Dec 13 2013 12:00pm

“The Tales and Songs Fall Utterly Short of Your Enormity...” The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug movie review

Kelsey and I went to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at midnight, and between our ice cream nibbles and a lot of shrieking managed to cobble together our general thoughts so you can find out what you’ve got to look forward to. And we have to say, despite some additions that weren’t too thrilling, if you’re going to miss one of these Hobbit movies, this one shouldn’t be it because HOLY SHIT DRAGON.

Ahem. Let’s get down to it.

No spoilers for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.


Kelsey Ann Barrett: We may be used to the New Zealand scenery by now, but it continues to be striking all the same, and the film is worth seeing in 3D. With the higher frame rate, it’s a beautiful, immersive experience, and I found the film as a whole even more stunning than An Unexpected Journey.

Certain action scenes, such as the barrel ride out of the Elvenking’s realm are particularly striking, as are Thranduil’s halls. Director Peter Jackson continues to play with the change of seasons to dramatic effect with the canonical autumn in Mirkwood, or the fact that Laketown is grey and icy even on the last days before winter.

I was, unfortunately, very disappointed in the character of Tauriel, despite going into the film feeling cautiously optimistic. Her characterization is flat and of course there is a love triangle, which is disappointing both in principle and execution. Her look is brilliant and she kills orcs like a pro, which is great, but her plotline was unfortunate and her acting was, for an elf, not subtle enough. Next to Pace’s restraint and Bloom’s usual clipped tones and limited facial expression, Tauriel’s reactions to pretty much everything came off as overdone.

Thranduil, on the other hand, was beautiful. I’ve always been a bit of fangirl for him, and Lee Pace brought him to life in a way that’s better than I ever could have hoped. His conversation with Thorin is perfect, and a backstory for Thranduil is hinted at, which I’m sure will be further developed in the next film. I can’t wait for that!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug movie review

I am usually one of the last people to criticize the length of any of these films, but this one does drag a bit around the middle. We really see too much of Gandalf once he leaves the company at the borders of Mirkwood. Jackson’s using Gandalf to set up a more substantial threat in the Necromancer, and while some of those scenes are perfect (and we get to see Radagast again, and he’s great, so everyone be nice) some of them really feel like padding, even when they’re interesting. The character of Azog also continues to annoy me, as he did in the first film.

Somewhat to my surprise, Bard (Luke Evans) wasn’t just a good character, he was one of the best, and most lovable. He’s brought into the story earlier and given more to do in the film than he had in the books, and the extra background and characterization is most welcome. (Insert from Emily: He’s one of those characters who you suddenly care about because his eyes are telling you secrets and you can tell he needs a cuddle.)

Beorn didn’t get any added background but it was fun to see him; his bit was pretty much straight out of the book, with only a little alteration.


Emily Asher-Perrin: I would like to echo the head-smashy sentiments about Tauriel here. She’s really not handled well, which was surprising to me only because I felt that Jackson did a very good job better realizing the scant amount of female characters from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel were all fully-realized and handled in ways that seemed relevant to the story. Perhaps I was simply annoyed with Lilly’s slight camera-mugging, which becomes more obvious when you’ve got a cast full of masterfully subtle actors.

Speaking of masters: THRANDUIL, STOP IT. I CANNOT HANDLE YOU RIGHT NOW. Actually, I sort of wanted most of the movie to be Lee Pace ninja-ing his way into everyone’s face. And his introduction was fabulous, the initial close-ups on his appearance more akin to the reveal you might expect of a dame or dutchess, which is exactly correct. His bitterness and spite are oddly ethereal, which we know to expect because elves and all, but come on, how do you make bitterness and spite ethereal? All the points to Thranduil. Come back to us, Thranduil. Don’t ever leave. Let me hug your scathing retorts.

Also, you know what I wasn’t expecting? Diversity in Middle-earth. Once we get to Lake-town we see a sampling of humanity that moves far beyond what was offered in the first Lord of the Rings films, and suddenly the world feels so much richer, more real. It’s really lovely to see this, even if it did take five whole films to finally get here. It’s not enough, but just the acknowledgement that humanity is not the same everywhere on Middle-earth is a comfort.

This tale, safe to say, has too much packed into it, but it’s really more fun to catch up with the gang now that we’re familiar with the dwarf band. It’s easier to get comfy and settle down with the popcorn. Though Gandalf’s trek goes on for too long, some of his journey is great to follow, and there are certain segments that are really aweing.

So, here’s something that perhaps no one was counting on... Smaug is legitimately terrifying. No, not just “oh, how spooky,” more I’m going to grab onto my movie-partner and squeeze their arm until they’ve lost circulation because he’s coming and I can’t handle his sly face. How they managed that when pretty much no other on-screen dragon has ever done the same is a wonder. The animation is superb, but that sells him short. Something about how Smaug moves, the structure of his face, sliding in the motion capture coming directly from Cumberbatch’s expressions... just keep him far away from me.

This might be why it’s hard to be critical that his scenes are extended so much further from what the book offers. That, and the fact that those scenes are the point at which it really becomes Bilbo’s movie. With so much going on, the poor guy does get lost for a bit, and it’s the biggest treat of all to find him again in the last act. He may not be exactly what anyone pictured when they read the book as kids, but Martin Freeman’s hesitant delivery and back-and-forth body language usurped any notions I had about this character. The way he very carefully mimics some of Ian Holms’ mannerisms from the initial trilogy is genius, especially where the Ring is concerned. And watching its immediate affect on Bilbo’s character is a smart move and chilling to boot. The uses of the Ring in this movie are just so damned clever, too, I sort of want to smack them for how clever they are. There’s a very cool thing Jackson does with the Spiders where the Ring is concerned and it’s so. very. smart.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug movie review


Some more things to get excited over:

  • The animation of the spiders is so amazing that you might never sleep again without a nightlight. Arachnophobes beware. Shut your eyes.
  • The disorientation provided in the first scenes in Mirkwood are so frightening and loopy.
  • Orlando Bloom! You get more characterization here then you got in all three Lord of the Rings films, and we’re so happy to see you! (Even if your voice is kind of an octave lower.)
  • Stephen Fry is a pitch-perfectly outrageous Lord of Lake-town with a creepy servant who is all-too reminiscent of Wormtongue.
  • Lake-town is gorgeous. All the locations are gorgeous. Middle-earth feels so expanded by this installment.
  • Balin is still here as the only sane, nice person. We love you, Balin.
  • Great, sneaky shout-out to Gimli here that is so coo-worthy.


And that’s it, everyone! Just go! Go have fun with sassy elven kings and dragons. We’ll be here waiting at the Prancing Pony when you get back. For singing, of course.

Kelsey Ann Barrett is a brooklyn-based reader and writer who prefers her stories epic and her narrative verbose. You can follow her on Twitter and read her fiction in Lightspeed Magazine. She is marrying Emily Asher-Perrin next summer because Emily actually enjoys midnight showings of movies and will tug her arm off about DRAGONS.

Nick Hlavacek
1. Nick31
Oh right, spiders. Now I'm reconsidering if I want to watch this one. Because, you know, if finding a big spider under the couch justifies burning down the entire house for safety, what do you do for giant evil spiders that talk? (Yes, take off and nuke them from orbit is the correct answer.)
2. gadget
So it is another video game on film with everyone given invented and suitably Hollywood agnsty backgrounds? No thanks.
Rancho Unicorno
3. Rancho Unicorno
I'm trying to think of a way to work in a mention of my Alamo Hobbit Double Feature (with what I'm sure was an Unexpected Extended Edition) last night, but I can't think of one. So, I'm putting it here.

I find it interesting how much we disagreed on some things. I found Lilly's performance to be tolerable. She wasn't as breathy (breathey?) as I thought Tyler was, where I kept wondering why she didn't pull out her inhaler. She was more forceful and asserting in doing what she wanted and what she thought was right.

Bloom kept the triangle from becoming irritating - he's really bloomed (haha!) as an actor over the last 12 years - by not letting romance ever get in the front seat. After my earlier praise, I now have to complain about how Lilly drove her romance thing into the ground. No sublety, nothing. Frankly it nearly made me forget how well she did elsewhere.

The barrel ride I found over the top. It was fun, but it was one of those just-a-bit-too-long scenes. I'm hoping the extended edition makes the pacing and length of the scene work a little better. I'm hard pressed to think of another scene that struck me as much as that, but I'm also working on two hours sleep after 4 hours the night before, and the whole night is a bit of a blur. The Laketown, Beorn, Mirkwood and other scenes were good, but I can't recall my exact impressions.

Everything Smaug related....I want a trilogy from his perspective. Yes, I'd even take three hours of blank screen while he's sleeping just to get it.

Oh wait - I remember one other thought. I remember being impressed with Jackson's moralizing. He can be a bit heavy-handed at times during dialogue (which my friend observed that he had forgotten how much Jackson really likes letting people monologue), but when the application shows up he lets the action do all of the talking. He leaves the viewer to ponder instead of pounding you in the skull. For which I'm greatful.
Rancho Unicorno
4. raaj
I caught an article on another site, which I've already forgotten, sorry. It states that in an interview she had specifically been promised that there would not be a love triangle, but when she was called back the studio suits had specifically required that a love triangle be inserted. I am assuming this may have something to do with her performance in the romantic scenes being of a lesser caliber than her other scenes.
Rancho Unicorno
5. Puff the Magic Commenter
And one more thing to get excited about: STEPHEN COLBERT CAMEO! Awesome.
Joseph Newton
6. crzydroid
Motion-capture face on the dragon, you say? Should be interesting.
Rancho Unicorno
7. Ragnarredbeard
"Her look is brilliant and she kills orcs like a pro, which is great, but
her plotline was unfortunate and her acting was, for an elf, not subtle
enough. Next to Pace’s restraint and Bloom’s usual clipped tones and
limited facial expression, Tauriel’s reactions to pretty much everything
came off as overdone."

And how do you know she wasn't supposed to be like that?
9. birgit
Some of the action scenes felt like they only existed to show off the 3D technology. The mines nonsense was especially superfluous. Why didn't Smaug eat some dwarves instead of just talking to them while they did stuff that makes no sense (the "boat" ride on molten metal should result in cooked dwarf)? Everybody laughed at how ridiculous some of the barrel ride scenes were.
There also was too much Legolas and Tauriel. Why do characters who aren't in the book become major characters?
I liked how they got around the talking animals problem with Bilbo hearing the spiders only when he wears the ring.
Sauron's appearance as eye and person was also well done.
The black arrows are more sensible than killing a dragon with an ordinary arrow.
The last light of Durin's day as moonlight was also a good idea.
Rancho Unicorno
10. Morgoth
The Hobbit desolation of Smaug …. (Review score 6 out of 10)

First let me say I am a huge Tolkien fan and have read every book half a dozen times as a child. Ok that being said I know not everything can’t be translated from book to film and they love to Hollywood these things up with love stories and younger takes on main charters.
On to the new movie then, PJ once again brings us such breath taking shots of middle earth it is truly stunning and makes you believe you are in middle earth truly he has a gift for capturing this aspect of the world. That being said I would like to list the pros and cons of the film from my perspective as fan of both the movies and books.
1)Breaths taking stunning shots that make you feel you’re in middle earth.
2)The side addition to the story,Gandalf’s adventure is true to Tolkien form and fits nicely and is enjoy able Mirkwood, Lake Town, the hall of the elven king and the lonely mountain are all well done.
3)The spiders were really creepy and it was cool he could understand them with ring on
4)PJ made legolas father the elf king kind of a jerk and a little greedy for dwarf jewels ( which he was in the book)
5)The addition of Radagast , legolas is not bad and adds to the film and fits nicely to the main story
6)The Dragon looked awesome and pretty evil
1)The first part of the story seems rushed and moves way too quickly. First they are with Beorn then in the woods next thing you know the spiders are there then the elves jump out and save them from the spiders. This in turn takes away from Bilbo saving them and diminishing his role so the dwarfs start to really listen to him.
2)Bard look too much like Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) from pirates of the Caribbean. He was not the grim man I thought he should have been cast as nor in this movie he the captain of the guard of Lake Town. He is just some boat man who for some reason the Master of Lake Town hated and conspired against.
3)The love triangle with the elf girl and the dwarf and legolas really did not need to be there other than to give some girl air time. The could have just left that out and had legolas have a sister that was kind of rebellious that wanted to help the dwarfs and fight the growing evil in the woods and achieved the same goal.
4)In this version Bilbo takes his ring off and talks to Smaug, why? PJ changed this and I have no idea for his reason, you could have kept it similar to the book and have Bilbo confuse the dragon with his invisible riddling. By taking that away Bilbo is once again diminished and seems less somehow.
5)Instead of cowering and making Bilbo do all the work the dwarves in this come down to help him and end up in a Scooby doo type chase with the dragon complete with a trap in the end. This once again takes away from Bilbo as the one the dwarves by this time look to for advice and guidance since the wizard is gone.
6)In the end Smaug just leaves all the dwarves and Bilbo alone in his home with all the gold and flies off to Lake Town why? If I was a dragon and had a mountain of gold I would not leave a bunch of greedy little dwarfs in my home standing right in front of me then just decide to just take off for a quick fly to burn some town. I would trap / try to kill them like in the book then go burn the town.

All in all a ok film it could have been better and PJ could have made it worse I gave it a 6 because despite all of its flaws I love middle earth and even a poor adaption of it brings me back to my childhood days.
Rancho Unicorno
11. Perrin
I just saw the movie and I missed Steven Colbert's cameo. Where was it?
Colin Bell
12. SchuylerH
@11: Your hint is: "guy with the fake eyepatch in Laketown".
Jenny Creed
13. JennyCreed
The way Thauriel acts fits right in if you assume there's a dwarf somewhere in her family tree, as well as the instant attraction with Kili.

That's all.
Rancho Unicorno
14. Sybylla
Between the amount of gold in Smaug's treasure hoard, the amount of ore in the dwarves' forge, and the size of the gold statue in the hall of the kings, I couldn't help but think that the dwarves' reclamation of Erebor will result in the utter devastation of Middle-Earth's economy.
Jenny Creed
15. JennyCreed
Unless someone writes a The Wizard of Middle Earth Oz, advocating abandoning the gold standard and leaving the dwarves with a mountain full of worthless shiny rocks. . .
Paige Vest
16. paigevest
Even with the addition of Tauriel and Legolas, I loved this movie so much more than the first... because SMAUG! He was fantastic.

The Peter Jackson cameo right off the bat cracked me up but sadly, I missed Stephen Colbert! Hey! Excuse to go watch it again! (like I really need one)
Rancho Unicorno
17. Monkat
As a friend pointed out, not only was the CGI/motion capture of the dragon phenomenally well done, but also, the camera movements as both Bilbo and the dragon are moving, sliding around on the horde, and having a terrifying "civil chat" are very well done. You have a sense of space and a sense of just how frigging enormous Smaug is, which, in turn, emphasizes just how completely insane Thorin and Company are, trying to take so much as chipped teacup from the dragon. It struck me as odd that the letters "CGI" never entered my head during that first Bilbo-Smaug encounter, while I'd been a bit disappointed and all-too-aware of CGI and greenscreen being employed during the orc-elf fights and even just the outdoors of Laketown. That dragon had my total suspension of disbelief!

It's nagging at me that by the end of this installment, neither Thorin nor Gandalf have their Elvin blades, Orcrist and Glamdring, respectively.

It bothers me to a lesser extent that Bilbo and Gandalf are both far less clever in this movie than in the book. I can see how riddles and subtleties are hard to portray on film without boring your audience, but by removing their slyness, they just end up having to make do with being stubborn.

Apparently, Dwarves only gain any sort of sense in their later years. Poor Balin must have a constant headache from all the facepalming he does.

The tweaking of the Black Arrow is genius and solves something that's been bothering me since I was 3.

The addition of Tauriel is just as awkward and unwanted as shoehorning a love-triangle into material without any female characters sounds. We cannot has wimmins without luv. *sigh* Balin, this facepalm's on me.
Rancho Unicorno
18. NickM
@1- I had to spend a few minutes in "squint eyes/peek through fingers" mode, kind of like I have to for a portion of "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey". Fortunately, unlike the latter, I wasn't being flung around the movie theater in a box.

@4- Last week there was a link on Yahoo's front page to the article you mention, but I don't remember if it could've been a Yahoo-done piece or linked off to other media.

Something I haven't noticed for this movie which was huge news a year ago: are people still experiencing sickness and/or major disappointment with the HFR flavor of 3-D? A friend of mine & I saw the first movie separately last year, we both happened to see the HFR version and both loved how it looked. With the 'sweeping travelogue' of the first movie's opening, I was surprised at first, but it only took me a few minutes to acclimate. One article at the time dissected the various possible 3-D providers and implied that "RealD" (which was the one at my theater) was the best/least offending.
Rancho Unicorno
19. T. Sedai
What do I remember from the first hobbit movie? Bilbo and Gollum.

What do I remember from the second hobbit movie? Bilbo and Smaug.

What will I remember from the third hobbit movie? Probably some scene in which Bilbo gets to be awesome.

The thing is, at the end of the day, this really is supposed to be Bilbo's story. And the movies kind of aren't. The best part of the films is when Bilbo is on screen - he really is the heart of the story (and Marten Freeman is a PERFECT Bilbo). I enjoyed many of the other actors, and, yes, Thranduil was amazingly well done, but the scenes that really stick with me are the ones that also had the most impact in the book. I feel like we are getting three good movies, and I do enjoy watching them, but I think if Jackson had focused on the story of Bilbo we could have had one really great movie, and I am sort of sad that we don't get to see that.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
20. Lisamarie
We just saw it, I was a little nervous becuase all my Tolkien nerd friends posted about how HORRIBLE it was on FB, and how Tauriel was straight out of bad fan fiction. But, in a way, I think that allowed us to go into it knowing what to expect, because my husband and I enjoyed it.

I will be honest, I was prepared to HATE Tauriel. No problem with fleshing out the world of Middle Earth and showing that, yeah, there are female characters that do things, I was just also really irritated with the whole love interest thing (if you're going to have a female character, just let her be a character instead of a love interest!), as well as the worry that she would kind of clumsily hijack the movie. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I actually don't agree with this review about her acting, I liked her, and I liked that she wasn't your typical 'breathy' Elf.

The romance aspect also wasn't as huge as I worried, at least not yet. You get the hint that Legoas has a thing for her, and then there's the whole Kili thing (which...ehhhh....I did find their banter quite funny, but the purist in me rails against it because it undercuts the relationship Gimli had with Legolas and Galadriel) but you at least get the impression that she had other reasons for wanting to hunt the orcs/defy Thranduil, and not just the romance aspect.

But, there's still a third movie to fear is that they're really going to amp it up, given that Fili and Kili are in Laketown with her instead of with the rest of the Dwarves. Fili and Kili die in the book, defending Thorin, so I wonder how that will all play out.

I actually found Legolas more of an intrusion/distraction. I loved seeing him in Mirkwood (especially his little gibe at Gloin re: Gimli) and it was fun seeing him strut his stuff, and seeing bits of his character development. But by the time we got to the Laketown battles, I was thinking, "I thought this movie was The Hobbit, not, 'The Wood Elf'". He already got his own movies!

My least favorite part was probably the battle in the foundry - while I certainly understand they needed to give the Dwarves something to do besides skulk in the mountain while Bilbo riddles with Smaug, and then he flies off to Laketown, it just went on too long, and it strained disbelief way too much (Surfing on molten gold on a METAL SHIELD? Really????). Smaug then finally flies off so the plot can get going again - and then that's the end of the movie!

Interesting that you said Beorn was just like the book, because that's actually another part I thought fell short and was quite different from the book. He was a little more gregarious, at least once they got on his good side. But I'm hoping there is more to see once we get the Extended Edition there.
Rancho Unicorno
22. Chandra26
Am I the only one that was irritated at the use of althelas/kingsfoil in this movie? It's canon that only a king can release the healing powers in it, otherwise it's just a weed. It might perk your spirits up a bit to breathe in the perfume, but otherwise, just a weed. And then some elf warrior chick uses it to heal a dwarf like that's how it's always done and I'm fuming. There better be some big reveal in the third movie that she's actually the daughter of a king or I'm going to be PISSED.
Rancho Unicorno
23. SherrySilverdog
First, let me say to Emily, I have been reading your essays on Harry Potter and I absolutely adore them. Great writing! Now, as for the Hobbit, my main issue with the movie was leaving out how Gandalf introduced the dwarves to Beorn. It was one of my favorite parts of the book, and if you are going to stretch a movie out so far that storylines and characters have to be invented to fill the space, leave the original parts of the book intact.

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