Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
There are major flaws with the first Lord of the Rings films mostly in terms of bloat but they are still groundbreaking, powerful, and beautiful to behold. The three films told a grand and epic story full of action, suspense, and melodrama. Director Peter Jackson and his team built an enormous world full of detail and made it feel like a real place with many stories happening all at once. The characters didn’t just exist for the story that was being told, they were all living out their own adventures and they just happened into this one. The story was complete in those three films though, including the multitude of endings that capped the story in the third act of the third film. So when the Hobbit films were announced it seemed like a stretch to craft three, or four, more films based on such a small piece of source material.
Jackson and his team crafted a set of scripts not just based on the original Hobbit book but they also integrated everything they could find related to Middle Earth from the franchises’ original creator J.R.R. Tolkien. If he wrote a line about the world of Hobbits and faeries in a magazine somewhere Jackson found a way to use it. The first film of this new story The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was overall a failure. There were many grand moments to be sure but it felt like an incomplete and very bloated (and oddly convoluted for such a simple story) tale. We’ve become fairly accepting of the cliffhanger in feature films these days but filmmakers must earn that cliffhanger by providing us a complete film going experience in spite of the ending. There must be a beginning, middle, and end to the film and we have to feel that, even if there is more story to tell. That type of complete experience resonated in the first three films but it did not in An Unexpected Journey. For every good scene in that film there was a wacky musical number, off-putting tonal shifting from goofy to totally dark, and a story that felt forced into being epic when it really should have been a personal one.
So the new film had a lot to make up for, and it mostly succeeds. Like every Lord of the Rings film this one is way too long. The middle bloat is nearly painful at times. Perhaps the biggest pitfall in this film is that there’s a painfully forced love triangle happening. It comes on suddenly between two characters with only a few lines of dialogue connecting them. Had the subplot been better executed maybe Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly (LOST) would have fallen in love with this other character via his plight or his group’s adventure. Those ideas are hinted at but never realized. The third member of the triangle is a returning LOTR character Legolas played by Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean). Sure Legolas wasn’t in the Hobbit book but we’re making a movie here. Other faces that weren’t in the source material will make appearances too. With that said the point when these characters appear in the film is when the Desolation of Smaug drags itself outta bloatsville and into a highly entertaining fantasy adventure. The action from this point on is riveting and beautiful all the way to the climax of the film.
I have not read the Hobbit so I didn’t know what to expect. So, there are a few potential plot twists in the third act that may or may not be in the book. I’ll leave it at this: I didn’t see them coming and finally the story doesn’t feel forced into being epic, it truly is epic. Performances are all around great. These actors are comfortable in these roles by now and they know how to bring the characters to life. Martin freeman gives us a Hobbit that isn’t quite as sappy and romanticized as those of the original three films and that’s a really good thing. He is a very skilled individual and he can fight even if it’s from a much lower to the ground approach. I will say that he can certainly use the ring much easier than we were led to believe in the first three LOTR films. Repercussions better be on the way to him or else an important part of the franchise is going to be devalued into a simple plot crutch.
Even with the flaws The Desolation of Smaug is an impressive and entertaining film. It’s almost sad though when you consider how great this story could be had Peter Jackson been reined in a bit. The Hobbit does not need to be four films. Half of the first film could be trimmed away in favor of half of this film and the whole thing would be a less draggy and bloated affair. If the next two films are on par with this one then the Hobbit story will end up being really good, but it could have been truly great.