‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Review

Published 7 months ago by , Updated December 16th, 2013 at 11:13 pm,

The Hobbit Desolation of Smaug Dwarves The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

Part two of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth prequel trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, picks up right after the events of An Unexpected Journey (read our review) as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and his company of dwarves continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Pursued by a horde of Orcs commanded by the ruthless Azog, Bilbo and his friends have no choice but to brave the dangers of Mirkwood – a dense and dangerous forest where even the most valiant and skilled warriors can become lost to darkness.

However, just as the company is about to enter the twisted tree line, Gandalf is called away on an important mission of his own (to investigate the growing Necromancer threat at Dol Guldur), leaving the hobbit and dwarves to continue on without assistance from the wizard. Undeterred, Thorin leads his companions onto the forest trail, refocusing on the mission at hand: reach the Lonely Mountain and recover the Arkenstone from Smaug, the cunning and deadly dragon that drove the dwarves from their home and fortunes in Erebor 150 years ago.

Desolation of Smaug Martin Freeman Bilbo Baggins The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Desolation of Smaug’

When it was first announced that Jackson intended to make not just two, but three, full length films out of The Hobbit (a roughly 300 page book), fans were quick to decry the new trilogy as a bloated cash grab. Adding fuel to the argument, the first entry in the series was largely considered to be too long – with only a few memorable moments capable of living up to the eye-popping spectacle depicted in the Lord of the Rings movies. Fortunately, The Desolation of Smaug proves that any shortcomings in the first chapter were worth the trouble – as both The Hobbit storyline and larger pre-Lord of the Rings plot are smartly woven together in service of a more exciting and emotional viewing experience. Still, considering that each of Jackson’s Middle-earth movies have presented a solid balance of comedy, action, character, and heart, The Desolation of Smaug isn’t an overwhelming step-up for the already strong franchise, but it does contain some especially impressive elements (most notably, the titular dragon).

As in the prior entry, Jackson takes a lot of story liberties in his follow-up – some of which will likely irk die-hard fans of the book series (especially when re-imagining significant moments in the third act). Yet, even though the interweaving narrative will make it easier to engage a diverse range of audience members, The Desolation of Smaug, much like An Unexpected Journey, is a lengthy time investment (with a 161 minute runtime) – one that could have easily been trimmed.

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Orlando Bloom as Legolas in ‘The Desolation of Smaug’

At this point, given that we’ve only seen two-thirds of a planned trilogy, it’s unclear whether many of Jackson’s more divisive tangents and added material will be worth the effort (as well as screen time) by the conclusion of There and Back Again, but moment to moment, the filmmaker successfully presents significantly more rounded portrayals of important Hobbit elements – especially in the case of key supporting Smaug players. The expansive approach to the source material story serves Jackson’s cinematic medium and the current movie – even if the written text is much smaller and more straightforward – since the director delivers enthralling and humorous action set pieces, enjoyable implementation of fan-favorite Middle-earth characters, as well as intriguing connections to the larger Lord of the Rings storyline.

Freeman, McKellen, and Armitage are just as good in the follow-up as they were in the first and a few of the dwarves are also given a more prominent role this round – most notably Kili (Aidan Turner) and Balin (Ken Scott), who are instrumental in selling a pair of especially character-focused moments (moments that exemplify Jackson’s efforts in presenting his supporting cast as more than just sidekicks to the main heroes). There are also plenty of new cast members in part two, with Luke Evans (Fast & Furious 6) presenting a charming take on Bard the Bowman, who will be fleshed-out even further in the final installment. Jackson also makes smart use of Legolas (Orlando Bloom), exploring the Fellowship of the Ring member’s backstory as the son of the Elvenking, Thranduil (Lee Pace). While the character did not directly factor into The Hobbit book, his inclusion in The Desolation of Smaug is a major highlight – as Bloom portrays a slightly naive variation of the iconic hero as well as enjoys several over-the-top, but very exciting, action scenes.

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in ‘The Desolation of Smaug”

Similarly, Chief of the Guards for the Elvenking, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a character that was invented entirely by Jackson and screenwriter Fran Walsh, is an immediate standout. The Elf (not to mention actress) steals several scenes away from established players (including Legolas) and is, without question, one of the more successful of Jackson’s additions to The Hobbit narrative. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how the filmmaker handles Tauriel in the third chapter, since her dynamic with a semi-smitten Legolas borders on melodrama at times, and could weaken Bloom’s beloved character in the long run.

Smaug was teased at the end of An Unexpected Journey and, thankfully, the final onscreen version is worth the wait. The combined efforts of Weta Digital and actor Benedict Cumberbatch (who voiced Smaug as well as provided motion capture for the dragon’s facial animations) result in one of the most believable fantasy creatures ever put to film. The sheer scale and detail of the dragon, set against a labyrinth of gold coins, jewels, and other dwarf treasures, is a treat for the eyes – one that is made even better by Cumberbatch’s snarly and coy voice acting. Anyone who might have been concerned that the Smaug/Bilbo meeting would be glossed over in favor of blockbuster action set pieces, will be relieved to hear that Jackson dedicates a decent amount of time to their interplay – which might even, for some, rival Gollum’s “Riddles in the Dark” sequence as one of the best scenes in this Hobbit film trilogy.

Desolation of Smaug Movie Dragon The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

Smaug in ‘The Desolation of Smaug’

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is once again playing as both 3D and 3D HFR (High Frame Rate) premium presentations. In general, the 3D is shot for depth not pop-out gimmicks, and aside from a distracting sequence with a honey bee flying at the screen, most of the third-dimension effect is used for subtle immersion. Several 3D shots of Smaug help sell the scope of the beast, and are worth the added up-charge alone, but viewers who are expecting in-your-face “3D moments” might still be underwhelmed with their final return on investment. As for HFR, the same pluses and minuses apply again – so make sure to read our article on The Hobbit‘s use of 48 FPS 3D to help make an informed decision before seeking out an HFR-ready theater.

J. R. R. Tolkien purists will likely have more than a few qualms with Jackson’s second chapter in The Hobbit film series; however, as a movie experience, the director has once again delivered a humorous and enthralling (read: downright entertaining) adventure in Middle-earth with rich characters, sharp visuals, and an epic storyline. Time will tell whether all of the added narrative material pays off when The Hobbit: There and Back Again opens in theaters on December 17th 2014, but in the meantime, it’s encouraging to see Jackson is committed to presenting an impactful version of The Hobbit book for the moviegoing medium – even if it means the director has to stand by a few especially controversial changes.

If you’re still on the fence about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, check out the trailer below:

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug runs 161 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. Now playing in 2D, 3D, and 3D HFR theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Desolation of Smaug Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5
(Excellent)

TAGS: the hobbit

141 Comments

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  1. Finally went to see this today and I loved it! True, it didn’t follow Tolkien’s work letter for letter, but he has kept the spirit of the book through both novels now. If you want a movie that follows the source material letter for letter, watch the terrible Watchmen movie. If you want a great immersion into JACKSON’s interpretation of Middle Earth, watch this movie. I thought Smaug was UNBELIEVABLE! I am thinking of going back to check it out again!! I really hope that after all 3 films come out that there is an extended version like the LOTR films. I was dismayed when this film ended that I had to wait another year for part 3!!

    • Felt the second one was weaker then the first,something was missing !
      Maybe too much action and less character moments and talk,and songs !
      Hope as well the extend them at least for an Hour..definitively feels to short !

      • It’s funny how the first one felt too long, and this one felt to short! Personally, I would give the first one 4/6 (we use dice in Norway, therefore out of 6). Second one, on the other hand, was amazing! I loved every second of it, and it was better than the last one in every aspect! Animations, story, pacing… Can’t wait for the Extended Edition, and the last movie.

  2. You know, I have to admit, the book being one of my all-time favorite books, the purist in me was really squirming through a lot of the film, but upon later reflection, I was really liking some of the additions. So, I think I need to do myself a favor and see this again with a different mindset.

    I absolutely LOVE the character of Tauriel and her affection for Kili (and his for her). I found this to be the heart of the film, actually, and applaud Fran and Peter for the addition.

    I did groan at some Legolas bits, again, in afterthought, I’m really appreciating his addition now. I also appreciate even MORE SO the Dol Guldur scenes.

    And Smaug…yeah, that’s the icing on the cake. Yeah, it needed some trimming, some serious trimming, I’m not unhappy. I still give it 4 stars.

    • Really, Doug? I introduced myself to The Hobbit around 1977 after an accidental reading of a music magazine interviewing Ringo Starr, who was asked what was his favorite book. I was 9 years old an an American, way too late for Beatlemania, but already thinking that the British are an alien culture, Ringo had said his favorite book was The Hobbit.

      I had no idea what the hell The Hobbit was. An ancient philosopher? A great military leader? Absolutely no idea.

      So, I had gone to a local library and picked it up and was curious. I was amazed by what I had discovered. Long story short: I’ve been a Tolkien fan since 1977.

      You accept those changes Peter Jackson did and you’re a devoted purist? Well, maybe you’re more forgiving. I’m not. What Jackson has done is awful, not for the big screen adaptation but for all of the fictional aspects he has introduced, same bitter complaint on The Lord Of The Rings, as well.

      • I agree to disagree. While I cannot say I am a bigger fan than you are, I absolutely love the Tolkien universe. I have only read LotR and The Hobbit (did so years ago!), but going to take on the rest of his works soon. The LotR-movies are some of my favorite movies of all time! I have started to read (mostly on the internet) about Tolkien’s work while I watch his movies, and he keeps impressing me. However, to say that Jackson has taken one step too far is wrong, in my eyes. Of course, the LotR-movie trilogy did not change that much in comparison, but I feel it is just as needed for The Hobbit, as it was for LotR. He did change a little too much in the case of Azog, but the first movie would have been terrible without it! And in the sequel, I felt it was just enough to make it interesting, while still being true to Tolkien’s work.

        Moreover, some of the addition makes lots of sense: If Legolas were, in fact, in Mirkwood at the time, why should he not be in the movie? Other changes, while not making much sense, helped the movie feeling more true, both as a movie alone, and in the same universe as LotR!

  3. I’m not a Tolkien purist at all. I have read the Hobbit but not the LOTR. I want to reserve complete judgement until I see the movie at least 1 more time, but after the first viewing I was left a bit disappointed. I thought it was good, a lot of action, a lot of cool special effects and CGI, but I guess I had too high of hopes. I felt the story line was lacking and certain scenes seemed rushed.

    For example, the Legolas-Tauriel-Kili relationship does nothing for me and comes across deliberately concocted for the audience, not to mention, she’s so much bigger than he is, and oh yeah, he looks nothing like a Dwarf, but whatever I guess. Thorin is still your basic D bag, will anyone care when he dies? The dwarves were ready to quit because they couldn’t find the key hole within 3-4 minutes, absolutely painful scene to watch. The molten gold statue of Thror…just why?

    I also don’t understand the idea of making Legolas look so different? and why does Bard look more like Orlando Bloom than Orlando Bloom does?

    What I would have gave for a back story on Beorn, and his people. *sigh*

    • It’s a Peter Jackson version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.

    • l agree with pretty much everything you said. l was starting to think l was the only one.

      All the legolas action scenes look cheesy, fake and really over-the-top. It looks like the just superimposed a CG version of legolas on screen and had me wondering why they’re calling Orlando’s character Bard now.

      • While I don’t agree with all of what “A” said, you’re definitely not the only one who thought Legolas’s scenes looked cheesy and fake. I was interested to see how the dwarves were going to deal with the orcs chasing them when they were in barrels, since there weren’t any orcs in the book.

        Then when Legolas stood on the dwarves head while speeding down that river… and shot two orcs with one arrow, I understood. Deus Elf Machina.

        • @ Dan:

          I cannot get over that.

  4. and might I add…not only does Legolas look different but also much older, which is the real issue I’m having. Obviously Orlando Bloom is older in real life, but couldn’t they use the CGI to make Legolas look younger, or at least the same age?

    I also don’t appreciate the Gimli reference to be honest. As much as I wanted one, they didn’t do it right. Legolas comes across as much older than Gimli in that scene, yet Gimli comes across older than Legolas in LOTR. Even calls Legolas lad in one of the LOTR movies. Also, Legolas taking note of Gloin saying this means not only did he interact directly with Gloin but also knew who his son was….yet Legolas doesn’t care at all when he encounters them in Rivendell in the first LOTR movies.

    • Orlando Bloom is older. He doesn’t really look that different..just a bit heavier in the face. Bard looks like Orlando from Pirates of the Carribean (Will Turner) because of his hair & facial hair (they do have similar facial structure… But really aside from that you can tell they are different people. Elf’s don’t age like humans for sure..im assuming dwarfs do as well, but who is to say that elves and dwarfs don’t age differently from one another.

  5. I don’t want to come across as someone who hated the film, I didn’t. Just disappointed. I think the actor who plays Bilbo is terrific. MUCH better than Frodo. Bard was an enjoyable character as well.

    But a couple other things I noticed: Why are Oin and Gloin so similar, Fili and Kili so similar, but Balin and Dwalin so different? Not only do they look different but they seem to act much different as well. To compound this, Dwalin is most certainly the toughest Dwarf after Thorin, and Balin seems to be the most sensitive.

    I also didn’t understand why Tauriel would fall for Kili in a just a few minutes of meeting him. Especially considering she is an Elf loyal to Thranduil.

    these little thing add up ya know.

    • @ ‘a’:

      It’s a Peter Jackson version of The Hobbit.

      • I know

        • Peter Jackson is a disappointment, in significant ways. He;s a talent and a driving force, but still.

          • Yeah, I agree. It’s hard to knock him, but he makes mistakes. I’d sooner he get rid of his own cameo in DOS and iron out some of those mistakes, but I don’t think he cares. The films are gonna make lots of money regardless.

            • I wonder how Guillermo would have approached it. Any thoughts?

              • Even worse, mate..wouldn’t even wanna go there

                • You may be right. : (

  6. It is interesting to see that the cinematic’s was the best part of the movie. The dragon lived up to his representation and so did the halls of the dwarves. But this was not in true Tolkien fashion and I feel that the movie did more harm and did not follow the book. Their was some severe deviation – Their were not orcs in the hobbit – Gobblins yes Orcs no. Tolkien even described them. In addition their was a serious issue with the land of the Elves – like their was no Legolis in the elves and Wood elves are different in stature to the Elves of the south. In addition the conversation with Smaug was brief and their was a reason for it – Smaug was old, ill tempered and semiblind – he mistakes Bilbo as a Lakeman. The dwarves do not even enter into the Mountain until the end when they are certain Smaug is dead – the reason for this is something called Dragon Fear. Also no big romance between Kili and an Elf as a matter of fact yuck it is not possible. In addition Jackson needs to read the book before he goes on. Bard was a Guardsman. Jackson is going to have to do some serious repair work to this movie and the finished project. From my point of view the animated version of the Hobbit is more in line with the book than the movie. As a teacher I couldn’t use the movies in the classroom after the book too many differneces unless I wanted to demonstrate how Hollywood got it wrong again.

    • @ Kelly Muck:

      Smaug was never semi-blind, he has excellent vision. Remember, Bilbo, was invisible, using the One ring. Bilbo’s smell was unfamiliar to Smaug, what gave Bilbo away and what too clever for his own good Smaug mistakenly believed was something said in Bilbo’s description of his disguise in the form of a riddle.

      The Rankin-Bass animated version, work done by Japanese animation company by Topcraft that would eventually become Studio Ghibli, has both excellent and terribly baffling designs, i.e. their concept of the elves (horrendous).

  7. Was I the only one who really liked the movie?! I mean, the first movie was okay, but nowhere as good as the LotR ones. But this hit the spike on it’s head; the animations, story, pacing… I felt this is right up with the other three legendary movies. Sure, it has it’s faults, but the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy has them too.

    Personally, the changes it makes are needed, and much less than in the first one. The original book would have felt short, and disappointing, to most people. Remember, most people who watched LotR didn’t read any of the books (sadly). Therefore, Jackson has to try to make a movie for both audiences. A big change I’m glad for is the lack of jokes for children. Really, this isn’t a children movie, why did the first one even have fart jokes? Sure, some of the small things make me laugh, like the Goblin King in the original, but I’d stop it at that.

    The result is a great film, 5.5 out of 6 for me! To comparison, the first one is a 4 out of 6.

  8. God this movie was bad

    • @ Washyourhands:

      For the inclusion of fictional elements and straying away from the focus ON BILBO BAGGINS, YES, it is a bad movie.

      Are you a DEVO fan, by chance?

  9. Loved the book, but this is the worst Peter Jackson has done so far. The Orc fighting scenes bordered upon ridiculous. How can something so fierce and heavily armed and ferocious, fight so pathetically? (Ditto the goblins in the first movie).

    The movie was poorly edited and I was left cringing, particularly with the dwarves were waiting for last light to reveal the keyhole. Would the dwarves really have come all that way to simply give up?

    Thorin was way too cheesy other dwarves suffered from heavy prosthesis which bordered upon embarrassing..

    Looking forward to the next one and hoping for a huge improvement!

  10. The actions scenes are definitely over the top. Watching Legolas and Tauriel blaze through an Orc pack like a hot knife through butter was action packed, but so ridiculous. First of all, we know Legolas is in LOTR so we know he’ll be fine. Second of all, you don’t even feel slightly worried about them. It’s kinda just assumed that they will be these invincible warriors who destroy everything in their path. Even Bolg was no match for Legolas.

    Where is my concern for them? Where is the suspense?

    The Smaug scene, while visually satisfying, was again, rather ridiculous with the chase scene and the molten gold statue.

    • I agree with you, ‘A’.

  11. This is why AUJ will be better to me. AUJ actually introduces us to the company. Gives us a backstory, sets the stage, gives us characters and things to care about.

    the CGI in Goblin Town is pretty bad, and there are still a lot of mistakes, but at least there is more substance.

    To this day I can’t fathom how PJ didn’t give Beorn more of a backstory. Perhaps do a flashback of his people….their battle with the Orcs. It would have been action packed (like Thorin and Azog’s story) and built up to his final scene in the War. But instead Jackson chooses to show the audience Beorn in Bear Form right off the bat.

  12. This movie is really quite terrible.

    Legolas on his own is bad enough, but adding Tauriel doubles the cheesiness and cheapness. Are the dwarves in trouble? Have no fear, I’m sure that ginger elf will save them, Legolas might be there too. This happens over and over again.

    Really the only thing cheesier than elves saving the day, every single time, is the love story between elf and dwarf *shudder*. Its so…empty…and forced. Its tough for me to imagine a relationship that I care less about, or one that is so pointless! The story has enough themes to explore, there is enough going on, without adding this vapid aside.

    Remember how hard it is to get into Dale for the dwarves? Bard being very clear, that this is a town under guard, that you simply don’t just walk into it(One does not simply walk into Mordor lol)? Well, do you also remember just a few minutes later when that is exactly what the orcs do? With giant f****** wolves in tow, no less! Not only do they just walk into town, but they go ahead and make an enormous racket destroy some buildings, while eliciting absolutely no response from the townsfolk or the guards. So they spend a fair portion of the movie building up this suspense on being found entering or occupying Dale. Dwarves are smuggled in fish barrels, sneak around town, hide in houses etc…to establish this conflict, this obstacle in the dwarves path. Then PJ immediately throws it all away, so they can engage in another lame battle scene, where dwarves do absolutely nothing and the elves appear just when all hope is lost, to save they day. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

    Recycled scenes from the trilogy. Dwarf getting shot on the river scene, eerily similar to Boromir dying scene. Obviously not exactly the same, but look at the camera techniques they use, how the scene progresses. Victim’s shock, spectators horror, the muted sounds, the slow-mo yadayada. Poisoned dwarf and poisoned Frodo. Do I even have to explain? Growing progressively paler, friend’s worry, appearing from the bright light a blurry elven wench’s face, and then saved.

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