This 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- MORE PONIES.