The 400-Word Review
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

By Sean Collier

December 16, 2013

Yeah, I'm not really sure why we're in this movie, either.

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If there’s a central flaw in the films of the Hobbit trilogy — and there are many ancillary ones — it is, of course, the remarkably poor decision to divide the story into three parts. Not only is the source material much shorter than the Lord of the Rings books (each of which, you’ll note, were converted into just one film,) it’s a fairly direct and simple story. To artificially stretch it into a trilogy, then, requires the addition of ... well, lots of extra junk.

The main thrust of the story concerns Bilbo Baggins’ journey, accompanying a posse of dwarves; the crew is bound for a mountain containing the assembled riches of the dwarves (or something) and guarded by a particularly nasty dragon (the Smaug of the title.) In print, it’s a breezy and accessible fantasy that’s strengthened by its brevity.

Here in The Desolation of Smaug, though, no character is introduced without us delving into his or her — sorry, there are only men, so just his — backstory at frustrating, unnecessary length. No character is ever permitted to leave the action; we will follow him on whatever his side business might be. And in addition to all of that, an extended fight sequence is chucked in every hour or so just to keep things varied. (Admittedly, some of these are at least entertaining.)


More troubling than the various stretching tactics employed, though, is the simple fact that this installment of the trilogy contains almost no story. The introductory business of The Hobbit, as well as the book’s meatiest chunk — Bilbo’s meeting with the cave-dweller Gollum — was covered in the first film, An Unexpected Journey. The climax, obviously enough, will occur in next year’s chapter, There and Back Again. So for this middle piece ... well, our heroes travel from “about halfway there” to “there”. They face some adversity, but always escape it thanks to a sequence of bumbling and remarkably kill-able villains.

Just staying awake through this slog is a feat; those who do will occasionally be rewarded with fine cinematography and expectedly worthy performances by Martin Freeman (Bilbo) and Ian McKellan (Gandalf). Unfortunately, the effects — once a drawing point in this franchise — are beginning to look dated; Smaug, theoretically the big draw in this flick, looks like he was pulled from a middle-of-the-road video game. It’s sad to see Peter Jackson aiming so low.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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