Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth with his second installment of a new trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Smaug comes to us just a short year after An Unexpected Journey failed to recapture that magic that Jackson created with his highly-praised Lord of the Rings trilogy. Is Smaug a step in the right direction for the filmmaker that’s been focusing more on the tech side of making movies versus the actual storytelling side or is Smaug just another bloated disappointment, much like An Unexpected Journey? Well, it’s kind of both.
The Desolation of Smaug follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the rest of the dwarf company as they journey up the Misty Mountains in hopes of defeating the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) and reclaiming their homeland once and for all.
Yep. That’s it. That’s the entire plot for Peter Jackson‘s latest three hour adventure. Jackson spares no expenses recreating the once magical world of Middle Earth using the latest and greatest of computer animation. The Desolation of Smaug continues the latest trend of Jackson fully-investing himself in the tech behind making a big-budget fantasy versus the actual delivery of a story. Don’t get me wrong, The Desolation of Smaug is a lot more fun and exciting than An Unexpected Journey, but it’s painfully hard not to notice whenever Jackson gets sidetracked showing some pointless CGI-heavy sequence that serves up absolutely no purpose to the greater story being told.
And this is where my complaining mostly stops. The Desolation of Smaug bears that same disappointment that An Unexpected Journey carried, with most of both film’s feeling sluggish and stale when compared to Jackson’s Rings trilogy.
But when you compare The Desolation of Smaug to this new trilogy’s previous entry, you’re met with a film that shows great improvement.
The Desolation of Smaug moves a lot quicker than AUJ. There are a few dialogue-heavy bits that weigh the film’s whimsical action sequences down, but most of The Desolation of Smaug gets by on just how dumb and silly it is. There’s not a whole lot of character progression, in fact Bilbo Baggins gets mostly sidelined until the film’s ending act, but that’s okay, because Jackson has created something light and mindlessly entertaining, which isn’t exactly how I thought I’d be describing a film that takes place in the same universe as his LOTR series.
But it gets by. The Desolation of Smaug learns from An Unexpected Journey‘s mistakes and tries to beef up the action and comic relief, instead of focusing on the dark and gritty battles that are brewing and the eventual evil that rises and makes way for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Jackson does lose focus of the film’s central character, Bilbo, and instead focuses on the entire company and the film’s new characters. Normally, I’d write up a few paragraphs on the characters alone, but Jackson glosses over each and every character so much that there’s really no highlights or downfalls, aside from Benedict Cumberbatch‘s voice-over for the dragon Smaug and Martin Freeman showing Bilbo’s progression during his few brief moments of focused screen time.
Together, Freeman and Cumberbatch make up the film’s best moments, which are when Bilbo meets Smaug for the first time. Watching the two characters interact and build tension helps give the film’s final act some weight, while leading into the third and final (yay!) film.
Peter Jackson‘s direction remains sound, if not a little unfocused and slightly more relaxed than usual. He shows his worth during the film’s barrels sequence, which flows freely and reminds us why we use to love Jackson as a filmmaker, but his over reliance on CGI (which is rendered kind of shoddy) is distracting and holds the film back from looking and feeling as special as it should.
The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t feel like an epic adventure. It feels rather small and like something shot on a studio green screen. And that hurts the film’s overall impact.
But there’s enough good material to warrant a viewing, just maybe not in one of those fancy HFR 3D theaters. In fact, I would almost go as far as saying that The Desolation of Smaug is something that might be best viewed at home. There’s just nothing amazing about the story to demand a theatrical viewing. The 3D is good and the action is shot well, but the story lacks that same big screen appeal that made his Rings trilogy must-see experiences.
Those that didn’t mind An Unexpected Journey are going to be happy to know that The Desolation of Smaug is an improvement, but it’s only a slight improvement that corrects a few of An Unexpected Journey‘s many flaws. I find it hard to say that I strongly dislike or hate Jackson’s new Hobbit films, but I have no problem admitting that they’re just not all that great.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – 7.5/10