Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The (2013)

3 stars

A mixed bag that makes you wonder if things might be better if the journey was shorter, or at least more briskly-paced.

Dir. Peter Jackson
2013 | New Zealand/USA | Adventure/Fantasy/Action | 161 mins | 2.35:1 | English
PG13 (passed clean) for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
Plot: The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug.
Awards: Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing
Distributor: Warner Bros

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Mainstream


A8

Review #978

(Reviewed in theatres – first published 13 Dec 2013)

Spoilers: No

The most important thing is that Peter Jackson has made us look forward to the final film of the trilogy. The disappointing part is that it is also the film’s consolatory gesture, a plea to moviegoers to forgive the flaws of the second installment. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is surprisingly weak, as compared to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), which was at best a magical experience that recalled out of nostalgia the greatness of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003).

However, it must be stressed that recollection does not mean performance, and for all the efforts that Jackson and team have put in, the films in The Hobbit series so far don’t appear to be capable of reaching the towering heights of the three-film masterpiece, even though I did enjoy An Unexpected Journey more than other critics.

Of course, everything has to be seen as relative. The Desolation of Smaug is a textbook example of a conventional blockbuster with spectacle marketed as a crucial part of the movie’s appeal. That spectacle is provided by an enormous fire-breathing (and talking) dragon called Smaug, appearing not surprisingly in the last third of the picture.

“Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of your enormity, O Smaug the Stupendous…”

Everything else is a lead-up (not ‘set-up’ for there is a distinct difference) to Smaug, which admittedly has been well-created by Weta’s visual effects team. The movie is likely to get an Oscar nomination for that category. The final thirty minutes sort of redeem the film’s poor pacing of the first two hours, providing a visual spectacle of a very high order, and crucially leaves the film on an epic cliffhanger.

The performances by the cast are average; even the likable Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) takes a backseat to the spectacle, even if he is the main driver of the movie’s plot. Speaking of which, The Desolation of Smaug is too plot heavy, but light on storytelling and character development. It seems like Jackson is trying to expand the second film to its limit, to hit a runtime of close to three hours so that length-wise it ‘feels’ correct and fan-pleasing.

But truth be told, this should have been a tight 90-minute action-adventure. The larger truth, however, is that it should never have been a three-parter. Maybe a two-parter, but not three. The length highlights the lack of substantial material to work with – the result is a meandering film where the dwarves, out to reclaim their home mountain from Smaug, take one too many a pit stop in their journey. This will not go down well with fans, but I feel this is one of the year’s major disappointments, a mixed bag with unnecessary baggage.

Grade: C+


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