The Hobbit Part II: Completely pointless, but hey, cool dragon, bro

the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug-posterThis is one of those reviews where I totally know every counter-argument you will throw at me, so let me begin by laying down one, single ground rule. To wit: If your rebuttal involves the words “in the books”, don’t bother. We’re not here to talk about JRR Tolkien’s books, we’re here to talk about the movies Peter Jackson is adapting from those books. I’ve already heard a bunch of “in the books” arguments attempting to defend The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and, as the meme says, I ain’t got time for that shit. I’m not talking about the books. I’m talking about this movie. So let’s talk about this movie and why it has one of the worst endings ever and also why I think Peter Jackson might be losing his fucking mind.

First, there are many things to admire about the second installment in Jackson’s completely pointless three-part Hobbit trilogy. (Note that I said admire and not like—it’s impossible to like this movie.) The production values are as insane as they have ever been coming from Jackson’s in-house Weta Workshop. Swords have that hand-forged look (and undoubtedly are); costumes are beautiful and textured; practical sets look like real architecture, not like a bunch of foam molds; the CGI is, 99% of the time, completely believable even in the most fantastical settings (I’m not holding shitty CG water against Jackson because no one gets that right); the acting ranges from good to very good (read: Martin Freeman is excellent, Ian McKellan is never a disappointment, Lee Pace and Luke Evans were practically in another movie they were so interesting, and I wish Richard Armitage had more to do than glower); and the cinematography features many lovely landscape shots.

Seriously, the dragon is VERY cool.
Seriously, the dragon is VERY cool.

Now, let’s get into why this movie blew anyway. Basically, it’s this: More things happen, action-wise, than in the interminably boring Unexpected Journey, but less stuff happened plot-wise, and the result was a frustrating movie that hinted at other, more interesting stories and then ended with a big runny shit taken right in the audience’s face.

Through four LOTR movies, Jackson did a good job of setting up goals that had to be accomplished before the group could move onto the next phase in getting to whatever mountain they’re walking toward. Even Unexpected Journey, which was so boring I had to fight sleep for two out of its three hours, had the adventure in the caves and Bilbo finding the ring. The LOTR movies never had completely actualized endings because they’re always getting to the next point on the map, but Jackson did a good job of making each film about a specific event and then wrapping up that event.

It's going to take a lot of booze to make Thranduil forget about this terrible ending.
It’s going to take a lot of booze to make Thranduil forget about this terrible ending.

I heard a nerd trying to excuse Smaug’s shitty ending to his non-nerd friends by comparing it to Two Towers, but the problem with that is that while, yes, Two Towers wasn’t a “finished” ending, the movie’s main plot was satisfactorily culminated by the Battle of Helm’s Deep. The problem with Smaug is that not one of its plots has any ending at all. The movie is three hours of setup, setup, setup, and then NOTHING HAPPENS. Not one thing is resolved, nothing is accomplished, and there’s no payoff anywhere. It’s extremely dissatisfying and you don’t have to be a particularly savvy audience to pick up on it.

The Hobbit never should have been split into three pieces. Hell, it shouldn’t have been split into two. But REALLY, not three. There just isn’t enough material to sustain it. Smaug has good action sequences—the third-act arrival of the dragon himself is very exciting, but I also enjoyed Legolas single-handedly taking on a gang of orcs in Laketown, especially when he got into a flat-out fistfight with one of them—but in between them are long expanses of nothing of note, and then being cheated out of any resolution divorces you from the events you’ve just seen, thus rendering everything, no matter how well staged, completely pointless. And that’s Smaug in a nutshell: Completely pointless.

You know what wouldn't be pointless? A movie about this guy.
You know what wouldn’t be pointless? A movie about this guy.

About Jackson losing his mind. He has always been a measured and controlled director, but at several points in Smaug he demonstrated such gracelessness as to be concerning. Part of the barrel chase scene looked like it was filmed with a GoPro, but the real concern are the spectacularly bad transitions. A number of his cutaways are so sudden they’re outright jarring and there’s one interstitial shot involving a herd of ponies that is UTTERLY LUDICROUS. It’s like he entirely forgot how to manage a smooth cut from one scene to the next, and then just shouted, “MORE PONIES!” at his poor editor (Jabez Olssen, a frequent collaborator). Maybe that’s the key, though. Maybe all Smaug needed was more ponies. …No, I’m pretty sure it was the ending. It needed an actual ending.

Random Thoughts

  • Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) was easily the most compelling character in the movie and it’s a shame Smaug wasn’t all about him struggling to raise his family and also redeem the past failures of his ancestors.
  • Similarly, I could’ve watched a movie about how Thranduil (Lee Pace) got half his face melted off that one time.
  • No wonder everyone seems to hate dwarves: They’re complete dicks about EVERYTHING.
  • I still don’t know the dwarves’ names. They’re something like, Fifi, Foofoo, Dodo, Bobo, Riki, Tiki, Tavi, TitTit and KitKat. Tolkien fans would revolt but the movies would have been better off with half as many dwarves.
  • Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is clearly going to dump Legolas for KitKat. Also, good GOD, Lilly cannot act.

7 thoughts on “The Hobbit Part II: Completely pointless, but hey, cool dragon, bro

  1. Anna

    Oh God, I hated this movie. And I’m a fan. Of the books, of the LOTR movies, I actually loved An Unexpected Journey. But this movie just made me angry. My friends – also fans – loved it so I have no one to rant to, so I’m afraid I’ll use this space. 😉

    There’s two necessary sequences in that movie: the barrel escape and the stuff with Smaug. Everything else was completely pointless and useless. You mentioned the book argument – yeah, they put in Beorn and the spiders but they made those scenes awful anyway, so what was even the point?!

    There’s no reason for Legolas to be there, no matter how cool his fight moves are. Or Tauriel – I appreciate a female character, but not “Arwen who fights, now with a bonus love triangle!!!!”. Why on earth were there so many scenes with Stephen Fry and his creepy sidekick?! And the whole business with the Necromancer and Radagast and the orcs was just boring me to tears… I actually started paying attention to the people around me at the cinema.

    The first time I checked my watch only 30 mins had passed. I ran from the theatre as soon as it was over, fuming. I was so angry at how bad everything leading up to the non-ending was that it didn’t even bother me that much, I was just so glad it was all over. Everything was pointless and stupid. And it could’ve been done in an hour, tops.

    1. The spiders actually really got to me. I fucking HATE spiders, so that whole part was profoundly upsetting to me. And I liked the bit about him getting the sword’s name from the spider. But yeah, I could have lost the whole part with the bear-man. We don’t need to be told that orcs suck. We already know that.

  2. Ash

    I watched the film yesterday and really enjoyed it.
    I’m a huge fan of the books and would have happily sat through another hour of filler, with endless shots of the landscapes, sets and characters constantly running, eating and glowering at one another.

    That love triangle was weird though.

    And Legolas did not need to be in the movie, certainly not for such an extended role. He was in almost every Tauriel scene. If you introduce a sole female character for the story, don’t saddle her with an unnecessary male counterpart. Everthing about Tauriel’s storyline was connected to either Legolas or KitKat (bahahaha). I wish they would have explored her anger at Thranduil and her desire to help others without bringing luuurve into it (which they seem to have done just because they wanted a romantic angle and she’s a woman).

    1. I didn’t get the whole Tauriel/Thranduil thing, so I would have been happy if the elf-time was devoted to that and not a love triangle. But God forbid there be a strong female character in a movie that isn’t embroiled in a love triangle right?

  3. I agree with what everyone has pointed out. All I have to add is that it’s hinted when Tauriel is flirting with Kitkat (ha!) in the dungeon that there’s a practically an orgy upstairs — and we don’t even get a look! We see guards getting drunk, but no Thranduil twerking while getting shitfaced on pinot noir?
    Goodness gracious, Lee Pace is gorgeous. At least he gets more time in the next installment.

  4. Megan

    My god, the part about the ponies. I remember watching that and thinking “wtf? Must have been thrown in to show PETA, ‘hey, we love animals'” I, too, am in the same boat as those above, read the books, loved the movies, etc but that ending pissed not only me off but the whole theater I was in! I also could have watched a whole movie with just Pace and Evans characters. And yes, this movie just proved that Lilly can’t act which made me sad.

  5. Emily

    I saw this yesterday and agree with pretty much all of your analysis. It just felt so padded. And jackson’s tendency to try to milk every last drop of draaaammmmaaa out of every single moment has the effect of flattening the emotional landscape instead of heightening it.

    Also, the stakes are so schizophrenic! On the one hand you have the devastatingly sad remains of the dwarves who couldn’t escape Smaug, and then you have the big Rube Goldplating finale. It’s frankly insulting.

    Since they showed they are willing to tweak the source material, it’s a shame they couldn’t do it more sensibly.

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