Constant action, little story in ‘Desolation of Smaug’
WITH THE ADDITION OF “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION of Smaug” to the “Hobbit” trilogy, we now have nearly six hours of dwarves battling orcs and spiders, lots of running and climbing and stumbling through the picturesque landscape of Middle Earth, and one giant deep-voiced dragon performed by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The book original is around 320 pages or so, depending on the print, and an average reader could likely finish reading the story before final scenes of the second chapter of the film trilogy soar into view on the big screen. Suffice to say, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” has an inordinate amount of extraneous minutiae not found in the source—Jackson has evidently pulled as much background material from other sources such as “The Silmarillion” as from the original story, in a desperate attempt to pad the movies into three chapters.
Neither film resembles the story I remember from my childhood. For a film entitled “The Hobbit,” Bilbo Baggins seems to have taken a backseat to the more colorful, more action-packed characters that were popular in the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The result is a fairy tale without whimsy, without song, and without consequence.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” picks up where the first film left off, in which we follow a company of 12 dwarves with names like Fili and Kili, Bofur and Bombur, Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen. Of course, bringing up the rear is our supposed hero, Bilbo, the hobbit who stole the One Ring that will later be passed to his nephew Frodo, the hero of “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
The dwarves are on their way to the Lonely Mountain to recover their lost kingdom from a deadly dragon named Smaug. The first film teased the awakening of the dragon, and here we are finally introduced to the giant flying lizard, which features a booming voice and a belly that glows red before it breathes fire. The climax of the film (which doesn’t have much in the way of rising or falling action, choosing instead to run at a frantic pace throughout) features a full confrontation between the dwarves and the dragon.
The book, of course, has an invisible Bilbo sneaking into the dragon hoard, having a conversation with the dragon, and then sneaking back out, but Peter Jackson and crew couldn’t stomach such a banal sequence, so they inserted yet another Indiana Jones-like chase through the underground mines of the dwarves.
The easiest way to describe this film is to call it “busy.” The audience is given no opportunity to catch its breath—the company is chased from one side of the screen to the other constantly. At times it’s like watching an episode of “Scooby Doo.” The dwarves run in one door being chased by elves only to be chased by orcs out another, accompanied by a swelling orchestral score rather than 1970’s pop tunes.
Jackson also shoehorns in popular characters from the previous trilogy, dropping Orlando Bloom into the cast to reprise Legolas. He does amazing things and foreshadows later (earlier?) events like the meeting of Gimli. All of this is unnecessary. One or two of the more attractive dwarves get some cursory characterization, a hint of a love story between dwarf and elf, but very little time is spent in character development.
There is no time to create meaningful characters when there’s so much CGI to plan. The film might as well be animated—many of the scenes are cut together and real character interaction is slim to none. Where the “Lord of Rings” trilogy had a good balance of realism with rendered graphics, “The Hobbit” has swung too far in the wrong direction.
Of course, much like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it’s hard to judge the entire series without seeing the final chapter. These three films are really meant to be one work. The excessive length of “The Hobbit” is an example of the cynical, money-driven, exploitation of Tolkien enthusiasts.
There is a built-in audience for these films, who will see them regardless of quality. Slap on an additional charge for 3D and the film is a guaranteed blockbuster.
Mountains of gold await Warner Brothers and company with every release. They should be careful, however. Too much gold attracts dragons.