Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Hobbit 2: Truly Desolate

I have made no secret of my undying love of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Last year, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey filled me with joy at the chance to return to Middle Earth once more. Well, last night I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and I must concede that the unthinkable has happened - Peter Jackson has managed to go too overboard for even my fanaticism.

The Hobbit is a slim novel, a children's book that tells a relatively simple story about a hobbit, thirteen dwarves, and a wizard who set off on a quest to a mountain where they will find untold riches after they defeat an evil dragon. There are plenty of adventures along the way, and if Peter Jackson had stuck to his original plan of just two movies, it would have been very satisfying. Some were already complaining that the first Hobbit movie was overwrought, but I thought it was reasonably well-paced and fun to watch. A second movie that wrapped up the story would have been fast-paced and delightful. However, by deciding this story needs three complete installments, each running for nearly three hours, Peter Jackson has completely lost his grip on the material.

The Desolation of Smaug contains the usual attempts at enriching the story with background derived from other Tolkien works. I usually find the background material engaging, but this time around it barely served any purpose. It was so patently meant as filler that members of the audience were chuckling about the absurdity of it all. For some reason, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is one of the stars of this film, battling Orcs alongside a brand new character, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), whose sole purpose is to be an Arwen surrogate so that Jackson can continue to pretend he's still making The Lord of the Rings, and not The Hobbit. The first movie hewed pretty close to the book, but this one seems to be derived from thin air, changing whole elements of the story, introducing characters who had nothing to do with the original novel, and containing wearisome action sequences that showcase the genius of the visual effects team, but also grate on the audience's patience.

By the time we got to Smaug, the evil dragon voiced and motion-captured by Benedict Cumberbatch, I was too tired to care. Every actor is making a valiant effort, but they are working with mere scraps. Sure, the visual effects are marvelous, but at some point, even that feels like too much. The Orcs and dwarves are drowning in prosthetics, every set has so much detail that it starts to feel entirely too artificial, and the actors are just parroting lines from The Lord of the Rings as the soundtrack swells in the background and reminds you of the greatness that was but no longer is.

It pains me to say this, but save your money and don't bother watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Of course, next year I will still see the final installment in theaters because that is the price I pay for my fandom. But I am sorely disappointed at the turn these movies have taken. Excuse me while I bring out my LOTR Extended Edition box set and remind myself of why I became a fan in the first place. 

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