Movie Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

By Matthew Huntley

December 19, 2013

All of these people are guaranteed at least eight hours of screen time.

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The dwarves are saved but also subsequently captured by the Wood Elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who takes a liking to Kili (Aidan Turner). Bilbo, still unseen, helps his friends escape via empty wine barrels, which leads to one of the movie’s best sequences as the dwarves roll, jump and float down a river, all while taking out approaching orcs. With no food or weaponry, they strike a deal with Bard (Luke Evans), a common man who, like other members of Dale, has been displaced because of Smaug. He and other humans now occupy the lake town called Esgaroth, where famine, poverty and political corruption run rampant.

And herein lies the movie’s problem: the adverse conditions faced by people of Esgaroth is merely brushed over and given little weight. Not enough screen time is devoted to showing us how these people are suffering, and thus why it’s necessary that the dwarves make their way to Lonely Mountain, retrieve the Arkenstone and defeat Smaug.

And speaking of Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch), for the first two-thirds of the movie, we anticipate Bilbo’s confrontation with him and eagerly await how the mighty beast is going to appear, talk, move and behave, and though the special effects used to create him are abundant, they’re not exactly impressive. This isn’t meant to undermine the efforts of the artists and engineers, who undoubtedly poured their hearts and souls into the project, but I think my opinion arises from special effects overload. It seems every shot in this movie has a computer-generated image added to it, and it’s obvious even some of the orcs are completely CGI instead of practical. This gave the movie an overall artificial and cartoonish quality that was more distracting than fascinating. The blending of human actors with a seemingly constant green screen background just didn’t gel and, given the movie’s enormous budget, it surprises me to say we’ve seen better.


Anyway, the story listlessly plods along as Bilbo and the dwarves try to outsmart and kill Smaug, all while Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the ever-resilient wizard, tries to thwart the Necromancer who commands the orcs and seeks the all-powerful ring.

Yes, a lot happens in the movie, but director Peter Jackson and his three other screenwriters have given themselves too much to deal with, including excessive action sequences (how many times do we need to see the martial arts skills of the elves?). The result is a movie that’s more of a mess than a coherent narrative. Jackson, I’m sorry to say, isn’t able to tie all the plot threads together gracefully or meaningfully, and the movie never pauses to reflect on the significance of the events at play.

I’m giving The Desolation of Smaug a negative review, but in spite of that, I remain hopeful for There and Back Again. With all of the characters and conflicts now in place, the final installment can surely bring everything together. It won’t have to be burdened by introducing us to new people, establishing new relationships or setting up new struggles. The filmmakers can get back to the heart of the story, which went astray during this second movie. How do I know this? Because upon hearing the closing line of the movie, “What have we done,” we’re not as concerned as we should be.

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