It is a truth universally acknowledged that dragons are awesome.
I mean, what’s not awesome about dragons? They’re giant, winged, fire-breathing lizards. They may or may not have two heads.
They are pretty much automatically the best thing about whatever they are in.
Such is the case with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson’s second installment in the Hobbit trilogy that everybody everywhere except for greedy movie studio executives agrees should have been one movie instead of three.
It is extremely apparent in Desolation of Smaug (I’m going to call it TDOS for short) that a 300-page book does NOT need to made into three movies that are all nearly three hours long. Again, this is something that is immediately obvious to everyone except movie studio executives, whose eyes probably turned into dollar signs at the prospect of another Tolkien-based trilogy. Admittedly, it worked, since both of the first two movies made about a billion dollars apiece.
I’m not going to go into the plot much, because somehow there is way too much of it, and at the same time there is really none at all. The movie is 161 minutes long, and by the end of it I felt hard-pressed to really recall anything important that had happened.
Much is made of the Arkenstone and the King Under the Mountain and there are elves and orcs all over the place, but I found it really hard to care about any of it.
The problem is that the movie really doesn’t give you enough reason to care about any of it. We all already know how the Lord of the Rings saga plays out, and it is just really really hard to give much of a crap about a bunch of dwarves. Let’s face it, dwarves are kind of boring. There are too many of them, their names are too similar, and it is difficult to care about them individually. The movie tries to get you to care, but for me it just didn’t work. Why is the dwarf-quest important? I dunno, and the movie doesn’t really seem to know either.
But hey, what about that dragon right?
Admittedly, the dragon is awesome. I would have included him on my annual villain round-up, but I hadn’t seen the movie when I wrote that so Smaug was not included. Well, consider him retroactively included, because the filmmakers did a fantastic job bringing Smaug to life in the movie.
He looks great and he sounds great. Benedict Cumberbatch (who also played one of my other favorite villains in 2013) voiced a pretty awesome dragon. He moves how you would imagine a massive winged beast would move and he has a real sense of size and scale. His fire-breathing is so cool you might be afraid you’ll get singed. Every movie dragon should be this badass.
The entire movie is a technical triumph, really. Everything in it looks and sounds pretty much flawless. The special effects, costumes, sets, makeup, etc. are all absolutely top-notch.
It really is a shame that they are all in service of a story that feels so insubstantial. A lot of stuff happens in the movie, but to me it ultimately felt like a whole lot of nothing, the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy: nice enough while it lasts, but quickly fades.
The movie is watchable enough, I suppose. There’s plenty of eye candy, but Peter Jackson seems to have forgotten the story in service of the spectacle. The first Hobbit movie had many of the same flaws as this one, but ultimately I found it to be much more compelling than the second one. It also had the advantage of Gollum, whose scene with Bilbo was a highlight of the movie.
The acting is good, but the two most compelling characters (Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Martin Freeman as Bilbo) don’t get enough to do in TDOS. It’s mostly just dwarves. Orlando Bloom also shows up as Legolas, who does pretty much nothing but kick ass. Seriously, he’s fighting in pretty much every scene he’s in, which is cool and all, but beyond that, there’s no real reason for him to be in the movie.
The action sequences are exciting, I really liked the scene where the dwarves are floating down the river in barrels and being attacked by orcs, but the climactic Smaug battle that takes up much of the last 30-45 minutes of the movie certainly looks great (unsurprisingly) but it goes on too long. It’s full of clanking gears and vats of molten metal and great gouts of flames and conveniently placed chains dangling from the ceiling, but the sense of spatial awareness is off and it is hard to tell where things are in relation to each other, which makes it hard to follow what is even going on.
After spending 2 hours and 41 minutes watching the movie, I did not expect to feel so underwhelmed. And what the hell is even left for a third movie? I’m deluding myself if I say I’m not going to see the third movie, because of course I am at some point or another, but I’m not going to be counting down the days till its release.
Oh, well. At least dragons will never stop being cool.