Now Playing: Tough ‘Hobbit’ to Break

My name is Luke and I’m an unapologetic fan of Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Hobbit’ films. While ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ wasn’t as strong as the first ‘Rings’ trilogy, I still loved it and, unlike most, I prefer the extended cut over the theatrical version. If you felt that ‘An Unexpected Journey’ lacked some of the cinematic magic that the ‘Rings’ films had, get ready for ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. Much like ‘The Two Towers’, darkness overtakes this picture and really brings the ‘Hobbit’ series up a notch.

‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ picks up (almost) where ‘An Unexpected Journey‘ left off. It’s now obvious that the conclusion of the first movie – which left Bilbo and company looking at the Lonely Mountain in the distance – was filmed just to give that chapter of the series a proper ending. Although the eagles had carried Gandalf, Bilbo and the Dwarf company over mountains, waterfalls and valleys far away from the Pale Orc and his crew of Warg-riding warriors, the two groups are immediately back at it in the opening of ‘Smaug’. Fortunately for our hero group, the Pale Orc is pulled away on a new mission. But don’t worry, new forces (literally) come out of the woodwork to offer opposition. The road to the Lonely Mountain and Smaug is filled with action and excitement.

Just about every trailer and TV spot for the movie has shown Bilbo encountering Smaug inside the Lonely Mountain’s gigantic vault. We know that at least Bilbo will get to the destination. Having that knowledge in advance can make the first two-thirds of the film feel a little slow. Sure, the movie has some amazing moments of super-stylized action – like the creepy forest spider attack and the brilliant barrel escape from Mirkwood – but deep down inside, what we all want to see is Bilbo face off against a dragon. It’s not that the film isn’t entertaining before the arrival of Smaug; it’s that I was caught up in the anticipation for him. I knew he was on his way and couldn’t wait for him to appear.

If you felt ripped off by only catching fleeting glimpses of Smaug in ‘An Unexpected Journey’, you’ll get your fill of dragon here. The final 45 minutes (or so) are filled with the intimidating, fiery beast. Honestly, the Smaug business is as entertaining as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ at its very best.

I only have one complaint about ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. It’s not a major plot spoiler, but if you want to keep ‘The Hobbit’ absolutely spoiler-free, don’t read the rest of this paragraph, because I’ll vaguely give you a hint about how the movie ends. MINOR SPOILER ALERT: Peter Jackson had previously closed any of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Hobbit’ movies with a cliffhanger. He didn’t end ‘The Fellowship‘ in the middle of the battle at Amon Hen. He didn’t end ‘The Two Towers‘ in the middle of the battle at Helm’s Deep. And he didn’t end ‘An Unexpected Journey’ in the middle of the Pale Orc fight. But, for some reason, he felt the need to give ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ a cliffhanger mid-scene ending. He had to end it somewhere and the moment that he chose is fitting enough, but still frustrating. END MINOR SPOILER.

For some reason, ‘Smaug’ was only screened for press in my region in standard 3D. I didn’t much care for the 3D presentation, but it was worlds better than the awful High Frame Rate 48 fps format that I had to suffer during ‘An Unexpected Journey’. I turn off the “True Motion” setting on my TV, and can’t get past HFR because the results look identical to me.

If you were one of the many who were left disappointed by ‘An Unexpected Journey’, I urge you to set aside your qualms and get out to ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ anyway. The biggest complaints about the last film – including too many songs and an overall silliness – are toned down here. In fact, there’s not a single song in ‘Smaug’, and the dwarfish wackiness is much tamer. ‘The Hobbit’ 2.0 delivers the goods, so much so that I’ve already bought tickets for a 2D showing just so that I can sit back and take in the first two-thirds of the movie without anticipating the grand entrance of Smaug again. I’m going to soak it all in this time and count the days until next December’s ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’.

Rating: ★★★★½


  1. Pedram

    I’m glad to hear that many of the criticisms were addressed. Although I also quite liked the first film, and most of the additions of the extended edition (I didn’t mind the dwarf song, but the extended Goblin song I could have done without), I look forward to seeing this even more tomorrow given its faster/more serious pace/tone, and I hope that it will have general appeal as well. I just hope it doesn’t get too dark/serious.

  2. JM

    How does this rank as a Benedict Cumberbatch film?

    Is it weird that he’s playing the dragon and the necromancer?

    ‘Star Trek Into Generic’ was not good Cumberbatch.

    How is the elf love?

    My entire attachment to LOTR was Viggo and Christopher Lee.

    ‘The Hobbit 1.1’ didn’t do any of this well.

    Does 1.2 recapture the gravitas, or does it still feel like CGI pinball?

    Are there any new monsters/locations that are iconicly designed?

    Having watched ‘Sherlock’ so many times, I feel like Benedict is my way in. Kind of like how I love ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ entirely for the Pacino.

    Is ‘The Hobbit 1.2’ good Pacino or bad Pacino?

    I kind of wish Al Pacino was playing Nori.

  3. Elizabeth

    Does this one feel less like the world’s longest video game trailer? That’s about how I can best describe my feelings for the first one. I was bored and exhausted with the continuous fight sequences that made up the end of the first. Given that it was the first of a trilogy, there was little drama or suspense whether anyone might die so the fight sequence after fight sequence after fight sequence became super dull. It didn’t help that the Orc cave sequence felt like a repeat from LOTR.

    • William Henley

      Really? The only people who cannot die are pretty much Bilbo and Gandalf, anyone else is fair game.

      But I read the books, and knowing what is supposed to happen, I still enjoyed the fight scenes.

  4. I hate the Motion Flow on my TV but HFR3D is spectacular, mostly because the extra frames are real, not computer generated fillers or black frames. And virtually painless for those who find normal 3D an issue as my wife does.

    Cant wait till part 2 is released in a little over a week here in Oz

  5. For shame Luke, you turn off smooth motion to get rid of fake frames that are not in the original presentation. You have to understand that in the case of HFR that may be the only comparison your brain can match it to (or a soap opera) but in the case of the Hobbit it is the result of there being more frames by design. You are seeing every frame intended by Jackson and not some chips algorithmically incorrect perversion.

    My friends and I are seeing it today in HFR 3D at the only IMAX theater showing it that way without going Downtown. The 3D is so superior in HFR its night and day.

    • Chaz

      Couldnt agree more on that, comparing the two just cant be done because your TV doing it isnt real, inserting frames that arent there to begin with is completely different than watching something thats supposed to be this way. The amount of detail, clarity and quality of 3D is so much better than anything I’ve seen before and I cant wait to see this one in HFR 🙂

    • William Henley

      I’m with you guys. On my television, I turn the True Motion on and off, depending on what I am watching (the higher framerate is nice when watching television shows and documentaries). But with HFR, it is designed that way, and it really and truly does make a difference. And Hobbit 2.0 makes great use of the HFR, to the point that it is now my favorite way to watch movies.

  6. Peter Jackson really has people drinking the kool-aid. Overblown nonsense expanding a 300 page book into three long movies for no reason except to increase revenue is awful, and adding Evangeline Lilly’s character to what has become an oversized cast is a joke. Why are there orcs in these movies?

    • Pedram

      So you read Jackson’s secret confession about why he made it into a trilogy? Oh, wait, no you didn’t. You are just making assumptions based on your own prejudice, and also ignoring all the other reasons he gave for expanding the series into 3 films.

      • Personally, I don’t think that Peter Jackson expanded The Hobbit to a trilogy simply to con moviegoers out of buying extra tickets. This is just the latest symptom of his “Too much is never enough” mentality. Jackson has no ability to filter or edit himself. If he has an idea, it will wind up in the movie, simple as that. He’s incapable of recognizing that sometimes it would be better to sacrifice some of his ideas for the overall benefit of streamlining and structuring the narrative. It’s the same reason that his remake of King Kong is twice as long as the original. He just doesn’t know when to stop.

        • Timcharger

          Josh, the scoreboard sometimes does lie. But this time, I’ll use that argument in response.

          The extended editions sell. They command higher price premiums. They outsell the standard editions. Newer technology formats keep calling for the re-release of the LotR films, and still they keep selling.

          So when you say that Peter Jackson doesn’t know when to stop, he can’t stop on his way to the bank. 🙂

          And not that you will watch the 8+ hours of extra features on Hobbit 1, but if you do, you will learn that there are stuff on cutting room floor. As much as there are in the films & extended editions, not every idea made it in.

          And pls stop (not just you Josh) with the complaints that there’s more in the Hobbit movies than there are in the Hobbit book.

          If the Hobbit movie was called “Hobbit & the Appendices” would that quell your bloodthirst?

          Did you all also complain that Shawshank Redemption the movie was based on a Stephen King short story? Oh God No! Shawshank the movie had more stuff than Shawshank the short story!

          • William Henley

            I agree with Tim. These movies may not be for everyone, so I am not going to force Josh to watch them, but I think with how well the Extended Editions of TLOTR sold, it is obvious that people are eating these up, and I am one of them. At least there is one filmmaker in Hollywood that seems to know what his audience wants. Peter Jackson is this generation’s Speilberg.

            And yes, the book may only be 300 pages, but there is a LOT in those 300 pages. It may seem overkill to do 9 hours based on 300 pages, but the pacing of the movies works out really well (well, okay, we could have done without the hedgehog scene in the last movie, and the riddle scene just seemed to keep going and going). I kind of wish that, with TLOTR, we had 9 movies instead of just three.

        • David Mueller

          I had given benefit of the doubt too on making this a trilogy because when I learned about what was to come in the story (Smaug and then the Battle of the Five Armie), I wondered if they realized that they couldn’t get to Smaug in the first film (back when it was going to be two films) and would end up with one film with no climax and one film with two. So why not split it up and have Smaug in part two, and then the battle in that last one. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

        • Pedram

          Josh, while I don’t usually agree with your view on these films, I have to concede that sometimes, Jackson needs an advisor telling him that some ideas should probably be reconsidered. I watched the extended version of LOTR and the Hobbit, and I felt that many of the additions were good and added to the back story, but a few I really could have done without. The bird poop down Radagast’s hair is an eyesore in every scene. The Goblin king’s song and even his appearance (he’s been called “scrotum beard” more than once) I could have also done without.

          I guess I just have to take the good with the bad, since most of his ideas I love.

  7. Pedram

    Having now seen the film, I agree with the point in your minor spoiler section. However, instead of “had previously closed”, did you mean to say something like “had not previously closed”?

  8. David Mueller

    Counterpoint: I saw this today and felt just the opposite. I thought the ‘bloatware’ of the first film was even more apparent here. And maybe it was what Luke pointed to: you know where they’re heading and you want them to just get there already.

    It almost feels like Jackson’s going off of a checklist of what worked in the first movie, but for some reason I’m not as invested here. The little side quests feel like filler and not like they’re integral to the story.

    And the ending. Yeah, that sucked.

    But the thing that’s starting to irritate me the most is how they’re tying this into the LOTR trilogy. Because (and you’ll know what I mean once you see the movie) with all that Gandalf learns in this film, how long is it going to be before the beginning of Fellowship makes no damn sense at all?

  9. William Henley

    I am not going to go too much into what I thought about the movie here, as I know there will be the obligatory “What did you think about The Hobbit” post tomorrow.

    I guess I missed many of the trailers – I was actually quite surprised Bilbo met the dragon in this movie, and makes me wonder what all is going to be in the third movie.

    I also enjoyed the HFR MUCH BETTER this time around than the last time. It seemed like in the last movie, there was purposely several high-action and sweeping-camera scenes to really make the HFR stand out, and it was a bit jarring – especially the first few minutes. As for this movie, the high action waits a while before it kicks in, so the audience has adjusted to it. I felt it was a better use of the technology and everything just felt more natural. As such, I am now looking forward to seeing more movies making use of this technology.

    As for the movie itself, I will wait until Monday’s blog, which I am sure is coming.