The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is an embarrassing kind of stupid, the kind of stupid you can’t help but laugh at.
This is a massive step up from An Unexpected Journey, which is the kind of stupid that makes you feel like your teeth are being pulled out by an old snapping turtle.
The 161-minute film, which covers about 50 pages of source material, follows Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his company of dwarves to Smaug’s (Benedict Cumberbatch, who for some reason also voices Sauron) doorstep, but only for about a third of the runtime.
It also follows Gandalf (Ian McKellan) as he dicks around with villains from another, better movie.
It also follows Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans, who for some reason also plays his character’s ancestor in a flashback) as he… takes care of his family. Or something. He doesn’t really do anything important, but the camera follows him around a lot, so.
It also follows Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who is himself following Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a made-up sexual tension elf who is herself following Kili (Aidan Turner) because he was hit by a poison arrow because for some reason there are orcs in this movie.
The first thing to understand about this movie is exactly how transparent of a cash-grab it is. Writer/director/producer Peter Jackson is trying to extract the same amount of footage from a children’s short story as he did from a fantasy epic trilogy. His initial goal, way back in 1995, was for one Hobbit movie followed by two Lord of the Rings movies. After the original trilogy in the early 00’s, these goals became one Hobbit movie followed by a vague mid-quel about the 60-year gap between the two stories. This became two Hobbit movies. In the middle of production, only six months before part one was to be released, this became three Hobbit movies.
This series was, from the start, doomed to be a cluster of thin, barely-there scenes designed more to take up time than tell a story. That was before they put in Azog (Manu Bennett), who’s only real function is to sell toys. That was before the action sequences, which were frightful and to-be-avoided in the book, became highly-stylized amusement park rides. That was before Smaug’s animation was revealed on the side of a commercial airliner, of all places.
An aside- having Smaug as a wyvern instead of a full-bodied dragon, as Tolkien always drew him, because of Game of Thrones’ success? Tisk tisk.
As long as the audience has banished any notion of quality filmmaking from its mind, The Desolation of Smaug is actually fairly enjoyable. It’s stupid, but gleefully so. Sixty years before the original trilogy, Middle-earth apparently didn’t have physics. But the absurd stunts are more likely to put a smile on your face than make you grimace.
This fifth voyage into Jackson’s Middle-earth has, as ever, a huge editing problem, but this is the first film in the set that actually has enough content to match its runtime. It’s padded by storylines that don’t really matter, but still, it’s much rarer in this to feel like nothing is happening in this than in any other Jackson/Tolkien installment.
While the other four have editing problems because they are deliberately and obviously wasting time, The Desolation of Smaug can’t handle all of its extraneous plot threads. At times, viewers will find themselves honestly forgetting about Legolas, Gandalf or even the hobbit himself (Martin Freeman).
It’s not as offensively putrid as An Unexpected Journey, but that’s about all the good that can be said of Desolation of Smaug. There’s still absolutely no reason to watch this instead of the original Lord of the Rings movies.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. Another few months, another semester. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at email@example.com. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Be sure to come back throughout the rest of the month for reviews of Anchorman 2, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and various Oscar-bait pictures depending on when they come to the area.