The Lord of the Rings prequel continues with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (PG-13). Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his band of Dwarfs continue their journey to reclaim their kingdom from the dragon, Smaug. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) assist in the quest. Peter Jackson again directs.
Ryan: With Andy experiencing his own set of technical difficulties, I’ll be taking a solo look at the second installation of The Hobbit Trilogy. To recap both Andy and I approached the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, with some degree of trepidation.
While we deeply respect the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, neither of us fell in love with it and we were not sure if any more movies were needed about Middle Earth. But both of us were pleasantly relieved with An Unexpected Journey as it was a very entertaining and a visually stunning film. It didn’t measure up to the original Rings Trilogy, but it was a more-than-serviceable fantasy epic.
As for the Desolation of Smaug, it very much continues the trend set forth by An Unexpected Journey. Aesthetically speaking, the film looks great. Jackson once again creates a richly detailed world of men, creatures and everything in between, including a Benedict Cumberbatch voiced dragon. This film has more action and the action set pieces are of note - especially the river-barrel scene. There’s no question that Jackson knows his way around an epic film. His craft is on display and from a technical standpoint The Desolation of Smaug is another breathtaking achievement.
While Smaug is technically brilliant, it lacks the aura of the Rings Trilogy. I think some of that stems from something Andy mentioned in the review of An Unexpected Journey, “three movies based on one significantly shorter book seems like a cash grab.” With this being the middle chapter (and another two-plus hour movie) it’s hard not to look at this Trilogy with a critical eye that goes beyond just what’s on film. But more to the point, and maybe after the third film this won’t be true, but it seems like we could have had two awesome films and not three “pretty good” films.
Much like with “Journey” there are many parts in “Smaug” that seem bloated and redundant. The video-game like narrative (going from point A to point B with crazy stuff happening in between) adds to the slow pacing. Another shortcoming of the film is the complete lack of tension in the movie. The audience already knows that there’s going to be another movie, and with this being a prequel, the audience already knows what happens to some of the main characters. Consequently there’s not much suspense deriving from the story. Again these issues wouldn’t necessarily be that big of a deal but framing those problems within the larger framework of (needlessly?) stretching Tolkein’s original story into three epic-in-length films could be seen as a cash grab.
Ultimately, if one is a fan of the original Rings Trilogy and of the first Hobbit film than there’s no doubt those fans will like this second installment. And it’s also true that most casual moviegoers will also find the film satisfactory.
Final grade: B-