Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Art & Culture

For those unconvinced and unconverted by the first part of The Hobbit trilogy, this will do nothing to change your minds. For those who were happy enough with Part 1, this is a chance to re-evaluate, which is what I have done. And my conclusion is that this is long, dull and pointless. Not bad, just lacking heart and soul. And there’s a reason.

The Lord Of The Rings trilogy worked so well, partly because of the action sequences and the special effects, but mainly because of the relationships between the characters. Frodo and Gandalf; Frodod and Sam; Frodo and Gollum; Merry and Pippin; Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli – and so on. They were recognisably human (or elvish, or whatever), and engaged with each other at an emotional level. But in this new film, there is absolutely nothing in the way of interesting interaction, apart from an all-too-brief sequence between Bilbo and Smaug, the dragon. And just to say, Smaug is tremendous, by far the best thing in the film.

In a somewhat desperate attempt to populate the film, Peer Jackson and his scriptwriting posse have bulked up a number of characters from the book (such as The Bard), and introduced new characters (Tauriel, hotshot elf warrior, who has feelings for Kili), and reintroducing characters from the earlier trilogy (like Legolas). But none of this really helps, since there is neither the time or space for any relationships to develop. Gandalf disappears into a pointless sub plot when the dwarves get to Mirkwood, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is left with an assorted collection of pantomime dwarves with big noses and bad hair, most of whom are indistinguishable from each other.

The film’s other main tactic is to leap from one breathless (and literally, incredible) action sequence to another, just as Legolas uses the heads of the dwarves in bobbing barrels as stepping stones to get from one orc to another. After a while I realised I was watching another computer game masquerading as a movie in which any semblance of probability had been jettisoned in the search for cheap thrills. It’s not that I mind the slim book being stretched and expanded to fifteen times its original length by dint of all the extraneous stuff being packed in, but the extraneous stuff is not up to scratch. Strangely, Beorn (the man/bear) who you might have expected to offer something substantial, is disposed of all too quickly, though his peculiar accent and strange facial hair doesn’t make him an appealing character. 

Instead we get an awful lot of Legolas and Tauriel skewering an apparently endless number of orcs (who hardly feature in Tolkien’s original), and there is a somewhat ham-fisted effort to wedge Sauron into a story where he has no place. More most definitely is less. And for those bothered by the choice between seeing the film in 2D, 3D or 3D HFR, I chose the latter, and I can’t say it improved things.

What have we to look forward to in part 3, a year from now? Smaug destroying the town (as he sets off to do at the end), and the Battle of the 5 (or maybe 50 armies) which will probably involve every known character in an endless orgy of shooting arrows, stabbing, slashing and hacking, plus dramatic interventions at the last minute. 

Can’t say I’m looking forward to it.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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