I tried so hard. I really did.
I wanted to like this movie. Heck, I was hoping to love it, but at the end of the day, the second installment of the Hobbit Trilogy: The Desolation of Smaug let me down, just as the first one did.
I should start by saying I am a fan of the Lord of the Rings films and books, but that said, I rarely concern myself with fidelity regarding source text to film adaptation. Take out what you need to, change what you will, add something new, I couldn’t care less: if it works, it works. And once announced that the Hobbit would be produced into two films, I was rather excited to see what they would do. Granted, that book is far shorter than any of the books in the LOTR trilogy, but once again, I wasn’t worried. I figured they would take bits from the Silmarillion as well.
Then the announcement came that two Hobbit movies became three… I was unhappy.
It was immature of me, premature even, as the first film hadn’t been released. However, that seemed like too much of a stretch. Was it for the money? Lack of decision in the editing room? These are not short films, mind you, each one is closer to a 3 hour mark than a 2. My worries were that one of the films was almost guaranteed to suffer, be it the second or third.
I will admit I was wrong here in a way. But first, I had to be let down with the first film.
While watching An Unexpected Journey in the theater, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Halfway through the movie I was doubting myself, and when it was over, I couldn’t find the will to agree with my group of friends who loved it. So, I paid to see it again, thinking maybe I was too hyped the first go around (though I didn’t feel I was) or I had overlooked something. Alas, the results rang clear: I did not like the movie.
I will not go as far to call it a bad film. It is beautifully shot, and there are moments that may surpass the original trilogy, but overall it felt bloated and lacking at the same time. Martin Freeman playing Bilbo was a treasure, breathing much needed life into the film. And the music was probably the best found in all of the films. But there are two main problems I found with it and unfortunately one is not easily dealt with: there is an inconsistency of tone, and it often follows the book in ways that doesn’t transfer to the film medium.
The book was for children. That’s understandable. I didn’t know whether Peter Jackson would amp it up to the level of the LOTR films or lighten it due to the Hobbit book being far more lighthearted than the trilogy. The answer: he tried to do both. It doesn’t work. From scene to scene there are moments I was unable to take seriously because it was just too silly. The film would have benefited to go all the way with one of the other. I don’t care which, either would have worked. Additionally, the book is very event to event: Something happens, they run away. Something else happens, they run away, etc. That does not work very well for a film. Granted, it’s a journey, a quest, but the lack of development in favor of these repetitive action sequences grind on you after so long. Additionally, there are too many characters (which is how the book will have it) and I don’t know if it is because of the double frame rate, but the CGI was more noticeable than it was in the Fellowship of the Ring film. It looked worse than it did ten years ago.
There is one major exception: the riddles in the dark. Bilbo’s encounter will Gollum is perfect. The pacing, the CGI, the acting; this scene stands out (or shines out) in a film that needed more guidance. The material added not found in the book didn’t hurt the story, but the overall film was a bit too dull for an adventure and I would probably rank it 2 out of 4 stars.
A year later, we come to the second film: The Desolation of Smaug, which promises much more than the first one due to the dragon being in the title, and most likely this is what many want to see most. I found myself enjoying this film a bit better, and went in with full cooperation that each film is different and to be judged on its own.
This film let me down as well.
It is often said that making a “middle” film (part 2 of a trilogy) is the hardest because they have no real beginning and no real end. I can understand this thought, but I do not let it stand as an excuse. My favorite film of all time, The Empire Strikes Back, is a middle film, and The Two Towers remains my favorite of the LOTR trilogy.
TDOS starts well, however. It has a nice intro that sets a tone and gets back to the action we left off with in the previous film. Then we moved to a new scene and are quickly to pass through it. I started to worry. Completely pointless scene other than to throw-out a character mentioned in the Tolkien-verse. The film then *SPOILERS* brings in Legolas with elves, and I want to say that it is just due to the popularity of the character, but I did my best to let it slide.
But I could not avoid what I knew to be true: this film wasn’t working, but there were different issues and not just the same ones to my small joy. The tone inconsistency was not nearly an issue this time around, opting for the more “violent/young adult” option, and the many dwarves got to shine in their respective roles a little more because they divided them up. Smart move, Jackson. I’m sure you watched the first film and noticed. This time, however, the added material was simply slowing the movie down, and I think it could be solved with a simple solution: remove the elves storyline. It doesn’t work, it is not developed, and after the movie ended I made my decision that Orlando Bloom and his band were completely unnecessary.
But like I said, there were improvements. Martin Freeman, great in the first, stays true to form and expands on his role. Gandalf never develops much in any of the films, he is just here or not here as always. The biggest character issue (aside from including pointless elf characters) is Thorin Oakenshield, aka the main character. This movie favors Thorin over Bilbo and he’s a bit of a jerk. We got that in the first one, but by the end it seemed a bit more resolved. That was tossed away as he is back to his old ways of disregarding any other opinion. Maybe you want him that way? I, for one, had that in the first movie.
Yet, much like the first film, there is a saving grace, and a monster one at that. The scene where Bilbo finally meets Smaug the dragon. Masterful filmmaking. The dragon looked great, the voice was great, and there was real suspense and intensity watching those two together. Get away from all the other dwarves and side characters, leave them outside and watch Bilbo sneak around and converse with this monster, one of the greatest fantasy creatures to ever be put to screen. The scene is perfect, and becomes a little less perfect once the dwarves re-enter.
With a film filled with so many fights and battles, it is unnecessary to add so many cliffhanger moments within them (will he pull himself back up?) The best action sequence is Smaug vs the dwarves, and that even gets comical at certain moments. But the film ends with a logical cliffhanger bound to rake in more people for the third installment. 2.5 out of 4 stars.
I hope to one day find a way to look upon these films more favorably. As you can see, I’ve found what I can to love and tried my hardest with the rest. Should I have to try so hard to like a movie? I don’t think it is too much of me to ask that a movie that should be good to simply be good. Although the third film has yet to be seen, I still feel this story would have been better told as one long movie or dividing it up into two films. As mentioned in the beginning, three is too much, and quite possibly the root of all my problems with them. There is a great movie in there, but it is unable to surface like it should. There is much to be wrapped up in the third one, and a lot of action is going to take place, again. I only hope they don’t forget to add in the heart found in the story of a Hobbit.