I hated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I’m on record, since I wrote about it on the old blog. I even named it one of the worst movies of 2012. I was so angry at how incredibly boring and lifeless the movie was that I swore I wouldn’t watch any more installments in Peter Jackson’s massive cash-gran project. So why, then, did I watch The Desolation of Smaug? Well, I was doing well pretending this movie didn’t exist until I started hearing that the movie was actually pretty good. And not just from anyone, but from trusted sources! More specifically, it was David Ehrlich’s enthusiastic response. In case you don’t know him, Ehrlich has become one of my favorite movie critics. He knows a lot about film, and for the most part has impeccable taste, but we all make mistakes. His is thinking this movie is good, mine is having watched it.
Let’s get things straight from the beginning, though. Yes, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is indeed better than An Unexpected Journey, but that, you must know, is a ridiculously low bar to cross. Still, there is one scene in The Desolation of Smaug that is, well, kind of great. In it our title hero and his dwarf companions stage an escape that involves barrels, elves and orcs. The scene has been mentioned in every review I’ve written, and with good reason, because it is a phenomenal action sequence as impressive as the long-shot extravaganzas of the Jackson-produced The Adventures of Tintin. Most of the positive reviews of the movie point to that scene to support their claim that it is a good movie. The truth of the matter, however, is that that fantastic scene is the only good part of the movie. The rest, is just as dull as its predecessor.
As with the first Hobbit, my experience watching this movie was so tedious that I found myself zoning out and about to fall asleep many times. I watched the movie a couple hours ago, and still, I can’t really remember a lot of it. The whole thing feels weirdly dreamy and hazy in my memory, as if it was just an overlong, boring, dream. Nothing of what I’m about to say is particularly new or original, but it bears repeating, these movies don’t work because there’s no reason why a light adventure like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and a bunch of appendices from The Lord of the Rings should have such an epic and grand tone to them. Because they’re a pastiche of different works (and Peter Jackson’s imagination), they feel unfocused. There isn’t any urgency to Bilbo’s story, so we spend a lot of time with other characters that are simply not interesting.
There is Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf that is supposed to be this trilogy’s Aragorn, who wants to reclaim his throne and is kind of a cypher. I don’t know how we could sympathize with such an uncharismatic and cold character. We also get to see some of the characters that we already know from the old trilogy in Gandalf and Legolas, but they don’t have much to do. Peter Jackson seems to sweating and stretching to get as much stuff as he can into these movies in hope that they will feel like a story, but all they are is just a bunch of things happening. After I watched the first movie I thought it might be the pacing that was bringing this whole enterprise down, but after watching The Desolation of Smaug, I think there are deeper problems than that.
I’m tempted to say I won’t watch There and Back Again when it comes out next year, but then again, I was so convinced I wasn’t going to watch Smaug and here I am. This time, though, I think I better stick to my plan, lest these movies end up ruining my enjoyment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Grade: 3 out of 10