When you read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, did you think, “yeah this is a great story and all, but my favorite things are the character and place names! Everything else could be changed,”? If so, then Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the movie for you!
I suppose that summation may be a little overly harsh. But for the last two weeks I’ve been feeling guilty about deciding I wasn’t going to be able to do a whole spectacular costume and line party like I did last year for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and as I sat in the theater last night I kept thinking wow, I’m glad I didn’t go all out for this one, because it would have been an embarrassing waste of time and energy and made the film an even more bitter disappointment. After the first Hobbit film came out I said I would reserve judgment on splitting the 300-page book into three extra-long films until I’d seen them all, but that’s no longer necessary. I can definitively state that it was a bad decision, and no matter how glorious the final installment may end up being, this middle movie, in which no substantial plot progress is made and there are no character arcs, should never have been made.
By the way, this post includes spoilers without warning because my enthusiasm for this movie has deflated like a balloon punctured by a black arrow and I no longer care about preserving its mystique or hype.
The first film cut off pretty much at the end of chapter 6, and chapter 7 starts with the dwarves meeting their temporary host Beorn in groups of two or three at a time, so I thought, great, they’ll have a natural way to re-introduce us to all the dwarves and their names. Instead, the movie starts with a flashback to Gandalf meeting Thorin in the Prancing Pony, (oh hai Peter Jackson reprising your cameo of carrot-munching Bree resident in the rain), and we never get the introductions at Beorn’s. Hope you remember your dwarf names from the first film! If not, it doesn’t really matter since they won’t be defined as individuals for the most part, (but if you do want a refresher watch this clever video starting at 3 minutes).
Everything in Mirkwood was rushed or omitted; no partying elves luring them off the path, spiders quickly and easily dispatched, elvish imprisonment barely lasting a day instead of dragging out for months. I realize movies need to condense time that books can fit between a few words, but the skipping of canonical drama just to add all the ridiculous, unnecessary, tedious scenes we got later is not okay.
I desperately wanted to like Tauriel, totally on board with the reasoning that the onscreen representation women of would be severley lacking without introducing this non-canonial character. But this film still does not come close to passing the Bechdel test, (unless Bard’s daughters have a conversation I don’t remember?) and they don’t let her live up to her advertised bad-assery, reducing her motivations from a big-picture, save-the-world mission to risk-all-to-save-the-cute-taller-than-average-dwarf-i-have-a-crush-on. NOTE TO STORYTELLERS: “hey this story needs more female characters” does NOT equate to “hey this story needs romantic entanglements!”
Like, why does Legolas need to be infatuated with unrequited desire for her? Why can’t their relationship just be warrior buddies? And why does she swoon so quickly for Kili, just because ooh look at him all broody in his cell and my but he’s tall for a dwarf?? Ooh let’s touch fingers when I hand you back your talisman stone from your mom?? Oh hey I’ll single-handedly hunt down a pack of orcs to save you, and then I’ll use kingsfoil to heal your poisoned wound and you’ll see me in an aura of white light just like Frodo saw Arwen in Fellowship of the Rings, because didn’t you love that part? This is freaking fan-fiction! What is it doing in the theatrical version of an official adaptation?! I wouldn’t even need to see this in an extended edition! (I realize that a possible explanation is that either kingsfoil makes you hallucinate people in white light auras, or the aura is part of the elvish healing magic manifesting, but still, it’s COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY! As is splitting the dwarves up so that some of them stay behind in Laketown, what the EFF?!!!!!)
The thing is, Tauriel does express that she’s concerned about the orcs getting more aggressive and that it isn’t enough for the Mirkwood elves to defend their own borders without regard for where the orcs will go terrorize next, so I don’t know why that wasn’t a good enough motivation for her character to have for all of her actions. I HATE that her primary goal becomes Kili. And I can only assume that her fate being wrapped up with his means she too will die in the next film, probably in a failed attempt to save/avenge him from his own fatal end.
Perhaps the worst thing about the story as presented in this film is that it doesn’t even follow it’s own rules; the Master of Laketown supposedly has such tight-fisted control over the comings and goings of the city that the dwarves have to be smuggled in beneath fish, but then a whole passel of orcs gets in and is crawling all over rooftops with nobody noticing? I mean geez at least show them killing a guard or two if that’s how you want it to play out, but how the heck would no-one notice? I can kind of believe the elves sneaking in more easily since they’re quick and quiet-footed and all but even so, Laketown guards should know to watch for elves considering they’re neighbors. Also, why in the world would nobody in the town be willing to help poisoned and injured Kili when the dwarves were literally the toast of the town the night before?! Why would they need to come banging desperately on Bard’s door? That whole scene reeks of we-shot-this-one-way-but-then-we-added-stuff-since-we-got-an-extra-film-to-fill-so-it-doesn’t-totally-flow.
The whole “only a rare black arrow shot from a special launcher can kill a dragon!” addition would be fine, except why take the one arrow out of its hiding place just to stash it in a canoe? And why wouldn’t the kid know about its existence anyway? Whatever, by this point I just can’t even with this movie.
Azog the Defiler’s role is way over-inflated. And now they’re introducing even more named orc generals/captains/whatevers for me to not care about, in this Bolg guy. Why do we have more named orcs than female characters, seriously.
Then we get (half of the) dwarves running the frick around Erebor with a secret plan as if dramatic tension can only be achieved by keeping the audience blind to the goals of the protagonists. Sorry your elven-magic-coma storyline got cut, Bombur, but hey, you got to be yanked around on a bellows chain at a giant forge, which is almost the same thing as character development, right? Hey Bilbo, why don’t you follow Thorin’s shouted instructions to keep running to lead Smaug to these random places like “the forge!” or “the Hall of Kings!” even though I don’t know how you’re supposed to know where they are being that this is literally your first time inside the underground maze of halls.
There’s too much obvious GCI! Legolas’ contacts look weird and flat! Why is Gandlaf tripping out and seeing A Man within The Eye within The Eye within The Eye, and how am I supposed to be in suspense for him being locked in a cage surrounded by orcs when I not only know he’s going to survive to the end of Frodo’s quest, but I’ve also seen him pull the grab-a-moth-when-in-distress-to-summon-an-eagle-rescue move in two separate films by now so I assume it’s his next step. I mean, I know what’s actually going to happen is Galadriel et al will come bring some elvish ring-bearer pain on the old fortress, but even if I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be worried about what was going to happen to Gandalf.
Just like I’m not in suspense about what’s going to happen to Laketown or Smaug, though the movie ends with the dragon flying off in a rage and Bilbo saying “whatever’s going to happen next?!” (Yes that’s seriously the last line before the screen blacks out and the credits song starts). It’s not that it’s a true “cliff-hanger” ending of suspense, (if this is a cliff hanger for you READ THE FREAKING BOOK ALREADY, it is very short and if you’re really that lazy you can just read chapter 13-19, that’s all that’s left,) but is a suspension of completing a story arc. Maybe there are elements in this movie that will add up to whole arcs when combined with the next film, but why should I sit through 2 hours and 41 minutes of non-story non-arcs?
Seriously, what the hell happened here? There is no reasonable argument for stretching this story into three films if this is the kind of stuff they’re filling time with, other than “we can make more money with an extra film.” Well, I certainly don’t want to pay to see this again! When I go to a movie I expect to be given a story, not just a collection of scenes. When I watch a Peter Jackson adaptation of Tolkien, I expect epic, not trivial. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has shattered my trust in these movie makers and broken my fangirl heart.