Yeah... I'm going to get it for this one.
This review is also up at Channel 24 where I get a quick reminder that if you're going to trash a beloved fantasy series, you really should get your spelling write.
Sorry, I couldn't resist.
Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey and
their group of dwarves continue on their way to reclaim their
homeland, Erebor, from the dragon Smaug.
What we thought
With a 9.0 user rating on the Internet
Movie Database (impressive since the film hasn't actually opened to
the public anywhere) and a solid enough 72 Metacritic rating, you
would be forgiven for thinking that The Hobbit: The Desolation of
Smaug is one of the season's must-see movies. Well, you would be,
from where I'm standing anyway, wrong. Really, really wrong.
Peter Jackson continues to be an
exceptional filmmaker and The Hobbit Part Deux is as well put
together as you can imagine with some nicely choreographed action
scenes (it's always nice to be able to see what's going on in these
moments) and plenty of striking visuals. All this is basically for
naught though, because if ever there was solid, concrete proof that
splitting the decidedly brief Tolkien novel into three long film was
a colossally stupid idea then The Desolation of Smaug is definitely
The already very thin plot is
stretched to breaking point here as each well done but overly long
set piece crashes into the next to deadening and deafening effect,
while any sense of real storytelling takes a distant back seat. That
each set piece seems weirdly lacking in any sense of threat or menace
is almost arbitrary in light of how much all of it desperately reeks
of filler as our merry band of heroes effectively do little more than
move from point A to not quite point B - point B presumably being,
incidentally, the super duper long battle that will take up the vast
majority of the Hobbit's third instalment.
The film's champions try to defend the
film's narrative lightness by seeing it as a thrilling rollercoaster
ride. That would be fine, of course, if it weren't for the fact that
I can't imagine anyone wanting to be on the same rollercoaster for
the better part of three hours. Sure, it could have been a decent
enough “thrill ride” had it clocked in at 80-odd minutes, but as
it is, it's simply monotonous and more than a little bit boring. And
yes, there's way less endless walking here than there was in the Lord
of the Rings trilogy but there's a lot less plot and characterization
Now, granted, the simplicity of story
is a staple of the quest-based fantasy genre (which is why it works
so well in video games and why I am not its biggest fan) but a
story-light quest that goes on for a couple of hours is a lot less
unbearable than one that goes on for eight or nine combined hours.
Even more problematic than the length though, is that the lack of
narrative is compounded by some truly, wretchedly boring characters.
Actually, to be precise, the
characters are less boring than entirely blank, with the only sense
of personality that comes through being more a product of the actor
playing them than the characters themselves. If I cared at all about
Bilbo it had much less to do with the character himself than with how
likeable a screen presence Martin Freeman always is. Similarly, I was
drawn to Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel more because I am drawn to the
supernaturally pretty actress playing her than to the character
itself. Her counterpart, Orlando Bloom's Legolas, on the other hand,
was every bit as wet and as boring as Bloom tends to be in almost
This is a pattern that applies to
every last character in the film. The dwarves? Boring to a fault.
Stephen Fry's camp town Master? As enjoyable as you expect. As for
Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug, he's a fun, deliciously evil villain
but, for all his talking and all his screen time, his character
motivations can basically be summed up as “HISSSSSSSSSS”. The
lack of Gollum is very, very much missed, in other words.
To sum up – and, oh yes, I'm
definitely going to piss off a lot of Tolkien die-hards with this
comparison – the reason why The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is
such a failure is because it resolutely refused to listen to the
lessons taught by the final Harry Potter films. When the final Potter
book was split into two, it used basically the same formula as the
Hobbit by making the final part the big showdown, with the earlier
sections dealing with the build-up.
The difference though, is that while
Potter used its extra screen time and its stretched out narrative to
make sure its excellent cast of characters were perfectly defined and
set up for its big finish, The Hobbit almost entirely ignores its
characters for an overemphasis on (again, very well done) action
scenes, limp humour and uninteresting world building that doesn't
actually add all that much to the mythology of Middle Earth.
Sorry fanboys, but your emperor is
hopelessly and embarrassingly naked.