Peter Jackson at his most entertaining

I remember getting the text form my friend. He had acquired a ticket for me, a ticket to see the second film in the Hobbit trilogy (because apparently a book that is half as long as ONE of the Lord of the Rings books needs to be three times as long). I had been burned four times before. The three LOTR films and first Hobbit while good were all very long and fairly slow affairs.

Sacrificing precious sleep, I joined my buddy and watched the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in IMAX 3D on opening night. People were excited. Some were dressed as their favorite dwarf or wood elf.

But was the movie any good? You bet.

A change of pace

Movies by Peter Jackson have a generally assumed format. They are all very long, with extended periods of exposition. It might be decent exposition, but action scenes are few and far between.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will certainly not win any awards for brevity. But it is a MUCH FASTER movie than anything Jackson has ever done. Most of the 2 hours and 45 minutes that make up the run time are spent in battle with orcs or the great dragon referenced in the title of the movie.

In fact I don’t remember there being so much action in the book. They may have added entire battle scenes to pad the movie.

Still it is worthy to note that the Desolation of Smaug is worth watching, even if you typically take a pillow to one of these events.

The dopey dwarves

It is not fault of the movie, but the dwarves are just not the strong cast of characters trekking around the countryside that the mixed-race LOTR heroes are.

Some of the dwarves are so forgettable, that I did not know their names nor did I care about who they were or what they were doing on the quest.

Only two of the dwarves are highlighted, one being the king of dwarves and the other being the love interest of a sexy wood elf who is loyal to the kingdom yet cannot marry Legolas.

The Hobbit and the Dragon

The later portion of the movie focuses on the interactions between Bilbo Baggins and the dragon Smaug. Only, unlike the book, Baggins comes off as terrified and cowardly. In the original story, Baggins has overcome so much adversity and is coming into his own with the “one ring”.

None of the wit or riddles are presented here. Instead, the dragon simply plays with Bilbo as the hairy-footed adventurer snowboards across mountains of CG gold pieces. There is a lot of visual flair, but no emotional impact.

When the dwarves finally decide to join the battle against the beast, the movie becomes even more reckless and “movie-y”.

I’m not against a good popcorn flick, but I found it interesting that a studio so true to source material would change this moment so much. I am not trying to suggest that this movie HAS to appeal to the readership, but I believe that the conversation between Bilbo and Smaug is such a strong moment in literature. I would have liked to have seen it in the movie as well.

There and Back Again

Seeing the first movie in the trilogy isn’t even much of a requirement. The beginning of the movie chronicles what happened in the first movie quite well.

Is it even worth talking about presentation?

Another element of Peter Jackson movies that carries through is the strong audio/visual experience. We have come to expect the gorgeous vistas of New Zealand and the emotional score of Howard Shore. The Desolation of Smaug has all of this.

One thing I noticed was the push away from natural make up and sets and towards CG work.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Lord of the Rings series was the fact that most of the movie was shot with real people in makeup. A lot of the creatures and things in this movie just feel a bit fake and uncanny.

I spent some serious time bashing this movie

But the Desolation of Smaug really is one of the best, if not THE best Jackson fantasy tale yet. It is quick-moving and fun from start to finish. It features romance and action and adventure unlike any movie in the last while (probably since the last Hobbit movie).

The strongest recommendation I can give the movie is it made me want to fire up my kindle and reread the Hobbit.

As the Hobbit was my favorite of these books to read as a kid, it is fitting that I had the most fun this holiday watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Thanks for reading the review, here is some trivia:

Pay attention to the first few moments of the movie. The gentleman who walks out of the pub in the opening shot and takes a chomp out of a turnip (or something) is none other than director Peter Jackson. Pretty cool.