‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Review

Published 1 year 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

Follow Ben Kendrick on Twitter @benkendrick
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    • Way way worse than Phantom Menace. At least people had not been reading an amazing story for 65 years and then had to sit through that piece of cr*p. As I have commented several times since I paid $3.00 for that abomination; someone should send PJ a copy of the Hobbit because from the film I saw yesterday he obviously never read it. Not only is it bloated with nonsense, but he destroys every good scene from the book so he can pull as many ropes as possible between Hobbit and LOTR. Why not just have Frodo and Sam, and the whole friggin cast from LOTR show up?

    • I voted 1 because you didn’t have 0 as an option.

    • With a heavy heart, I have to agree with you, although, the visual aspect of it, certainly Smaug, is absolutely astounding.

    • I never understood why they made Bard go through so much to get into lake town, but an army of Orcs could sneak right in no problem.

      I also don’t understand how many people like Tauriel simply because she is pretty. Sure it’s an added bonus, but sheesh, some people need to get out more…

      • @ a:

        You do know that that part where the Orcs sneak into Lake town is PURE FICTIONAL, right? It never happened in the book.

  1. As a Tolkien purist, I have to agree that this is a dreadful movie. Only 10% (that is being kind) has any relevance to the book. Peter Jackson should be banned from Tolkien lore for his defamation of a classic story…

    • I could not agree more. I was really looking forward to this movie and could not have been more disappointed. I couldn’t wait for it to finish and that’s saying a lot as I am a huge Tolkien fan.

    • I agree.

  2. I’m a huge LOTR fan but sorry but Tauriel completely ruined what would have been an ok movie. Female energy is one thing, making her a warrior is another, but making her into what seemed to be the toughest warrior of any man, orc or whatever is utter fantastical femme-garbage. Smaug should be afraid, very very afraid of Fran and Phillipa’s superwoman creation.

    PJ turned a work of art into a chick flick.

    Other than that, dwarves were too small. Height is fine, but the use of perspective made them look like mini humans with pin heads. This race is supposed to be brutally strong and stocky. They should be picking up elves and snapping them in half. Dwalin is the closest to what a Dwarf should be.

    I just get the feeling that PJ couldn’t pull it off, knew it and so he reverted to using elves and other garbage to attract enough demographics to save him from a flop of a film.

    • You exaggerate a bit there, Brix, or don’t have your information altogether, the Elves are not weak, they certainly are not weak next to man nor dwarves.

  3. I hated the fact that Tolkien added Tauriel solely to create some sort of petty love triangle between Legolas and Kili (though he insists that the movie needed a female hero. We had great female heroes before. Most notably Galadriel). Kili DID make it to Erebor without any injury, as did his brother Fili. 😐

    I hated it. Half the time I spent telling myself not to jump to my feet and scream in the theaters (God knows I wanted to). I felt like I just wasted $11.25 to watch some crappy fanfic of The Hobbit. Yeah, that’s what it was. A fanfic. I felt like Jackson was just sucking up to a group of females who are fanatics toward Kili and Legolas, rather than concentrating on the real Tolkien fans. There was no romance in “The Hobbit”. It was about an epic journey and character development. There is a line between spicing a movie up and taking too many liberties with it. Peter Jackson, you should be banned from touching any books written by Tolkien for the atrocities you did to the beloved book series.

    • If Peter Jackson made “The 3 Little Pigs” into a film it would be at least 2 films. In the first we would have the back story to the Wolf and how he became so powerful at blowing things down. A female wolf would be added to the story to please the female demographic. Her death and the subsequent effect it had on his life would cause him to begin destroying structures with his breath. Then in Part 2 about 3 minutes would be used to tell the tale of the 3 Little Pigs. Following that there would be a huge story of the effects of the 3 little pigs death on the world they lived in and the oncoming war between pigs and wolves.

      • I will pay to see that movie!

    • “I felt like I just wasted $11.25 to watch some crappy fanfic of The Hobbit.”
      You took the words right out of my mouth. As soon as Tauriel appeared, I felt like some teenage girl who writes fanfics took over the film to put in her crappy Mary-Sue OC in there.

  4. I just saw the movie and liked it. Disappointed that the riddle talk with Smaug was not all there (from the book). It is charming and the riddle thread from Gollum to Smaug and Bilbo should be in tact. Love that Bilbo gets the last line in both films-will he in the final one?

  5. Would anyone here believe me if I said that I got my 16 year old brother into Middle Earth by first showing him The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? I was surprised as well. He liked it and now he’s watching the Rings Trilogy. Tomorrow we take on The Desolation of Smaug.

  6. saw it today in HFR 3D [$8 bargain price] and thought it was great. i missed the HFR 3D of AUJ. it was jarring at 1st, but i liked it. it was almost like watching the action in person.
    Evangeline Lilly looks amazing as always. a fine performance. [i could totally see her as wasp in the MCU, but thats off topic] I never read the book, so i don’t know about any differences, I just thought it was a good flick, just as good as the other middle earth films before, and will look forward to the expanded bluray when it comes out.

  7. I just got back from seeing the film (the regular 2d version for this first time). It was AMAZING! Yes,there were changes again, but those alterations, I think, fit quite well into the telling of the tale. The humor was naturally flowing, the threats were “real”, the characters were developING (I’m still not completely sure about all of these people who say there was no character development in this MIDDLE film of three) nicely (though, of sourse, not completely), and the story moved well towards what I’m sure will prove to be a fantastic concluding film…easily a 4.5/5 for me.

    • Sigh…”of course”, not “of sourse”…Sheesh.

  8. I liked the first movie but my friends hated it, and we watched Desolation of Smaug today and they loved it.

  9. Quite glad that J. R. R. Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien, cut off licensing for further films post-third Hobbit installment.

    • Well, considering that Jackson has not provided us with a fantastic trilogy interpretation of LOTR and is well on his way to giving us a wonderfully expanded interpretation of a treasured fantasy classic in the “Hobbit” trilogy, that is both selfish and tragically stupid.

      I hope a wiser, more open attitude comes to the fore and prevails…

      • Sheesh!!!

        “HAS provided us”…there is NO “not” in that statement!

    • No offense but Christopher Tolkien owes a lot to Jackson and at the same time Jackson owes a lot to J. R. R. Tolkien. Christopher Tolkien wasn’t a big fan of Jackson’s work for LOTR which speaks volumes considering it’s considered one of few cinematic masterpieces of all time. When LOTR came out, I seem to have remembered that sales for Tolkien’s books have risen considerably. Also it was cut off because of issues involving money, not creative issues with Jackson or anything else, something well documented in many articles. I have a feeling Jackson is going to be over the Tolkien’s anyways once this trilogy is done with and move on to other things.

  10. Great movie!!!! The barrel scene was perfect and Benedict Cumberbatch is great as playing the voice of Smaug. Well done!

  11. Do you hear it? The “pitter patter” of the Fan boys tears as they fall upon their lembas bread.
    “Boo hoo. It’s too long, the book’s too short for three movies, there’s no female elf in the story…etc etc”
    Get over yourselves purists. If the Hobbit movie was based entirely and solely on the book it would be awful. There would be no meat on it, it would be lightweight, dull.

    Do you hear that too? “Thump thud, thump thud”. That’s the sound of the erudite, witty, and oh so right film reviewers all clapping each other’s backs in their combined hatred.

    This movie sure ain’t high art, but it is a fantastically enjoyable romp through a world I’ve grown to love. Personally, as long as I’m not bored, I want to spend as long as I possibly can in the world that Jackson has created, and I can’t wait for the third installment.

  12. Saw it today. Since I read The Hobbit only once ten years ago, and all that I remembered from it were the spiders in the forest and the dragon (which probably makes it a pretty forgettable book), I thoroughly enjoyed it. A little too much use of CGI (I like the costume and mask orcs of the LotR trilogy much better) but other than that a great fantasy ride.

    I’d rate it 4/5 as well.

  13. Woohoo, yet another entertainment article which managed to work in the word “titular.” One day soon, I expect a movie called “Titular,” about an average guy named Titular, who wanders around the internet looking for overused phrases and words. Titular’s titular hero Titular will likely be sorry to fine himself stuck with such a tired trope to work with, and will choose the nuclear option as he races toward the film’s unexciting, stereotypical climax.

    • Ummm, Gnosisless…

      Since you decided to come up with the most useless complaint EVER, what word would you have preferred?

    • LOL

  14. I treat this film like Pacific Rim. Some people will love it for what it is and some will hate

    • For better or worse, this is indeed very much the Pacific Rim of Middle-Earth movies.

  15. Does not deserve 4 stars. Overrated. At most 3 stars. Cause it was disappointing, not upto expectations or previous films bar.

    • And it never will. LOTR was something of a masterpiece. It happens once in a while and rarely does it reach that kind of level. Jackson with the Hobbit, I never really expected anything near as good as LOTR. It was a different time and different story. The Hobbit is more of a kids story and it’s very apparent on the screen in which it’s geared more for the young crowd. LOTR is more of an adult tale. Something I noticed when I first went to see these films when they came out more than a decade ago. If you’re expecting a LOTR detailed type of storyline then you will be disappointed because it’s not going to happen but, like Pacific Rim, if you want to go to see something that will take you back to you childhood middle earth experience then you will be satisfied. Nothing more, nothing less

      • JaredDac – very well put. I’ve been reading the comments and yours pretty much sums up how I felt about the comparisons of LOTR to The Hobbit. Peter Jackson appears an ardent J.R.R. Tolkien fan, especially for the LOTR, and The Hobbit is really a kids’ story. As a personal aside, it’s also my least favorite story of the Middle Earth saga, so I welcome the changes Mr. Jackson has made. And Benedict Cumberbatch really came through as Smaug – such a nice, silky voice so full of arrogance and menace. Just marvelous.

        mac :]

  16. Desolation of Smaug was awesome. SMAUG is the most terrifying Dragon in the History of Cinema. I can understand both sides of the argument of the Tolkien Purists. The film is very enjoyable especially in 3D. Life is short. Live A Little. You can like both the book and the Film. I do. Enjoyed An Unexpected Journey and Desolation of Smaug. Hate to see people divide up into camps over a film. But to each their own.

    • I prefer dragons that can’t talk (and spiders that can’t talk for that matter). It makes them more mysterious and terrifying. But Smaug was very good for what it is, with excellent visuals.

  17. Haters on this website. The review or summary is OK but the comments after are just people that focus on the negative. The original story was written by Tolkien but the movies are Peter Jacksons’ I doubt any of these internet trolls have anything nice to say about anything. Go and enjoy the movie. The HFR is neat. The 3D is done well. Not gimmicky. Just enjoy it for what it is. I do have to laugh at all of these haters that are so pissed about the movie but all have seen the movie within three days of it coming out. Haters gonna hate.

  18. Generally, I’m not a novel purist; I can enjoy a film even if it deviates from the source material. But there are some novels you do not mess with, and The Hobbit is one of them. I wish I could have loved his film because Smaug was amazing and the whole thing was pretty entertaining, but I COULD NOT get past the godawful romance subplot or the fact that Bifur, Fíli and Kíli were LEFT BEHIND. Plus the fact that the Mirkwood and Beorn scenes were far too short when they were two parts of the book I was most excited to see on screen.
    I have become an ultra-nerd.

    • I think you blow the romance subplot way out of proportion. There was barely anything of it in the movie. Perhaps 3 minutes combined. That’s less than 2% of the overall running time. 😉

      • Agreed. A friend who was soo annoyed at first with it at first actually timed the “romance” scenes and it totals all but 7 minutes from being a prisoner to the meeting at the town to save his life. The Smaug/Bilbo scene is towards the end and that’s longer than the romance plot. Like my friend said though, if it doesn’t follow the source material exactly people will complain. I personally don’t mind because I have an idea where this “romance” scene is all going in relation to the LOTR movies but we shall see.

  19. Was the thing about Thranduil’s burned face from the book? Why were those scars hidden? Do the elves have some kind of magic facial scar hider that can be turned on and off?

  20. Old Hobbits die hard!

  21. The Hobbit is one of my favorite books, I have read it more than any other. And I have to say that I am really off put by some people. People say that it is an abomination…really? I have come to terms that these movies are adding a lot in and I truly don’t care. The movies are fun and entertaining and while I would not consider myself a Tolkien purist I still do know the lore. the only mild complaint I have walking out of the film is that they really shouldn’t have made Azog and bolg CG. take the sticks out your bums and enjoy something for once.

    • If you really want to know why they made Azog CGI the Appendices from The Hobbit EE Blu Ray explain. Apparently they made him “real” at first, but that didn’t seem to be working so they went with a mocapped CG character.

    • Your “version” of reading the book most likely involved the old cartoon. Something tells me if you had read the book, and enjoyed it, you would be very ashamed of the way they COMPLETELY changed it around to add teenage heart throb characters and love triangles.

  22. I prefer the storyline in this installment, and don’t care much for the deviation from the book (since a) I haven’t fully read Tolkien’s book and far more importantly b) producers SHOULD add their own scenes, and of course take some away). The characters were interesting to get to know – mainly Bard and Tauriel, but there are so many dwarves that I can only remember two names – Thorin and Gloin (Gimli reference). I suppose the dwarves aren’t memorable as single characters, rather as a group. Adding any individual character storylines was essential for translation to screen, since these allow people to connect more ly with the characters. By one and only gripe with the film is the extremely bad CGI towards the end. I liked everything that was CGI before the light the furnaces scene. The solidified gold in the furnaces (just not finished quality), the liquid gold in the channels (felt cheap and overly clean) and the falling tapestries/banners when Smaug smashes the wall above Bilbo (they fell so awkwardly and with poor physics) , were all terrible quality, almost pre-vis bad. However, these scenes don’t detract from the overall movie.

  23. Anyone who likes this film and has read the book should log off right now. What a shameful money grab. Directed towards teen age girls and twilight fans who needed a sparkly Legolas to dream about at night. Total garbage for the sake of raking in more ticket sales. Loved the books and enjoyed the LOTR where he didnt take the original work and whipe his ass with it.

    • Wow…Does pompous snobbery come naturally to you, or did you have make a special effort for this thread?

      Seriously…the arrogance of thinking your OPINION is ultimate truth on this film.


  24. I’ve read the book every year for 36 years and consider Jackson’s interpretation fantastic.

  25. This movie really disappointed me. Where the heck was John Rambo? I hope they develop the back story on him in the next film and he uses a grenade launcher to defeat the magnificent Smaug – just like in the book. Then, I hope that Rambo manages to single-handedly decimate the Orc hordes while screaming, “they drew first blood, not me!”
    What an absolute train wreck this movie turned out to be. All it needed was some Benny Hill music playing while the dwarves led Smaug on a wild goose chase through the mountain (strangely, what they did kind of reminded me of the elaborate plots that “the gang” from Scooby-Doo would use in order to catch the monsters at the end of each episode). Peter Jackson, you failed on this one, but I thought everything else you’ve done was alright. Sorry, not a fan of this one.

  26. I have a question for the Lord of the Ring/Hobbit buffs. Does Smaugs death effect sauron’s return? If he had not died, had Sauron’s return and war for dominance be impacted at all? Smaug mentions that the darkness is coming, but does that mean he didn’t fear it?