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

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

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