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Movie Review: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ is a Step up from Last Year’s ‘The Unexpected Journey’

by Bob Garver

Dec. 16, 2013. I gave up on movies about Hobbits being any good a long time ago. To me, Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy from the last decade was ridiculous, overrated, and ridiculously overrated. Now in this new decade I have another Jackson trilogy to deal with in “The Hobbit.” I knew things were still shabby last year when I saw “An Unexpected Journey” and it made me as miserable as ever with its confusing story, unfunny comedy, dubious motivations and awful, awful special effects.

So my attitude going into “The Desolation of Smaug” was, in a word, negative. The bad thing about having a negative attitude is that it makes you unhappy and it affects the mood of people around you. The good thing about having a negative attitude is that it can only set you up for pleasant surprises.

And there are a few pleasant surprises in this film. The plot is easier to follow, the jokes work a tad better and the dreadful special effects are at least used with imagination. I can’t say that any of this makes the film good, but I can say that it’s an improvement. 

The story once again follows the adventures of hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he assists a company of dwarves on their quest to defeat the evil dragon Smaug and return the kingdom of Erebor to rightful king Thorin (Richard Armitage). This installment sees Bilbo and the dwarves fight Orcs, evade elves and confront Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). The company is aided by the ever-loyal Galdalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) and a reluctant bargeman named Bard (Luke Evans). They encounter eleves as well, including familiar face Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and newcomer Tauriel (Evangeline Lily). There’s also the small matter of Bilbo secretly having the power of the One Ring. I know it all sounds like a lot to take in, but most of these elements are introduced in the last movie and are pretty easy to swallow this time around. 

The problems with the film are roughly the same as always: it’s too long, the special effects are unconvincing, it’s too long, a lot of the subplots are uninteresting, and of course, it’s too long. But I did notice two problems unique to this film. First, Bilbo is uncharacteristically quick to pull out his weapon in battle, which goes against his timid nature even if the Ring is slowly corrupting him. Second and more aggravating is that Smaug is a terrible character. All he does is boast about how easily he’s killed people in the past and how easy it will be for him to kill our heroes now. He’s the embodiment of that mockable villain trope of talking endlessly about his inevitable victory instead of just roasting the hero while he has a chance. 

I did say there were a few good things about this film. For example, I think it ends on a decent cliffhanger. Unlike the other Peter Jackson hobbit films that I was just glad to see end, this time I was genuinely wondering about the characters’ fates (except Bilbo, Gandalf and Legolas of course). The best reason to see this film is an action sequence about halfway through that features the dwarves in barrels that I just think is a hoot. The special effects may be a joke, but the creative impossibilities in this scene are too fun to scrutinize. My favorite was a split-leg gag that Jean-Claude Van Damme would call over-the-top.

The best thing I can say for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is that it’s a dumb, fun movie. This is a step up from the previous Peter Jackson hobbit films that I would label as dumb, painful movies. I’m going to have a slightly more positive attitude going into next year’s “Hobbit” entry “There and Back Again” which may or may not be a good thing.

Two stars out of five.