At this point, it’s not really a question of if Peter Jackson can make a good J.R.R. Tolkien movie. He can.
But while everybody wondered how they would fit the whole “Lord of the Rings” trilogy into just three movies, the worry with “The Hobbit” has been how one book would stretch into three lengthy films.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is proof that there’s plenty of source material to adapt, though not without one big problem.
First, the good: “DoS” is a highly entertaining, well-acted, and action-packed film. If the “Lord of the Rings” movies were dinged for too much walking, this movie is much happier to showcase in-depth fight scenes.
After the initial scene–a bit of backstory on Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and Gandalf (Ian McKellan)–the film jumps right back in where the first left off. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves are on the run from a party of orcs. When Bilbo spots something else, like a bear but bigger, the group finds themselves in a mad dash to the home of Beorn.
In the sense of the larger story, this is just a pit stop, but it’s these slower moments when Freeman really shines. While he’s often asked to perform humorously in action scenes, he’s given the freedom to explore the mannerisms and motivations of Bilbo. We’re already seeing his obsession with the ring (which is made much more explicit in the first three films by Ian Holm).
Not to slur this movie by association, but “The Hobbit” has to overcome the same problems as the “Star Wars” prequels. We know this is a prelude, as entertaining as it is. So it falls to the actors to find ways to provide real stakes for their characters when so much of their future is already known.
That said, so many of us have read this book so we even know the beats that are coming. No one had any idea what was coming in “Attack of the Clones” and it was BORING. I know exactly where “The Desolation of Smaug” is going and it’s still riveting. That’s down to a great story, incredible production values, and strong acting and direction.
I honest-to-god loved this movie. The spider fight? Terrifying and brilliant. Watching the savagery of Bilbo when he lost his ring was educational. I wish the elvish kingdom of Thranduil had been a little grander, but watching Lee Pace vamp as the burned king was enthralling.
The river ride and the orcs vs. elves battles may have lasted a little longer than necessary, but with plenty of action and quipping, it certainly wasn’t boring.
Is it weird that I’d watch an entire movie about Bard (Luke Evans)? I don’t think so. That’s what’s so great about adapting such a deep book–there are stories you want to hear that you’ll probably never get to see.
But, c’mon, the star of the show is Smaug. That monstrous dragon, brought to life by CGI and the incredible voice acting of Benedict Cumberbatch, is exactly what I was waiting to see. The scale alone is intimidating, but with the pained voice and sharp tongue of Cumberbatch, he becomes the most interesting character of the film instantly.
It’s funny to think about how the work Freeman and Cumberbatch do on “Sherlock” carries over here, but it’s nice to see that Smaug shows more vulnerability as a dragon than Holmes ever could.
Smaug is clearly waiting for the right time to kill Bilbo, but he’s enjoying the company and the wordplay. It’s fascinating and entertaining and it’s almost a shame with the other dwarves intervene.
And here is the real problem with “DoS”: it ends. I don’t mind a cliffhanger, I guess, but this is an awfully big one and a fairly sudden ending. If the goal was to be the Middle Earth version of “The Sopranos” finale, well, congrats.
You’re going to go see this movie. Everybody is going to see this movie. It’s a damn Peter Jackson/J.R.R. Tolkien movie. It’s not perfect, but damn if it isn’t fun. And damn if I’m not waiting eagerly for the next one to get here.
I give “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” 8 out of 10 rapidly aging Orlando Blooms.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.