Movie review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Review by Joshua S Hill

Living in Australia I was already unlucky enough to have to wait until Boxing Day for the national release of the ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’, but thanks to a stroke of luck I was able to attend the movie premiere on Tuesday night in one of Melbourne’s oldest and coolest theatres. So it may not be the world’s earliest review of the year’s most-anticipated movie, but I guarantee you that it’ll be one of the few that actually remembered the reality of the book it was adapted from.

Doing a healthy rating of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, and an even healthier 8.5 on IMDB, The Desolation of Smaug is everything fans wanted from the second movie in the Hobbit trilogy – action packed, less bloat, and lots of fun! Walking out of the theatre, my brief Twitter review went as follows:

“’The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug’ Twitter review – Selfish directing and screenwriting but brilliant execution.”

And it was just that: the cinematography, special effects, acting, locations, prop work, set design, are all first class. There is no time throughout this movie where I could stop and work out how they had done the scale-work between Thorin and Bard, or Tauriel and Kili, and for all I know Weta Workshop may very well have managed to create their very own alternate-dimension wherein Tolkien’s Legendarium exists, allowing them to simply steal the equipment and orcs they needed to make this movie feel real.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug poster

As a movie independent of any literature, The Desolation of Smaug is wonderful.

But I am a Tolkien fan. More than that, I am a budding Tolkien scholar, and I have studied Tolkien’s work and the study of his work for many years now. I know what I’m talking about when I tell you Azog the Defiler died nearly 150 years before the events of The Hobbit take place, and I know why it was that there were very few leading females in Tolkien’s work.

So when people complain that they’ve stretched ‘The Hobbit’ into three movies, I sit and look at them and wonder whether they’ve ever actually read The Hobbit in the first place. For example, in the second chapter of the book Tolkien uses approximately 4 paragraphs to span a month’s worth of travel, and moving into events that take place within the purview of the second movie, the time it took the dwarves in their barrels to traverse the entire length of the river and land on the banks of Laketown takes approximately 6 pages of exposition dealing primarily with scenery and Bilbo’s developing cold-like symptoms.

The simple fact is that Tolkien did not write The Hobbit in the same way that he wrote ‘The Lord of the Rings’, and if he did – with extended dialogue, exposition, and description – I suggest that The Hobbit would have read somewhere in the same length of The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is a children’s book, built in the same style as every children’s book ever – i.e., written for those with short attention spans who want to be entertained the whole time.

So scenes within The Desolation of Smaug which don’t appear in the book – such as Gandalf in Dol Guldur, and Bard’s troubles in Laketown – are necessary for a movie which doesn’t have the benefit of exposition and inner-monologue. Expanding scenes such as the barrel journey and the dwarves adventures within The Lonely Mountain – while somewhat gratuitous – make sense in the context of feature length films. And while some might dislike the idea of a romance popping up in the middle of a Tolkien children’s book, Peter Jackson and co. have actually created a very Tolkienesque romance, based on the differences (and lack thereof) between two races we have never encountered in our lives.

Yes I felt that Thorin’s adventures with the dragon were unnecessary, and I still don’t understand why they felt the need to split the company – not to mention my continuing dislike of Azog’s involvement – but in the face of logical storytelling, a story very much in the vein of Tolkien’s Legendarium, a wonderful romance (I’m a sucker, I’ll admit it), and a brilliantly executed action fantasy film, I can’t actually find myself disliking the movie.

It may not be the adaptation of The Hobbit we wanted, but then again, we wanted to see Tom Bombadil as well, and in hindsight we all know that wouldn’t have translated to … any medium, whatsoever.


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