It’s December again and it’s time to return to Middle earth. A full year has passed since the disappointment of An Unexpected Journey, and Peter Jackson offers a mixed bag yet again. The good news – The Desolation of Smaug is much better and more exciting than the first Hobbit film. The bad news – it still is a lacklustre and hollow movie compared to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The biggest criticism of the first Hobbit movie was that it took too long to get going. It seems like Peter Jackson listened to this complaint and fixed the problem this time around. The Desolation of Smaug gets into action in less than five minutes and it is thankfully briskly paced. The action scenes, despite resembling cut scenes from video games are fun as well - one featuring the dwarves floating downstream in barrels is beautifully choreographed. Moreover, while the first movie was just an adventure comedy for kids, the second chapter is more of a horror movie. There are dark forests, bottomless chasms, spiders, werewolves, Necromancers, disgusting Orcs and much more cool scary stuff to keep things interesting.
Best of all, the dragon Smaug is absolutely terrific; a landmark in computer graphics and Benedict Cumberbatch’s sneering booming voice gives you the goosebumps. If the LOTR films were memorable for Gollum, the Hobbit movies will be remembered for Smaug. When Smaug brushes off the gold coins covering him and stands up showing his entire form occupying the entire screen, it really makes your jaw drop. The tete-a-tete between Bilbo and Smaug when they meet for the first time is as exhilarating as the riddle chat between Bilbo and Gollum from the first movie. You need to wait for two whole hours before Smaug shows up but he really is worth it.
There are plenty of problems also. Yet again Jackson crams in too many subplots about underdeveloped characters. When I watched Fellowship of the Ring I came out knowing the names of every character that appeared in the film. I’ve watched two Hobbit movies and I still don’t exactly know how many dwarves there are in the team, and I can’t name more than two of them. One of the dwarves gets a totally unnecessary and half-assed love story, and there’s a lot of cringe inducing schmaltz that just pops in and out in during the tense sequences. The film is repetitive and an hour too long.
The mid segment featuring the ‘humans’ is dull and boring - it totally destroys the fun of the mayhem in the first hour, and the wait for Smaug to show up becomes tedious. Legolas makes a return in a ham-fisted Bollywood style love triangle.
The final scene is a tad infuriating because just when there’s an epic buildup and you expect an epic showdown with Smaug, the screen cuts to black, telling you to come back next year.
None of those problems matter because The Desolation of Smaug is going to make a lot of money anyway. Every self-respecting fan of Tolkien, Jackson and Middle Earth is going to show up in theaters to watch this film and the next one. It’s time to accept the fact that Jackson sacrificed quality for an extra billion dollars in box office and just enjoy the computer generated awesomeness of Smaug on a big screen, in 2D.