The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Here be dragons
If Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen: The Wolverine) weren’t a wizard, he would have been an excellent travel agent. He seems to live for organizing meandering trips through Middle-earth, acting as activities director for a ragtag group of his choosing.
When The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug begins, Gandalf is still leading a band of dwarves and one hobbit toward a dragon lair. The dragon in question, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch: The Fifth Estate), once swooped into the dwarves’ kingdom, slaughtering and stealing. The rightful heir to the gold dwarven throne, Thorin Oakensheild (Richard Armitage: Strikeback), is determined to get back his kingdom. Gandalf convinces him the first step is to sneak into the dragon’s lair and steal a legendary gem that can unite the scattered dwarf people.
But to get the gem, they’ll need a helper with the gift of silence. Enter Bilbo (Martin Freeman: The World’s End), a fussbudget of a hobbit who doesn’t enjoy adventure. Bilbo has become a resourceful addition to the group, plus he’s discovered a mysterious gold ring that makes him invisibile but fosters in him a weird almost violent obsession.
Can Thorin retake his kingdom? Will Bilbo distance himself from the ring? If the trip is a disaster, will it affect Gandalf’s ratings on Travelocity.com?
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t really need a review. After four movies, each well over two hours, most people know where they stand when it comes to Peter Jackson-directed Tolkien movies.
Because the narrative has been broken into three box-office-bait sections, the plot is often disjoined. The Desolation of Smaug is a placeholder, continuing the journey of Thorin, Gandalf and Bilbo without the burden of ending the story. Unlike planned trilogies, like Star Wars or even Lord of the Rings, this fractured narrative style doesn’t resolve any plots or character arcs. Instead, it teases you with promises of more action and a grand finish. It’s an elaborate way for the studio to get you to pay $52.50 for three movies instead of $17.50 for one cogent, tightly plotted film.
This disjointed format also lets Jackson continue his bloated, overindulgent style of filmmaking. He creates a beautiful frame and can often fill it with interesting action, but he lingers too long.
Even with plenty of subplots to cover, Jackson seems to be stalling for time. Indeed, he even invents spunky elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly: Real Steel), as a last minute love-interest that doesn’t appear in the Tolkien text.
Unlike the first Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug does deliver on some promises. Jackson knows his way around a dragon. The effects and 3D rendering are beautiful, and watching Smaug serpentine through the ruins of a dwarven kingdom is hypnotic.
The film ends on a cliffhanger that all but shouts, We’ll see you and your $17.50 at the third movie! The Desolation of Smaug is far from a great film, but it has a beautiful, terrifying dragon. To some, that’ll be worth the price of admission.