The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Our review of the second Peter Jackson-directed Hobbit movie finds us catching up to where…at least half the mainstream press was last year, wearily resigned to watch Jackson & Co. make a three hour movie out of material that doesn’t support it. Like a pie that burst in the oven, or a Baby Boomer who laughs with their mouth open, it’s fillings are showing…but who cares, right? Hot Elf chick! (And Legolas is back, too…assuming you gave a crap. All the Elves I cared about were in the first movie and Galadriel barely gets a cameo in this one, so…once more unto the breach…)


4 thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)”

  1. I had something intelligent to say about the Hobbit and it’s adaptation, but then my wife and offspring took me to see “Walking with Dinosaurs.” With that perspective source fresh in my mind The desolation of Smaug looks like Citizen Kane. It lacks shitty CGI, it failed to steal it’s climax from a better (but mediocre) dinosaur movie, and it is completely lacking in Harold Warrenesk wall to wall dubbed voice over by the odious comic relief. Enough of that, though, it’s time for some impotent nerd rage.

    I’ve been ruminating on this movie for two weeks now and I’ve concluded that it demonstrates the extent to which the lords of pop culture have embraced Joseph Campbell’s take on the Hero’s journey. Neither “The Hobbit” nor “The Lord of the Rings” tells a Hollywood story. They both star Late Victorian/Edwardian country gentlemen who go out on a journey, but who triumph through middle class values of the period; good judgment and strength of character, respectively. Think about it, Bilbo gets lucky riddling with Gollum, warns against leaving the path in Mirkwood, provokes the spiders to act unwisely, skulks and plans in the wood elf fortress, holds his own with linguistic trickery against Smaug, and at the big end battle he does his part by being the only guy who knows that you can’t eat gold and gives up the Arkenstone. Frodo’s the big protagonist of his story and his saving grace is his gift for resisting temptation. Neither of these are suitable to a big dumb action movie where the hero defeats the bad-guy in a climactic dick duel, but the Lord of the Rings got away with it by spending so much of its run time with the action movie worthy B-plot (distract the bad guy with a war). Since ‘The Hobbit’ lacks that overly simplistic arc and the titular hobbit’s personal arc is one of learning that his middle class virtues are where the real power is, the whole damn story is Bilbo discovering his courage. We’d have still bought tickets if they had had the cojones to make it a three episode small story of Bilbo discovering his inner sneaky lion, but somebody doesn’t trust us to buy tickets to movies where the hero antagonizes and throws rocks at giant spiders or barrel riding is a tense, clever escape by stealth rather than the setup to a log flume ride at 6 flags over Middle Earth. Holy shit, I didn’t even realize I was so frustrated. The rise of Lord of the Rings moved fantasy into the realm of potential art, it’s partially deserved reputation as a haven for pulp and hackery was shaken. But if they are instead seen as only a storytype in which it is easier to contrive the hero and villain having a swordfight at the end then those hopes were in vain. I’m just not sure how they could rescue the Hobbit now, and God help us when they make the Silmarillion as a trilogy^3 of three hour films. But I hear the fall of Gondolin is gonna have a bitchin’ climax.

    1. You’ve pretty accurately recreated my thought process as I walked across the parking lot on the way out of The Decompression of Smaug. I imagine several people (either known personally, or through this series of tubes) had a similar reaction to last year’s Unexpected First Act of a Trilogy. I’m trying to “rescue” The Hobbit by looking at the whole sordid mess as one big, two-year lesson in empathizing with my fellow movie-goer’s pain – especially when I do not share it. But that’s my narcissistic perspective on 2013 as a whole, really, and if I wrote ponderous End of Year, State of the Movie-Union articles, like my Evil Self demands of me, that would be the conclusion.

      From a dispassionate, industrial perspective, The Hobbit needs no rescuing. Numero Uno paid for three movies all by itself, making Numero Dos‘ $760 million (and counting) take pure gravy. It’s the 12th highest grosser of the year in the U.S. charts, right under Star Trek 12/2, despite the latter’s famous name and seven month head start. And that’s all New Line/Paramount/The WB care about. So there is no “saving” The Hobbit since it’s a big boy (old enough to be a great-grandfather by now, in fact) and capable of defending itself.

      That said, I agree with everything in your reading. And I will not be surprised at all when I end up loving a Silmarillion Trilogy that tries everyone else’s patience. The same thing might still happen with this Hobbit trilogy, but we’ve got a year until we can tell for sure.

  2. Excellent review, as always David. You seem to feel roughly the same about the movie as I do.

    The thing about The Hobbit was, when I first read it, I thought it was a parody. Admittedly, I was about seven-years-old and had been introduced to the world of J.R.R Tolkien by a certain Rankin and Bass cartoon on Nickelodeon. The premise was a stuffy middle-aged guy completely lacking in traditional heroic qualities, a bunch of cowardly dwarves more bluster than substance, and a wizard manipulating them to kill a dragon. A dragon who, spoiler alert, isn’t killed by any of them.

    Eventually, J.R.R Tolkien wrote the more traditionally heroic Lord of the Rings. Even then, the actual heroes were an upper-class English gent and his gardener who never so much as throw a punch in the series. Now, Peter Jackson was able to successfully ignore the irrelevance of the Battle of Helms Deep, Battle of Gondor, and other conflicts in order to present the idea of badass elves fighting alongside a scruffy ranger (with hobbits occasionally showing up).

    That’s harder to do in The Hobbit.

    The Desolation of Smaug confirms what the first movie irritated me so much about–that we were going to completely sacrifice characterization for spectacle. The dwarves are more heroic, Bilbo Baggins has his transformation into action hero in Act I, and there’s a never-ending supply of orcs for them to fight because we have to pad these movies about somehow.

    I don’t hate TH:TDOS. I’m more inclined to accept its flaws and treat it as an action movie inspired by The Hobbit than a straight adaptation. Really, I think of it as a rollercoaster ride. There’s even an actionized barrel-trip that I think would make an excellent attraction at Disneyland. The spectacle drowns out everything resembling characterization and it moves at a brisk pace, preventing you from thinking about it too much.

    I even liked the additional character of Tauriel as I’d prefer them to throw in a smoking hot elf (recently freed from her exile on Lost’s island) than continue to pretend Thorin Oakenshield is some Aragon-esque Paragon in direct contradiction to his book presentation. Her character adds to Legolas’ own paper-thin characterization from the previous three movies. Ever wonder why the prince of the Mirkwood elves was so eager to get the hell out of there and go on a suicide mission to Mordor? You won’t after you meet his father.

    Denying your son some alone time with the only eligible elf-made this side of Rivendale?

    Not cool, dude.

    I also salute the movies’ reunion of the BBC’s Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug giving an amazing performance as Smaug. I had to turn my brain off during the fight scene since the amount of gold would devalue the metal to less than the worth of gravel but it was pretty to look at. It might even improve on J.R.R Tolkien in the fact the dwarves of this movie actually have something resembling a coherent dragonslaying plan.

    The element I’m most disappointed in is, ironically, the newly depicted Rise of Sauron. I was actually hoping for much more from this because we have the Necromancer readying his armies, rebuilding his fortress, and summoning all the corrupted Morgoth-worshiping races of men to his side. What do we get? A bunch of orcs around a ruin with a glowing eye that creates psychedelic effects.

    Color me disappointed.

    So, I’m glad I went to see this movie and will certainly go see the end of the trilogy. Did I get my money’s worth? Yes, but it’s not what I wanted. However, when you can’t love the movie you want, love the one you own on DVD. Even if it is the kind of derivative “good guys vs. bad guys, resolving things with the power of violence” which hundreds of authors reduced Tolkien to with their pastiches. I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t own hundreds of those in addition to JRR’s work.


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