I’ll admit it right up front: the only reason I went to see The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug opening weekend in the theaters was so I could hurry up and say snippy things about it. I wanted to get my snark on before it got tainted by everyone else’s. And obviously, we already know I did not take it at all seriously.
Which is okay, because I think maybe it didn’t want to be taken seriously? I’m not sure. And that’s part of the problem.
First, let me note that I have very purposefully not reread The Hobbit since I heard the movies were being made. I want to address these on their own merit. (At one point, I used to believe movies should be faithful to books. I don’t any longer.)
And then spoilers:
First off, let’s get this out of the way. Smaug (which is apparently pronounced Smowg, who knew) is fucking awesome. He was worth whatever CGI budget they spent on him. Benedict Cumberbatch did an excellent job sounding smug and draconic, though maybe I need to clean out my ears or something because I still don’t feel compelled to have wild sex with his voice. So yes, Smaug was the best cinematic dragon ever. And I was loving the scenes with him up until it turned into Running Of The Dwarves: The Runnening, and they decided that they best way to kill a fire-breathing dragon was covering him with molten gold. Because molten gold is hot, and you know that there’s nothing fire-breathings dragons hate worse than heat. The fact that they accomplished this using what looked worryingly like a chocolate santa composed of molten gold and improbable physics just made it worse.
It was ridiculous, and then suddenly not as Smaug flounced like a pissed off drag queen and went to set Laketown on fire because bitch be fabulous.
Also, big shout out for Thranduil being more David Bowie than David Bowie in Labyrinth. I sure enjoyed the hell out of every inhumanly beautiful (yet fabulous) moment he was on screen.
Looking back over this and the previous movie (which was… okay) you can see a lot of structural similarities start to emerge. Mysterious flashback prolog! Chase scene! Action set piece with humorous hijinks and danger! DARK AND MYSTERIOUS THINGS HAPPENING (wizards look serious)! More chase scenes! Serious discussion of daddy issues of some kind! Riddles in the dark sequence! ANOTHER SET PIECE CHASE SCENE, this one with a dumb ending! Roll credits.
Or something like that. In this movie, the riddles in the dark sequence was replaced by Bilbo speaking with Smaug. And so on. It’s got the same kind of issues, then, that plagued the first movie as well. Mostly that it really didn’t feel like it needed to be a bladder-destroying almost three hours long, because at some point you’re forced to ask yourself just how necessary this or that ten minutes of dwarves running around and being a little funny while they hit things actually is.
In this go-round, I noticed that there was a lot of cheesy action and humor in many of the sequences… which was also present in the first one, if memory serves. I tend to agree with my friend Paul that the tone of this trilogy is purposefully much more pulpy and silly, because trying to hit the same epic place as LotR would be cinematic suicide. (Also, if you just look at the source material, the tone is very different between the books.) I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.
Where it becomes a problem is that there is a lot in the movie, particularly the bits where the wizards look terribly serious and then Galadriel has a moment to twinkle on the screen, where the tone shifts to something extremely serious. Because that stuff is the set up for LotR. The moments where we see the ring beginning to corrupt Bilbo, where Thorin can’t seem to get his shit together even though he doesn’t even have the Arkenstone yet, are also very serious. Heck, the movie itself ends on a pretty dark place, with an angry dragon headed straight for Laketown, intent on hosting a barbecue.
So I get the pulpy fun vibe, but it’s really just not marrying well with a lot of the extra stuff that’s been added in. Obviously, I think the bigger problem is the continued padding to justify making this thing a trilogy, but this kind of unevenness sure didn’t help. I also think in this one, because they included Legolas, there were actually a few too many in-jokes and callouts for the LotR movies. Yeah, that can actually be a thing, I swear. Fewer in-jokes, more strict editing please.
Oh wait, I’m supposed to be snarky. Uh. And dwarves smell like wet…uh…dwarf. Yeah.
Anyway, I didn’t hate it. I also don’t feel compelled to ever watch it again as a movie. So far two-thirds of The Hobbit has earned a resounding meh from me. But try to take my nerd card away and I will cut you. I was at every midnight showing of the LotR movies. I earned my right to be snippy.