I recently saw the second installment of what will become The Hobbit trilogy; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it. The reason is implied in the first sentence.
I enjoyed the first film of the trilogy; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The new installment isn’t bad. I can’t even claim it is disappointing. I wasn’t disappointed because the movie is what I expected it to be. It is visually impressive. It is diverting. And it is an almost totally unnecessary exercise in monetizing The Hobbit franchise.
I don’t have the same affection for The Lord of The Rings trilogy of books as some. I was in high school when I got about half way through The Fellowship of the Ring before putting it down and never picking it up again. I never attempted The Twin Towers nor The Return of the King. That might be part of the reason I enjoyed the LOTR movies; they were mostly new to me. As a teenager, I read and enjoyed The Hobbit, however. I know the story and, after seeing the LOTR films, I was excited to see it made into a movie. Another hint there…made into A movie.
One cannot compare novels to screenplays directly but it is telling that The Fellowship of the Ring is about 400 pages long. It became one film. The Return of the King is about 500 pages long. It became one film. The Hobbit is 365 pages long and is being made into, wait for it…. three films. It is hard to see that as anything other than milking every possible dollar out of the nostalgia of Baby Boomers for their childhood fantasies.
There are many ‘franchise’ movies. There were eight Harry Potter films; the last two made by splitting the seventh and final book in half. I hear there will be four Hunger Games movies based on that trilogy of books; again the final two films created by splitting the last book in half. The Hobbit is different; however. Splitting a book in half yields a beginning and an end. Splitting one book into three films is almost a prescription for bad storytelling. If the story of Bilbo’s adventure, as told in the book, has a beginning, a middle, and an end then The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, must be the middle.
You don’t get to experience the wonder of seeing Tolkien’s fictional world created. You don’t get to meet the interesting band of travelers, learn the motivation for the quest nor experience the anticipation of what’s to come as they set off on their journey. At the same time, you don’t get to experience the climax and resolution of the story which; not insignificantly, becomes the basis for the LOTR.
Even what should be the most exciting scene in this part of the story, the face-to-snout confrontation between Bildo and the dragon, Smaug seems anti-climactic. In the first film we saw Bilbo confront his fears as he changes from the complacent and contented, albeit bored, Hobbit of habit to a member of a band of adventurers, facing mortal peril as they set out to right an ancient wrong. In this case we see him walk, and run and float, sword in hand, until the credits roll. There is an NPR podcast I enjoy called “Pop Culture Happy Hour”. They referred to the movie as “Long Day’s Journey to Smaug”. That about sums it up.
The movie is worth seeing for Tolkien fans and anyone who plans to see the third installment of the story. I saw it in 3-D and it was worth the extra cost. I just wish they attached about 25% of this movie to the previous one; attached 25% of it to the next movie, and cut about 50% of it out completely. I remember thinking it is too bad it is not a Disney movie because there are a couple of sequences that would be awesome theme park rides. What does it say about the storytelling that I was thinking about that while watching the movie?