The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is Saved by Two Extraordinary Performances

A familiar feeling came over me a third of the way through The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It was reminiscent of what happened during last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I became blanketed with a thin layer of disappointment. It is difficult not to immediately compare The Hobbit Trilogy to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Unfortunately, for The Hobbit, there is no real comparison.

The main ailment plaguing Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy is that it’s been made into a trilogy. As the second movie has now been released, it is becoming clear that The Hobbit would be told with more effectiveness as a two part movie series instead of stretched into three. And when you stretch something, it becomes thin in areas. One of those areas is following Gandalf on his adventures away from the group to seek out the Necromancer. The other is much of the film’s beginning following the dwarves and Bilbo as they are being pursued by Azog and his band of Orcs.

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While this had definite potential for excitement, the pursuit falls right on the heels of the fiery climax in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Thus, as the beginning of a second installment, it falls flat. I wasn’t immediately pulled into Middle Earth, which I desperately wanted to be. I had to meander around, as with the characters. The dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf take refuge from Azog with Beorn, as skin-changer, who is first introduced as a bear, then later a very tall and hairy man. While Beorn is an interesting character, he slows the pace of the film’s opening half hour.

Luckily for those viewing the film, our companions make it to Mirkwood and enter the forest only to be tangled up with some nasty gigantic spiders. At this moment, I had finally entered Middle Earth. Suspense had spun its way into the story-line and I was enthralled. One of the most enjoyable moments in this sequence comes from the spiders themselves. Their high-pitched repetitive dialogue not only reminded me of the book, but also the 1977 animated feature of The Hobbit. Yet, a new character, somewhat controversial to lovers of all things Tolkien, is the one who begins to truly save The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Evangeline Lilly plays Tauriel, an elf who is as skilled with the blade and bow as she is showing us true emotion. Tauriel is not in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. She was created by Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh to bring a female presence into a male dominated cast. While I was suspicious of this insertion, she was needed. And when I say she, I’m writing more about Lilly herself. On screen, her presence pulls the film of out its meandering malaise. She injects both life into the film but a humanness to the otherwise wooden elves. While I am partial to Lilly due to my previous obsession with LOST, she has an immediate connection with the audience, something lacking by many of the other characters.

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The next clear savior of the film is Smaug, the dragon himself. I have watched countless films with computer generated characters, yet I have never seen one not only so life-like, but seamless in how he’s presented. Not once did I believe Smaug wasn’t real. This is a true testament to both the creative team working on the dragon and also how far computer technology has come. It makes me begin salivating for what the dinosaurs will look like in the upcoming Jurassic World. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a terrific performance as the voice for Smaug. He is what you think he’d be: menacing, dominant and fickle. The best part about Smaug is the time we get to spend with him. Never did it feel shortchanged.

Overall, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a good film. While it does meander too much with side adventures that never propel the story forward and would be better off left to the Extended Versions when the film comes to DVD, Jackson still taps into enough adventure, suspense and wonder to pull the film off with modest success. But without Evangeline Lilly and the wonderfully created Smaug, I think this middle act would have been far too bloated for my liking.

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  • Guest User

    This movie was brilliant, this article is sh**

  • Mike

    Movie was fine, not sure what the author means by stretching it out over 3 movies you stretch it too thin, heck if anything there was too much in the movie. I didn’t care for the length as a theater watch (same can be said about all the other ones too unfortunately). Only real comparison I have between the two sets is that the dwarfs are not really all that memorable of characters.

  • Mike

    Movie was fine, not sure what the author means by stretching it out over 3 movies you stretch it too thin, heck if anything there was too much in the movie. I didn’t care for the length as a theater watch (same can be said about all the other ones too unfortunately). Only real comparison I have between the two sets is that the dwarfs are not really all that memorable of characters.

  • Luke

    Good article. I went to the cinema to watch this at the weekend. Although I am a HUGE lord of the rings fan, this film definitely seemed to drag on and was borderline boring in places.
    It got to the point where I just wanted the movie to hurry up and end. With all the extra nonsense they’ve crammed in to bulk it out in to the trilogy, it becomes tiresome. Its a shame really as I was really looking forward to it.
    Still, it wasn’t all bad. The parts that were actually from the book were good.

    I’d give it a 6 out of 10.

  • STREET

    Smaug was fantastic and can’t fault most of the movie. But the last thirty minutes of the movie the entire effects team seemed to be concentrating on the dragon and leaving other effects either unfinished or to the apprentices. All of the effects involving the liquid gold looked to have been done sometime in the late 1990’s. When you can make fictional things like orcs dragons and giant spiders look as convincing as they did here it’s a bit of a let down when other effect look so bad.

  • Jacob

    I agree with the point about smaug being really well done, but I don’t agree about Tauriel. While Lilly plays her well, she seems an unnecessary addition. The love story between her and the dwarf is vastly overplayed and distracts from the story for me. I was not against her being a character, but I thought they tried to make too much of a character that they created on their own. Ultimately, I care about Bilbo and the dwarves, not a made up love triangle. The Hobbit is a story about Bilbo Baggins, not a romance between an elf and a dwarf. It’s easy to forget that when watching the film.

  • Jacob

    I agree with the point about smaug being really well done, but I don’t agree about Tauriel. While Lilly plays her well, she seems an unnecessary addition. The love story between her and the dwarf is vastly overplayed and distracts from the story for me. I was not against her being a character, but I thought they tried to make too much of a character that they created on their own. Ultimately, I care about Bilbo and the dwarves, not a made up love triangle. The Hobbit is a story about Bilbo Baggins, not a romance between an elf and a dwarf. It’s easy to forget that when watching the film.