The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Is… Pretty

If you’ve watched the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, part two won’t surprise you. While it has more action than the first, it has the same strengths – and weaknesses. If you’re looking for a powerful and gripping story you’ll be disappointed. But if you want to sit back and enjoy some simple entertainment, it will do the trick.

Plot and Pacing 

barrelsUnlike the first movie, The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t feel like a short story collection. It’s just an overly long plot that doesn’t go anywhere anytime soon. If you take it apart and look at its pieces separately, you’ll find each is fun and entertaining. There’s action and thrills in Mirkwood, the Elf Kingdom, Lake-Town, and of course, in the depths of the Lonely Mountain. But these scenes don’t work together to create a cohesive movie. Over two and a half hours, there’s ups and downs in the tension, but no significant build-up, and no uniting theme. That’s why it feels slow even with action at every step.

Concept and World

lonely-mountainNo surprise here. As it’s based on a work by Tolkien, the master worldbuilder and founder of the fantasy genre, they’d have to do something seriously wrong to mess this up, and they didn’t. You’ll see several new places, with not only amazing sets, but each with their own atmosphere and distinct inhabitants. Lake-Town in particular really comes to life.

Visuals and Effects

above-treelineThis movie looks amazing. My favorite moment is when Bilbo peeks above the trees of Mirkwood, and all the gloom of the woods is transformed into a beautiful sunlit landscape. The elf fortress looks as good if not better than the other elven cities, and Lake-Town is filled with old style charm. Most of all, Smaug is marvelously animated. A great deal of time is spent just looking at him, and it isn’t wasted.


bilbo-thorinI think I was going easy on the first Hobbit when I gave it four stars for characters. Bilbo was well done, but the other characters were neglected. However, The Desolation of Smaug makes a significant improvement in that respect. The dwarves, Kili and Balin in particular, start to feel like real people. Even Bombur, who did nothing more than provide fat jokes in the first film, gets a glorious fight scene. Legolas also makes his entrance in this film, but it’s a very different Legolas than the one in LotR, suggesting it preludes significant character growth.

Again, Smaug takes the cake. Benedict Cumberbatch pulls off another amazing performance, making the dragon not just a fearsome threat, but also a memorable personality.

Dialogue and Impact

taurielThe first Hobbit movie falls flat, but The Desolation of Smaug falls flat on its face. There are several moments in the film that are clearly meant to be impactful, but are just ridiculous instead. I almost laughed out loud when the elf maiden, Tauriel, started glowing during a romantic scene. In addition, the dwarves’ most triumphant strike against Smaug isn’t remotely believable. Then there are the recursive Saurons; you’ll know them when you see them. I think Peter Jackson just tried too hard.

The music was also disappointing compared to it’s predecessor. Okay, so the first Hobbit just had Misty Mountains Cold, but admit it, that song is amazing. Even the credit music for Desolation of Smaug failed to add much.


There’s a lot of bitterness over the decision to split the Hobbit into three movies. The plot certainly could have been stronger had they decided to cut rather than stretch. But if you don’t see this movie on the big screen, you’re missing a big part of the experience. Smaug is impressive partly because of how enormous he feels; he won’t be the same on your home TV. See it for him, and for some light entertainment.

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  1. Jack Marshall

    I agree with nearly everything you said. It was a visual treat, and I loved the characters. Thorin in particularly is beautifully edgy. Legolas… well, I liked that he had an earlier character form, but there’s still way too much “It’s the Orlando Bloom show!” about him. Good grief, he got into a grapple match with a major orc and still won. He should have been rescued by one of the dwarves, setting up future loyalty or spite. Tauriel was much cooler, especially the way she fought.
    Although I love the way the dwarves cooperatively fight (tossing the axe in the river scene is fantastic!), the last battle with Smaug was just silly. Smaug was cool, but I would have enjoyed him more without all the 3d panning (I even went to the 2d show). IMHO, 3d panning is a terrible fad in moviemaking that I hope will die soon. We’re not bugs flying in circles around the battle!
    But chiefest among my complaints was additions to the story supplanting actual story material. It was great when they filled in background, such as Gandalf’s explorations of the Necromancer, but nipping scenes with the bear-dude and in Mirkwood was a poor trade for orc hacking and overly long theme park action sequences. And they ended at such a weird place, I went out with a frown.

  2. Greg

    The moviemakers took a 300-page novel with a fairy tale story and made it into a bloated action trilogy. So no, I didn’t go see it on the big screen. I’m not buying the Blue Ray. If my young son gets curious enough to see it, I’ll borrow a copy from the library.

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