it in the cinema. I wanted to rewatch it, but at the same time I was reluctant to spend any more money on it now because I suspect the cash cow will be thoroughly milked by the time Peter Jackson’s finished, so I’d rather wait for a nice box set of extended editions (which will undoubtedly be released after the individual instalments, a normal length box set, and individual extended instalments. The same obviously applies to the soundtracks too). Anyway, I didn’t rewatch it in the end, which meant that I spent the beginning of Desolation being very confused, trying to work out what happened and why the dwarves were being chased by orcs. It didn’t help that the film kicked off with a flashback either, that really threw me. I think the main problem I have is my unfamiliarity with the appendices material though. Because I don’t know those stories, I found it a bit hard to keep track of what was happening away from the main Hobbit action, and the interweaving of the two storylines did get rather muddled for me at times.

Generally though, I did really enjoy the film, although there was obviously a fair amount of artistic licence used at times. I was really unsure about the character of Tauriel at first. I could just about cope with ignoring a character completely and passing their role onto someone else in The Lord of the Rings (Arwen/Glorfindel, anyone?), but inventing an entirely new character seemed completely unnecessary, and obviously meant that storylines and relationships had to be invented or reworked to fit around her. I really wasn’t sold on the idea at all. But having said that, I actually rather liked Tauriel. She’s a fierce and exciting character, even though I kind of felt like she was only included to give a reason for super-grumpy Legolas to feature (although I don’t understand why she’d be a Captain for the Mirkwood elves, when I thought she was a different kind of elf altogether?).

The thing that distresses me most about the invention of Tauriel, though, is the manipulation of Kili’s storyline. Don’t get me wrong, I love the relationship between Kili and Tauriel. It’s made him an even more endearing character, which I wouldn’t have thought possible, and he’s absolutely, one hundred percent my favourite. The problem I have is that I’m becoming way too emotionally invested in him, and purely in terms of my own self-preservation instincts, this can only be a Bad Thing. I’ve read the book, I know how this is going to end, and I’m now seriously debating whether I’ll be able to bring myself to watch the final instalment at all. There’s only so many times I can break down in sobs in the cinema before the shame eventually gets to me (I imagine. To be fair, it hasn’t got to me yet, but I can just tell the next film’s going to be a messy one for me). They’re setting me up for a fall, and I can’t even begin to say how apprehensive I’m already feeling about part three, and yet at the same time I really enjoyed watching Kili and Tauriel’s little romance play out. My emotions are so mixed (and that’s while overlooking the whole interspecies love thing, which I don’t even want to consider because it’s all a bit weird).

Anyway, there were plenty of other juicy wonders for me to sink my teeth into, and which kept me thoroughly entertained. The spider sequence was really very good (and made me feel just on edge and squirming enough to make it exciting), and there were lots of good chases and fight scenes. I found the orc chase very tense, which is always a good sign. In fact, I found all the orc and nazgul chases so tense in The Lord of the Rings that I used to dream that I was running from them, so they obviously were (and continue to be in The Hobbit), highly effective.

I also thought the link between the Necromancer and Sauron was very clever, even though it was the Necromancer/Gandalf/Radagast sections that had me most confused (because I don’t know their story). My one disappointment is that there was no update on the plight of Sebastian the hedgehog, but I’m going to assume that no news is good news, and the little fellow’s doing well.

The effects were really rather pleasing, I must admit. I’m not usually one to bother with 3D films, but I’d say this was worth it, even for just one shot of a bee zooming out towards my face. It was lovely stuff indeed. I have to admit I don’t really remember any more of the 3D effects though, but I expect they completely went to town with Smaug the dragon. The CGI or whatever it was that made Smaug really was very impressive, and the dragon chase sequence was pretty exciting and fun to watch.

Not everything worked quite so well for me though. I liked the role of Beorn in the book, but I found it a bit disjointed in the film, as if there wasn’t really a place for it. Also, as much as I love Stephen Fry, I really didn’t like his casting as the Master of Laketown. It felt far too much like I was watching a pantomime at that point. Very Welsh-sounding Bard was lovely though, and I found it rather amusing how he ended up looking more like Orlando Bloom than Legolas. Legolas, meanwhile, was a bit of a dick. It’s quite interesting to see his character before the fellowship and Gimli mellowed him. His behaviour towards the dwarves was so unpleasant and racist, but if the book was followed properly, I don’t think he’d have had any kind of interaction with those dwarves at all. Thorin similarly became a bit of a dick, he was so grumpy and single-minded that he seemed to have become overwhelmed by his greed and desire for power. Plus although I really enjoyed the dragon sequence, I think maybe it went on for a tad longer than necessary. I just wanted the action to hurry up and get going, instead of spending time in Bilbo/Smaug small talk. I did feel a bit like I was being teased with that section, and then what a place to end the film, just as it’s all kicking off! At least now we know that the next part should kick off with lots of drama and excitement though, and a fair few battles to boot.

On the whole, I thought The Desolation of Smaug was pretty swell. It wasn’t as light-hearted as An Unexpected Journey, which I think I did prefer (but then Fellowship is my favourite Lord of the Rings film; clearly I’m a fan of greenery and the Shire). Even though I think Desolation was shorter, it did actually feel longer than the first part as well, although maybe that’s because things were taking a darker turn and the characters are becoming a bit more corrupted and nasty (mentioning no names, *cough*Thorin). It was all good fun though, and I liked seeing the Necromancer storyline develop, even though it was a tad confusing because it was so unfamiliar to me. I’ll be intrigued to see how everything’s wrapped up in the final film, although I can already tell there’s going to be a fair amount of public weeping on my part. I’m already nervous, and there’s so many months to go! Still, I think Peter Jackson has proved once again (although it was already pretty clear) that he really is one for truly epic adventures, and while The Hobbit is not quite on the same scale or proportion as the masterpiece that is The Lord of the Rings, I think by now it probably deserves it’s ‘epic’ epithet.

See also A Very Mini Musing on The Hobbit,  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, or read previous Film Review featuring Saving Mr. Banks.

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7 thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

  1. If you didn’t and you can, you should watch in 3D. That really made the experience of watching all that more amazing for me. I actually really liked the second one a whole much better than the first and I really loved Smaug. Watson and Sherlock back together again….well. sort of.

    • I’m not normally a fan of 3D, but the 3D parts that I can remember (like the bee shot) did work well. It’s definitely suited to more action-based films. I saw The Great Gatsby in 3D, and half the time it was completely unnoticeable!

  2. Interesting to read a review from the point of view of a Lotr fan who doesn’t know the appendices too well. As someone who has spent way too much time reading comments and articles on theonering.net it’s nice to see the film in a more positive light. I find it curious how in general most die hard fans feel the first film was better, while most film lovers or critics feel the second film was better. PJ simply can’t win!

    The review I’ve been waiting for haha. Personally I enjoyed the first film more, but I think that’s because like the books I actually enjoy the slower speed, I feel it makes it more of an epic journey. But overall the second film was more entertaining, and if you treat it as a film rather than a book adaptation it’s far harder to criticise – even if that’s pretty impossible for a reader of the books to do!

    I agree with you about Beorn, I think it would have worked better if they didn’t give away the skin-changing aspect straight away and built up how powerful he is a bit more subtly rather than immediately show his ferocity.

    I don’t mind Tauriel – although note it was Guillermo’s idea and maybe PJ wouldn’t have introduced her if he had started the films. Her character isn’t influencing the whole storyline so I don’t have a problem with her having a Glorfindel-esque role, even if the elf-dwarf romance feels a bit weird. I don’t really see the need to have a romance in any of the Hobbit films other than to appease a certain audience.

    I’m interested to read you found the Smaug/Bilbo dialogue a bit long, I actually enjoyed seeing a scene that was relatively close to that of the book for a change. I thought the whole sequence was a bit long, but mainly down to the whole light-the-furnace-drown-the-dragon-in-gold plan. I was expecting Smaug to go pretty much straight to Laketown once the dwarves were forced inside.

    I was really pleased with the representation of the dwarves, watching Moria in the Two Towers feels much sadder when you see how much Balin respected Bilbo! And I like the way they’ve developed Thorin’s ego, I was worried they would make him too heroic when in reality he’s very much son of Thrain son of Thror.

    I love Gandalf so much so to see him enter Dol Guldur as referenced in the appendices was a treat, and the Necromancer/Sauron scenes were very well done, I would not have liked the pressure of trying to get that to work! I was however quite shocked to see that the Nazgul were apparently buried, which contradicts the books and movies!! “No man can kill me,” were the words in the film and words which were a prophecy by none other than our poor elf Glorfindel in the book, I couldn’t see the logic of that scene in the Hobbit at all.

    What bugs me most about these films is the continuation of Azog and his merry men running across Middle Earth chasing but never quite catching the dwarves (even on Wargs?!), and the fact that he’s CGI rather than make-up. I loved Lurtz in the Fellowship because he looked scarily real and he didn’t have a back story.

    In this Azog doesn’t look that scary because everything is CGI – and it’s hard to take an orc with a branch for a hand seriously! Add to that the nagging thought that his character not only exists in the book, but has already been killed by Dain who is also going to be introduced in the next film, and all the characters’ storylines start to become quite confusing even to Tolkien fans.

    Having said all that I’m glad PJ and co made the films. The scenery, music and effects are all brilliant, and I am once again impressed by the casting – I can’t imagine anyone else playing the main characters. I can’t wait to see There and Back again and the Battle of the Five Armies, even if that will mean the end of the Jackson-Tolkien experience.

    • I have to admit, I didn’t actually realise Azog was completely CGI. You’re right though, he didn’t have the same impact as Lurtz (who I was terrified of!) and it probably is due to the CGI, although I didn’t realise it at the time. And another shameful confession, I find it really hard to keep track of the dwarves and tell them all apart. Obviously I can tell them apart physically, but apart from Thorin, Kili and Fili, the rest are all quite a blur for me. I found it was the same when I was reading the book though, there are just too many of them for me to get them straight in my head. It’s bad, I know. I think I need to reread the book and then watch all three films, and that might help me fit the name to the face a bit more.

      Well now that I’ve been introduced to the story, I do want to go back and read all of the appendices properly. I think I might wait until after I’ve seen all of the films though, just so I already have a picture of it in my head which might help me keep track a bit better. I think what I need to do is wait until all three films have been released, and then sit down and watch them all together. I think that way I’ll have a much clearer picture of the story arc and the way the films fit together, because I did find it all quite confusing in places, especially as I haven’t familiarised myself with the story since seeing the first film at the cinema.

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