The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros., PG-13)

Hobbit2 75Thankfully, The Desolation of Smaug is a better film than An Unexpected Journey, though perhaps unsurprisingly it isn’t as good as any of the three original LotR movies.

Hobbit2 500

In the days/hours leading up to me seeing the press screening of the second film in the Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I was amazed by how little I was looking forward to it, and actually, if we’re being honest, I was kind of dreading it. To encapsulate what I said in my review of the first Hobbit film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, last year, I like the original Lord of the Rings trilogy quite a bit, though perhaps not as much as most of the rest of the world, and the first Hobbit was comparatively pretty bad, but not awful. But the prospect of seeing another 3-hour-long, watered-down Middle-earth movie seemed daunting. Everything new about the Hobbit films (new since the original trilogy, I mean) is something I don’t like — I don’t really like the new cast members, I don’t like the addition of 3-D, I don’t like that the world it immerses you in doesn’t seem so fresh anymore, I don’t like the new, more child-friendly tone of the films. So why would I get excited about going through all of that again?

Thankfully, The Desolation of Smaug is a better film than An Unexpected Journey, though perhaps unsurprisingly it isn’t as good as any of the three original LotR movies. (Should I point out here that The Two Towers, the second film of the original trilogy, is my favorite? Does that mean that Smaug will be my favorite of the prequel trilogy?) This one concerns the Hobbit in question, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, here better than he was in the first film), accompanying a team of dwarves to uncover and reclaim the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. At an official runtime of 161 minutes, Desolation of Smaug is the shortest yet of the Peter Jackson Middle-earth films, and a surprisingly great deal of its running time actually has the dwarves and Bilbo at Erebor, when at times it seems like the structure will be that once they arrive there, the film will end. Sure, the dwarves et al. encounter some memorable set pieces before arriving at Erebor, like white water rafting in barrels, giant-ass spiders, and a huge bear/human thing. These encounters again play better than anything in An Unexpected Journey, but also kind of have the reek of the action from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest to them, in that, while amusing, they feel like spectacle for spectacle’s sake.

If we’re being honest, I spent much of the first half of the movie waiting for dragons to show up and start trashing the place. Thankfully, you get that in the second half of the film, where Bilbo encounters Smaug himself while raiding Scrooge McDuck’s vault. Following the precedent of the earlier films, special effects house Weta does about the best work you can currently hope to see in CGI, and Smaug looks pretty awesome. That is, until he starts talking in a voice provided by Benedict Cumberbatch, who I’m frankly starting to get really tired of — he doesn’t have nearly the range that casting directors seem to think he has. Anyway, once Smaug starts running his mouth, he instantly begins to feel cartoony rather than big and scary, which is a shame.

But despite these reservations, The Desolation of Smaug is a mostly enjoyable movie that, for now at least, has renewed my interest in the series, so when I’m going into The Hobbit: There and Back Again this time next year, I doubt it will require much working up of motivation on my part. | Pete Timmermann

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