Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Has Peter Jackson Trashed the Book?

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By William Dove | December 17, 2013 1:21 AM EST

As one of the few people who actually liked the first film of The Hobbit Trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, you would think that a review of the second instalment, The Desolation of Smaug, would be glowing. Sadly I must report that I was disappointed and baffled.

Having got through the "History of Middle Earth" I know my Tolkien better than most but this is not going to be a rant about all the inaccuracies in the film (although there will be a bit of that later). There were quite a few in the first film but none of them made the series worse and most actually made it a better.

No, there are other issues that I have to raise about the problems with this film.

What's the Rush?

One of the things I liked about the first film was that each chapter of the book was covered in some depth and it seemed that Peter Jackson was giving us Tolkien fans everything we wanted and more.

Not only where we getting our money's worth of Tolkien on the big screen but it appeared that Jackson was providing some justification for splitting a short book into three epic films, after all if it took 30 minutes just to portray the party at Bag-End, he was going to need them.

The Desolation of Smaug does not follow the same pattern at all. This may be a source of joy to some but I was hoping for more of what we got in An Unexpected Journey (by contrast Mrs Dove described the first film as "boring" but enjoyed the Desolation).

For example one of the most popular characters in the book, Beorn, gets what can only be described as a walk-on part and is finished with about 10 minutes into the film. The journey through Mirkwood and the spiders also gets done and dusted in what feels like another 10 minutes.

By this stage the film is alternating between the Dwarves and Gandalf, who is having his own adventures. But throughout the film feels rushed, as though the storyteller is hyper-ventilating and can't decide which of the two stories he wants to tell first and so burbles out everything in alternating bursts.

Taking Liberties and The Humiliation of Smaug

This brings me to my second issue with the film and now I really must put my purist hat on and complain that extreme liberties have been taken with the text to the extent that throughout the film I was thinking "So when is the Hobbit actually going to start?".

As I said I didn't mind and actually rather liked most of the deviations from the book in the first film, but the Desolation of Smaug has too many, none of which add to the plot and many of which are implausible.

For example we get the beginnings of a love story between an Elf and a Dwarf (what?!), Laketown turned into a kind of medieval North Korea with Stephen Fry as the Dear Leader (although he was better than I thought he'd be in the role) and a confrontation between the Dwarves and Smaug which appeared to have been shot on the grounds that it would make a good level for the LEGO Hobbit video game. Indeed the whole sequence led to Smaug being confounded by the hairy circus troupe of main characters to such an extent that one felt that this supposed Terror of Evil Intelligence and Power was really not up to much.

The Animation of Smaug

Taking off my purist hat though I can say that the special effects are excellent, with the most outstanding work done on the titular dragon. Smaug looks realistic, glows with inner fire when he's about to unleash his deadly breath and has a face so evil looking he's actually a little scary.

All the creatures and landscapes are pulled off magnificently but things do go a bit over the top in some of the fight scenes. In particular Orlando Bloom, reprising his role as Legolas, appears to think he's in The Matrix rather than the Hobbit Trilogy.

In Conclusion

In short if you've never read the Hobbit but are open to the fantasy genre you'll probably like this film. But if you love the book you may find yourself wondering what on earth Peter Jackson was thinking when he made this film, especially as he'd done such a good job with the Lord of the Rings and an Unexpected Journey.

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