I was discussing “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” with some friends, and someone remarked how much he enjoyed the movie. He immediately followed the statement by asking for clarification on the ending, when Thorin and the dwarves were running through the mines, trying to survive the monstrous dragon.
“What didn’t you get?” I asked, not quite sure which part of the scene required explanation.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t get it,” he replied. “I missed part of it when I was asleep.”
The conversation baffled me, but that’s far from the first of its kind.
Last year, when the first installment of this infinite adaptation arrived, I marveled at the amount of people who admitted what a long, boring slough the film was. Yet, they ardently defended the bloated mess Jackson unleashed upon the world. These Hobbit apologists are a funny lot; they’ll concede every point, admit every failing and yet still talk about how much they liked Jackson’s latest foray into Middle-earth. I did not. It’s a long, pointless spectacle that doubles down on the creative mistakes of the first film. It’s still a bloated, misguided mess. It’s still a technical marvel with no heart or soul.
We pick up right where the first one left off: Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and a bunch of rowdy dwarves are trying to make their way to the mountain they once called home. Inside the mountain, a terrible dragon named Smaug seems content just chilling out under a mountain of gold. For some reason, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) wants to go poke him with a stick and reclaim his rightful throne. Chances are this will not end well. The same basic narrative applies to Smaug—endless chase sequences strung together with pointless exposition.
When Jackson did the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, he took out things that didn’t serve the forward momentum of the story. Remember that guy? Remember the Peter Jackson that left out characters like Tom Bombadil because he was concerned with the pace of the story? What happened to that guy? Now, he’s adding things to the films that were never in the books, like some kind of Middle-earth revisionist historian. The biggest problem with “The Hobbit” isn’t just that Jackson needlessly stretches out material; he adds to it, which distracts from the main narrative. “The Hobbit” didn’t need girth. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is an orgy of excess. Like most orgies, it’s better in theory and far more sloppy in execution.
There are a few new things peppered in: Legolas (Orlando Bloom) returns to the series in a love triangle with another elf named Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and one of the dwarves. None of it resonates. It feels horribly forced. If you ever wanted to see a four-foot man woo a five-foot woman, this might be the movie for you. Like most of the other scenes, it had an awkward vibe.
The only scenes that felt remotely entertaining were when Smaug showed up onscreen. Voiced by the great Benedict Cumberbatch, this enormous computer-generated dragon feels more three-dimensional than the actual human actors. Smaug’s arrival marks the film’s only real enjoyable stretch.
We’ve lost Peter Jackson as a legitimate filmmaker. He no longer is making movies for audiences; he’s making $200 million special effects-laden, needlessly long geek pornography that barely manages to create any real characters in spite of a nearly three-hour run time. I was forgiving of the first installment of these Middle-earth prequels because I thought I was watching a marginally entertaining, needlessly long opening installment that was setting the foundation for a more robust adventure.
The second film has not invalidated the theory but proven how incapable Peter Jackson has become at delivering a fulfilling cinematic experience. He’s a slave to the digital filmmaking toolbox, and is much more interested in crafting set pieces than creating something unique and, frankly, coherent. This is piss-poor storytelling with failings at a fundamental level.
It’s disappointing because Peter Jackson used to be a filmmaker of relevance and creativity. And he’s used all the goodwill from making some really good films to transform himself into George Lucas, producing garish, effects-driven nonsense without a real sense of character, geography or realism.
There’s nothing new or novel to “The Hobbit.” By trying to add weight and gravitas to what is a frivolous little adventure story sucks all the joy and fun out of Tolkien’s source material. He’s making the same mistakes George Lucas made with his “Star Wars” prequels: too focused on reference and homage, too indulgent. “The Hobbit” films are poor, joyless adaptations. For someone who enjoyed his early low-budget offerings so much, and the first three “Lord of the Rings” films, “The Hobbit” has been a massive disappointment.DETAILS: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lily, Benedict Cumberbatch Directed by Peter Jackson Rated PG-13