in Review

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Thinking back on the first third of The Hobbit trilogy, it’s easy to see why people wouldn’t like that film. It’s long and meandering and can’t focus on trying to tell just one story. But for fans of the franchise, it’s also a delicious opportunity. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit without an intention to write The Lord of the Rings. This was a child friendly fairy tail, unlike the epic that would end up following it. As a result, he spent considerable effort adjusting and accounting for discrepancies between the two stories; most notably, he rewrote the chapter in which Bilbo steals the One Ring. Peter Jackson’s film series has the opportunity to capitalize on the wealth of material about Middle Earth to make a series that not only tells a fun story, but can act as a prequel to his The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

The Desolation of Smaug takes advantage of that better than An Unexpected Journey did. It covers Bilbo, Thorin, and the dwarves’ journey from where they were left in the last movie, outside of Mirkwood, to the eponymous desolation at the Lonely Mountain. But, given this relatively short section of an inarguably short novel, Jackson has to add side plots to pad the length. He does this by letting us follow Gandalf’s quest to expose the true nature of the Necromancer, and, perhaps controversially, adding in an elf side plot.

We follow two wood elves, one you’ll recognize, Legolas, and one brand new, Tauriel. Tauriel is played by Evangeline Lily and is a totally new invention of Jackson and the other screenwriters’ – at least, as far as I can tell. She seems fine and adds a new dimension to the dwarves’ story, which is nice, since they mostly exist in the background of Thorin and Balin in book. Without giving away what’s changed, the way these movie ends has all our characters in dire situations, some of which differ profoundly from what you might expect. I’m excited to see how it plays out.

But more than anything else, The Desolation of Smaug is a more entertaining movie than the first Hobbit third. While that felt like two and half hours of just the filthiest fan service, this is more like the adventure we all signed up for. The pace is much faster, with no singing or lengthy scenes of exposition relating to plots that won’t even play out in the movie. Like, seriously guys, Legolas and Tauriel kill so many orcs. And the dwarves get to do more than just get captured, too. Although it’s still mostly getting captured.

I think Smaug turned out to be really cool, and that might be partly related to my predisposition to love giant monsters and robots. But seriously, how many great movie dragons have there been? You’d think there would be a lot, since they’re kind of the biggest deal as far as mystical creatures are concerned, but I have a hard time thinking of many. I guess the one from How to Train Your Dragon? Yeah, I think Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug is better than that.

After being largely disappointed by this summer’s blockbuster offerings, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with these last few. I thought Thor 2 was great, the new Hunger Games was cool, and now The Hobbit sequel has reminded me why I loved this franchise so much in the first place. OK, Anchorman 2, don’t fuck this up.