‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Review

Published 10 months ago by , Updated October 17th, 2014 at 9:26 pm,

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

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.

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.

Desolation of Smaug Orlando Bloom Legolas The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

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.

Desolation of Smaug Evangeline Lilly Tauriel The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

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)

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TAGS: the hobbit

143 Comments

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  1. I had no idea Benedict Cumberbatch is the voice of Smaug. Where the hell have I been?

    *checks CBM pages*

    …oh yeah…

    • smh for shame :p

  2. Tauriel is great. I’m in love.

  3. Looking forward to seeing this this weekend, probably tomorrow. I enjoyed the first first one, so this should be a natural step up…

    :)

  4. Tauriel was just awesome. When they first announced all these new additions that wasn’t in the book I was worried but it all played out great IMO. Yes, it’s still not at the level of LOTR but I think it never will since LOTR is more of an adult film whereas The Hobbit is more childrens. Still the second installment of The Hobbit serves it’s purpose and entertains. Also, the Smaug scene just sold it for me. It’s pretty awesome and if you see it I strongly encourage IMAX because it just set the tone for me (chills going down my back) LOL. I would have also given the movie a 4/5 stars

    • all i could think of when I saw Smaug was wow Deathwing from World of Warcraft lol gives me hope watching what they can do on camera now for a movie like Warcraft.

  5. Movie was awesome, went and watched the late night show last night. Decided to watch it in 3D and not 48FPS as i wasn’t that excited about it from watching Unexpected Journey in 48 fps. Anyway straight forward review it’s a thrilling ride through the eyes of peter jackson and the lore that is lord of the rings. :)

  6. I wonder if they’ll make Hobbit 4. When LotR was made, the left out the epilogue chapter, where the hobbits fight off Sauron’s picked henchmen who are industrializing the Shire. That could conceivably now be placed after Hobbit 3, as henchmen of the Necromancer instead, and Bilbo fighting them in the Shire or Bree

    • No, just no.

    • Wouldn’t make sense, because Hobbiton in the LOTR movies was still a safe haven and wouldn’t anybody think to recall an event where it was overtaken by the lord of darkness?

  7. Interesting review, especially when I think this is easily the weakest of the 5 films to date. Definitely has a recycled feel to it which did not impress me. Smaug was a highlight. So was Bard. Freeman continues to shine. But this really felt like it jumped from action scene to action scene in a desperate attempt to fill the time. Tighter editing would have improved the film immensely.

    • the first Hobbit movie grew on me with time, so I’m hopeful this one does the same, but I agree. This was my least favorite of the 5…but hey, Peter Jackson gave himself a cameo and Tauriel is attractive.

  8. I ended up seeing it in HFR, because the theater did not advertise that it would be until about 4 hours before the movie started. Not sure why, but apparently it was the only HFR showing in my city, possibly even the state. I only saw the last one in 3D so I didn’t know what to expect. It was a bit jarring, but after a while I got used to it. I don’t know if I want it to become a popular trend though.

    But I loved the movie. I hardly remember any specifics from the book because it’s been so long since I read it, so certain changes just kind of went over my head. Benedict Cumberbatch killed it and Smaug was just breathtaking. I think Tauriel was amazing as a character and I believe Mr Tolkien would approve :)

  9. I’m speaking as someone who enjoyed An Unexpected Journey more than the average viewer (apparently), but I have to say that both as a cinema and a Tolkien lover I was genuinely pleased with this movie. In a year filled with interesting but not exhilarating blockbuster spectacle (I didn’t like Pacific Rim, sue me), this was the one movie I walked out of feeling positively enthusiastic about.

    • I’m with you. I liked Pacific Rim but didn’t think it lived up to the hype people give it. Man of Steel was great even with some of it’s issues and now seeing this movie I’d put it right up there as one of my top 5 films this year if not the top 2.

      • I don’t have a definite opinion about Man of Steel. I thought there were a lot of good ideas in it, but also a lot of really questionable (to the point of being outright dumb) decisions. Much like the first Hobbit movie, though, it had a lot of potential as a world-building prologue. As a sequel, Desolation delivered more than enough; we’ll see whether the next Superman movie will make or break the franchise.

  10. You spelled ‘Kili’as ‘Kimli’. That’s unacceptable. ;)

  11. Whats the score? My phone doesnt show it. Judging by the review id say 4?

    • Yup! Four stars, Excellent.

  12. I saw it last night in HFR 3D and within seconds I was dismayed… I felt like I was watching a theater production… Like I was on set watching a bunch of actors… All the mystique and mystery that draws you into a mystical world and a folklore story were gone, I sat in a theater of maybe 20 people and decided to stay to see if things got any better… The last scene with Smaug somewhat captured the wonderment of the fairy tail, but not by much… I wish I’d have never seen either of them in 3D because sadly I may have ruined the whole franchise for me : ( for me, it really is that bad… And I hate it because I know that Peter Jackson is capable if so much more and I’m sure if I’d have seen them in 2D they’d be just as memorable to me as LOTR…

    • HFR is just bad in general. Saw an Unexpected Journey in HFR and it completely ruined the movie for me. Saw Unexpected Journey again when it came out on DVD and it was at the normal 24 fps and it was a dramatic improvement. I really think HFR is terrible and destroys the magic of traditional cinema.

      • Haters gonna hate…

        • or people with different opinions are going to voice them?

    • Yeah, I would just do the regular 24fps 3D. The IMAX I went to had that option of regular and HFR so I went with the regular 24fps. It makes a huge difference. Either way this film was leaps and bounds an improvement from the 1st film

    • HFR really sucks. If they’re going to go high frame rate, it should be 100fps, not 48, to go along with the new 4K TV sets that run 100Hz. Though even then, it’d suck because you can see all the crappy sets in high detail (kind of like an HDTV closeup of the ugly makeup and wrinkles, instead of SDTV blurred out actresses without wrinkles)

  13. Just saw it in 2d,recommend it,not in LOTR league but still enjoyable,like the first.4 stars about right.

  14. Saw it good old 2D. It watched brilliantly to my old eyes. Great movie!
    I watched …Journey in 3D48etc and felt a bit uneasy. I watched its Extended Cut and instantly fell back in love!

  15. If you can see this movie in HFR 3-D I recommend it. You feel like your part of the movie and every scene looks real like your really there.

    • Yeah, right in there with people in bad wigs, fake noses and faces covered in what looks like the worst photoshop editing job possible. :D

      I’d rather have the shield of 24 fps to separate me from that much realism. ;)

      • I disagree. While it did feel weird for about 10 minutes, after that it felt normal and I reallyliked the overall smoothness of it. No fake noses or Photoshop here (except for Thranduil’s overly smooth appearance, but I think that was intentional).

  16. Have just seen it and agree pretty much with the article. It was simply fantastic.

    Have to credit Peter Jackson here. The film looked gorgeous. The production, the design, set pieces were just full of large scale imagination. All different environments looked so vast in scope and detailed.

    The reason Desolation was better was because it felt more urgent. The dwarevs’ quest was much more compelling this time round. Bilbo is far more heroic and critical to the cause this time round.

    I was concerned how they were going to make a dragon have a villainous personality but Smaug was awesome in every scene.

    I can understand Legolas and Tauriel’s inclusion from a commercial standpoint. Both had super cool fight scenes and Tauriel was stunningly beautiful and yes had some strong scenes. To be hnonest thought, they got in the way of the full core of the story. They just interrupted the thrill of Bilbo and the dwarves taking on Smaug. This is probably why the movie again unnecessarily goes past two hours.

    Even more sore than the first, we had an amazing two hour film lessened into a very good almost three hour one.

    Gotta say though , that was one hell of a cliffhanger and Jackson has once again left an agonising year long wait for part three.

    • It makes sense to include Legolas a bit as it was mentioned in TLoR that he was the son of the King of Mirkwood…and I absolutely loved the character Tauriel….It’s definitely taking creative licence with the source material but I think it made it a better movie. The book is one of my favorites but I don’t want to watch a word for word film adaptation considering Tolkien wasn’t the best “detail” writer….amazing epic fantasy but he wrote it like it was folklore and didn’t give a great amount of detail.

  17. Just saw this movie in good ol’ 2D and it was really good. Unfortunately the 3D centric scenes were pretty obvious, especially the bees. Avatar is still the only movie I’ve seen in 3D (IMAX) that actually improved the movie going experience.

  18. I see your Avatar and raise you one Prometheus and one Gravity. But that’s about the sum of it. All the rest is heaps better in 2D.

  19. Dredd had great 3d as well.

  20. Dredd was terrible no matter what dimension u watch it in

  21. i hope after the next hobbit movie jackson goes back to his roots and makes another one of his epic horror movies… I WANT BRAIN DEAD 2 DAMMIT !!!!

    also, anyone else feel that LotR would have been even more epic if it either had a higher rating (for more blood/gore) or an uncut version with said additions ? i didn’t find them as epic as everyone makes them out to be partly b/c there was a lack of blood etc to sell the brutality of the orcs, creatures etc :(

  22. Honestly I was a little underwhelmed.

    My reaction on those one was very split, as most of the elements in and of themselves worked very well. The major loss in this movie was the script.

    While entertaining and beautiful looking, action sequence after action sequence are piled on one after the other, and the character moments seem more forced plot points than the linear narrative we were hoping for.

    In the book or not, Kili’s part in the movie didn’t add much, and the three stories were very choppy in terms of editing.

    It’s a lot of padding and empty calories when you see it for what it is, but it’s entertaining empty calories at least. For me the run time flew by.

    Pluses? Of course. While I in hindsight could have waited for DVD, for many I see Smaug worth the price of admission. Everything the buildup pointed to and more.

    The ending however, made me want to kick over a theater chair. The first movie had it’s own character arcs somewhat, but they really weren’t here. It is in and of itself a second act, with little going for it on it’s own without connection to the other films.

    Glad I saw it, but story-wise it’s certainly the weakest LOTR/Hobbit film for me.

    • I’m with you,

      It’s the weakest narrative of the five so far and the main players are lost in the shuffle throughout a lot of it. It doesn’t help that this film seems to further distance itself from the original trilogy in style – doesn’t feel like it’s the same Middle-earth.

      Smaug was epic, and highly detailed. Felt out of place with rubber CGI man Legolas.

  23. Every time I sit down to watch “Lord of the Rings”, I find the most enjoyable parts do not include Hobbits. “The Two Towers” and portions of “Return of the King” contained the best storytelling in the series. I was more interested in the human, elf, and dwarf stories. If someone went back and wrote out the Hobbits, I think “The Lord of the Rings” would be immortalized as ‘the best medieval-dark fantasy to ever be made’.

    • It already is considered the best fantasy ever made…It is the reason fantasy is popular as a genre…everything else is either a copy or borrows heavily.

  24. I wonder if they’ll ever license the other works…

    Tale of Tinuviel – trilogy of films for the foundation of Aragorn’s Numenor acestors
    Children of Hurin – another trilogy
    Trilogy for the battle against Sauron and Mordor, when Ithilien was lost
    ancillary movies for
    The Fall of Gondolin
    The Fall of Doriath
    The Fall of Nargothrond
    The Fall of the Numenor
    War of Wrath

    • I always thought that if they want to go with another movie set in the middle earth lore they should go with The Children of Hurin.

    • I believe Christopher Tolkien owns the rights to the rest of his father’s works so no you won’t see any more adaptations…He has said he hated the movies….he comes off as a stereotypical English fuddy-duddy.

      • Christopher Tolkien is rather old, so in 10 years time, the estate may well license more things. And the LotR appendices may well have enough to build more films.

  25. I am not a purist, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings films immensely, but some of these changes are really getting annoying. It’s ok when it adds to the story, or cuts down some of the elements to save time, but adding pointless over-the-top action is not needed. It’s not in the same tone as the LOTR films, it’s just CGI crap. We don’t need orcs in every scene, we don’t need a dwarf/elf love triangle, we don’t classic scenes like the barrels or Beorn’s house with an orc chase thrown in for no reason.
    You would think with 3 hours to tell 300 pages they would be able to tell all the awesome scenes from the book and then some, not cut out scenes like crossing the river in Mirkwood or entering Beorn’s house for some silly cartoon action scenes or Tauriel loves Kili garbage.

  26. When Bombur’s barrel was wrecked, he jumped back into another one, but I didn’t see any other dwarves get out and share for him to have one. Did anyone else notice this?

    • @ Pyronaut Yes I saw that too,I just assumed he squashed someone else but that’s unlikely over he’s size,there must have been a spare barrel.

      • There didn’t seem to be any spare barrels. They filled all of them and where wasn’t one left for Bilbo.

    • yep. kinda like when Thorin was almost killed in the first one…he was laying there with his sword a few feet away at his side, but when the Eagle came down, his sword was on his chest.

      It’s minor, but very noticable.

  27. Thoroughly enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug. I really liked An Unexpected Journey as well, but Peter Jackson definitely stepped up his game with this one.

    The few places where they drifted from the book wasn’t so bad and I especially enjoyed the original moments and characters too (Tauriel was a bad@$$).

    Seeing Smaug was just plain epic and the visuals were amazing. In the trailers a lot of the shots were unpolished and weird looking, so I can only assume the VFX team must have worked overtime because the effects looked terrific!

    As for the HFR… I don’t get the big deal. It’s looked a little different, but it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t exactly “amazing” either so I really don’t get all the controversy. It looked like I was watching a movie on one of those expensive SmartTV’s… I guess for some movies the HFR wouldn’t work well, but in the case of a high budget effects driven blockbuster, it fits and it added to the experience.

    All-in-all I loved it and the cliffhanger ending makes me want to punch a wall.Can’t wait for the conclusion to the trilogy!
    4.5/5

  28. i skipped school yesterday to see this and holy crap was i impressed. I just read the hobbit a second time and most of the scenes followed the book. Plus the little love scenario between kili and tauriel were pretty interesting. Think about it…A dwarf and an Elf…. :p

    • Don’t skip school. I know it sucks, but if you don’t want to sleep under a cardbord box in a back alley or give head to pay for your rent later in life you should take it seriously.

  29. Rant one:
    So about 100 orcs fight in a non- stop battle and only end up wounding kili in the leg?
    Sure, a few elvin guards get whacked Due to gross incompetence, but Tauriel and Legolas churn through them like butter.

    I thought I was watching a new X-Games event …..snowboarding combined with Orc whacking!

    Rant 2:
    Smaug could have toasted Bilbo about twenty times the way Jackson did that epic scene…..why not use Professor Tolkiens version, which had Bilbo slipping on the Ring and becoming invisible? Is it because they use that goofball special effect that distorts vision off the ring wearer?

    The chase scenes of the Dwarves and Smaug were also set up to become Disney rides, and were ludicrous. In the real story, Smaug was too clever for that and would have gotten most of the little poppers!

    I loved the book, and the movie, but wish he would stick closer to the story. Presumably it was a good story if it’s worth telling in a movie