It dawned upon me watching the opening of “The Desolation of Smaug”: Did we really need the first movie? The entirety of the first film is so based on propping up storylines that “The Desolation of Smaug” wastes no time and drops in to the action. We could have just featured thirty minutes establishing the journey and cut to the opening scene. In “The Desolation of Smaug,” the writers provide a prologue where Gandalf meets Thorin in a pub and asks him to lead the journey. They proclaim they need a “burglar,” and cut to Bilbo Baggins in action. So, what was the point of the first movie? The opening shot of Bilbo hiding in the rocks with his allies speaks sounds more than the entire director’s cut of “An Unexpected Journey” could.
We know he’s the hero of the piece and wouldn’t you know it? Bilbo is given much more focus this time around; which helps considering Martin Freeman is a fantastic actor. That doesn’t stop Peter Jackson from placing the center on the more gorgeous characters like Legolas and his (made up for the film) Tauriel, but at least Bilbo gets more screen time. This is called “The Hobbit,” after all. The writers seem to forget that often. “The Desolation of Smaug” is only a notch above “An Unexpected Journey” in where it has less scattered sub-plots and flashbacks and much more character focus. There’s also much more engrossing action and stunts, and a great fight with a nest of giant spiders. The problem is that “The Desolation of Smaug” still feels like a product. Where in the original trilogy felt like labors of love and devotion for Peter Jackson, so far “The Hobbit” trilogy feels so manufactured and assembly line that it’s tough for Jackson to evoke any heart or empathy for these characters.
When characters died in the original series, we felt a profound loss, but the prequels have yet to garner any such emotion. Where the first films saw a variety of colorful characters of all shapes and sizes, the focus is now placed more on Legolas and a love triangle involving his fellow Elf Tauriel (You go, girl!). Placing her in to the story adds sexual tension, a love story that the trilogy didn’t even need, and a female action figure for the toy line. It also pads the narrative and brings “The Desolation of Smaug” short of three hours in run time. It’s a shame that “The Hobbit” mostly sidesteps its innocence and whimsy in favor of a darker more violent story frame, rather than embracing it as a visit to Tolkien’s world, but in a brand new flavor. The confrontation with Smaug is at first stunning, but then drags on in to the climax where we’re left with an abrupt ending that’s incomplete and pointless. Jackson spends most of the time trying to reconcile the original trilogy with the prequels that the entire narrative loses momentum.
Cate Blanchett and Orlando Bloom are shoehorned in, characters are invented, and there are more annoying cameos. Oh look, a picture of Gimli! Foreshadowing! Legolas was my favorite character of the original trilogy as well, but, why not sell us on these new characters? Instead of trying to get audiences to love these dwarves and Bilbo, Jackson and the producers instead give us the same characters from the “Lord of the Rings” series all over again, removing all sense of a brand new world with a unique mission afoot. I really don’t care if Legolas and Tauriel will or won’t hop in the sack together. I only really want to see Bilbo get to Smaug and help the Dwarves get their gold and land back. For all the great effects it garners, “The Desolation of Smaug” is a cold, and monotonous epic that borders on fan fiction. And, when the producers claim Legolas is the biggest link to the original trilogy, when Bilbo is the direct uncle of Frodo, and Gandalf comes face to face with the ultimate enemy of the trilogy, it’s clear Jackson and his team completely missed the point.
The DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack comes with a forty minute segment entitled “Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set,” a two part documentary involving looks at daily life on the set, cast and crew routines, shooting, lunch, and rituals. There’s a four part series of production videos clocking in at over a half hour, with chapters entitled “Introduction to Pick-Ups Shooting,” “Recap of Pick-Ups, Part 1,” “Recap of Pick-Ups, Part 2” and “Music Scoring.” The thirty eight minute “Live Event: In the Cutting Room,” a recorded segment of the worldwide live event where Jackson answered fan questions and toured the set and production rooms. “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 2” is a seven minute look at New Zealand, and its country terrain that helped bring Middle Earth to the big screen. Finally there’s twelve minutes of trailers and previews for various “The Hobbit” related products, and the music video “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran.