‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Early Reviews: A Thrilling Adventure for Tolkien Fans

Published 9 months ago by , Updated December 13th, 2013 at 2:09 pm,

hobbit desolation smaug reviews The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Early Reviews: A Thrilling Adventure for Tolkien Fans

[Update: Read our own review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug]

Peter Jackson’s first Hobbit trilogy installment, An Unexpected Journey, grossed over $1 billion worldwide, yet it received easily the most lukewarm critical reactions of his Middle-earth films to date. Speaking personally, I quite enjoyed the movie – as did some other members of the Screen Rant crew – but understandably, not everyone was so tickled by the leisure pace at which the story unfolds; that An Unexpected Journey feels a bit clunky at times is also understandable, since it was originally intended to be the first-half of a two-part cinematic experience (not the beginning chapter in a new trilogy), until part-way into post-production.

Regardless, the second Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug, seems to blend the charm and heart of An Unexpected Journey with twice as much in the way of exhilarating action and spectacular set pieces – plus the addition of the foulest of all nasty dragons ever put to screen (voiced and performed through motion-capture with delicious cunning by fan-favorite Benedict Cumberbatch) – judging by trailer footage and clips from the film, anyway.

Does the first wave of reviews for The Desolation of Smaug – which have hit the ‘Net since the embargo lifted – confirm this as true? Well, read the SPOILER-FREE excerpts and see for yourself (click on the links for the full reviews):

Variety:

If “An Unexpected Journey” felt like nearly three hours’ worth of throat clearing and beard stroking, the saga gets fully under way at last in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”… Actually shorter than the first film by nine minutes, this robust, action-packed adventure benefits from a headier sense of forward momentum and a steady stream of 3D-enhanced thrills — culminating in a lengthy confrontation with a fire-breathing, scenery-chewing dragon…”

THR:

After exhibiting an almost craven fidelity to his source material the first time out, Jackson gets the drama in gear here from the outset with a sense of storytelling that possesses palpable energy and purpose. [For] the most part he moves the episodic tale along with reasonable speed for a leviathan while serving up enough fights, close shaves and action-filled melodrama for an old-fashioned movie serial or a modern video game.

The Guardian:

The Desolation of Smaug is a cheerfully entertaining and exhilarating adventure tale, a supercharged Saturday morning picture: it’s mysterious and strange and yet Jackson also effortlessly conjures up that genial quality that distinguishes The Hobbit from the more solemn Rings stories. The absurdity is winning: you’re laughing with, not laughing at.

In short: get strapped in, because as far as plot developments and action are concerned, there won’t be anything as slow and steady as twenty minutes of raucous dwarves eating – or a sequence where Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) magically resuscitates a hedgehog – in Jackson’s latest romp around Middle-earth.

hobbit desolation smaug thorin oakenshield 570x294 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Early Reviews: A Thrilling Adventure for Tolkien Fans

Thorin (Richard Armitage) from ‘The Desolation of Smaug’

The Desolation of Smaug boasts the same technical qualities and alternative viewing options – including 3D and/or high-frame rate projection – but, thus far, most critics seem to agree that these elements have been improved and refined, when compared to An Unexpected Journey. Futhermore, the percentage of CGI components versus practical sets might be closer to what many people would prefer, as we’ve seen evidence – in the form of behind the scenes footage – that shows a good chunk of the second Hobbit film’s visuals weren’t created in post-production (for example: this promotional video showing the set used for the home of Beorn, the giant shape-shifting man).

Indeed, on the whole, the heightened filmmaking craft and storytelling technique in The Desolation of Smaug has gotten select critics more than a little enthused, as evident in this five-star review from Empire Magazine:

Empire:

While An Unexpected Journey had plenty of bucolic charm, it did, for a Middle-earth film, feel oddly inconsequential. The Desolation Of Smaug remedies that. Moody, urgent and, for want of a better word, Ringsier, it’s a much more satisfying film… Verdict: Middle-earth’s got its mojo back. A huge improvement on the previous instalment, this takes our adventurers into uncharted territory and delivers spectacle by the ton. And in case you were wondering, yes, someone manages to say the title as dialogue.

Similarly, The Desolation of Smaug has claimed the #10 spot on Time Entertainment‘s ‘Top 10 Movies of 2013′ list:

Time:

Who could guess, after the meandering first feature in a seemingly unnecessary eight-hour trilogy of films based on a novel of less than 300 pages, that Peter Jackson had such a vigorous and thrilling middle episode in store?… Each complex encounter, especially a flume-ride escape of the dwarves, boasts a teeming ingenuity of action and character… In all, this is a splendid achievement, close to the grandeur of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.

hobbit desolation smaug bilbo baggins The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Early Reviews: A Thrilling Adventure for Tolkien Fans

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) from ‘The Desolation of Smaug’

However, although nobody is denying that The Desolation of Smaug is an adrenaline-fueled blast of fantasy fun, it would be a lie to claim that everybody is still onboard with the philosophy that Jackson and his collaborators have embraced, when it comes to how they’ve adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit source material for the big screen. Indeed, many of the common complaints levied on Jackson’s previous Middle-earth ventures – they’re too bloated, too extravagant, too spectacle-oriented – have reared their heads once more here. (Not exactly a surprise, though, is it?)

Case in point: here’s what the naysayers have to offer, at this stage:

Indiewire:

To wit: the Peter Jackson-directed ‘Hobbit’ sequel might be the more vigorous, action-packed, darker and more (superficially) engaging version of the series thus far, but that doesn’t actually mean it’s a keeper of any sort… The truth is, audiences are going to approve of this sequel. It’s entertaining, it’s engaging and it’s got thrills, but all at the expense and to the detriment of what stories, narrative and filmmaking should be about.

Screen Crush:

There comes a time when we must stop kidding ourselves. These ‘Hobbit‘ films – with ‘The Desolation of Smaug‘ representing the shank of the trilogy – are not real movies. These are exploitation films for Tolkien nuts, for enthusiasts of the original ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies and for audiences so hungry for high fantasy they’ll gobble up whatever is served to them and ask for seconds.

In all fairness, though, these negative reviews for The Desolation of Smaug aren’t exactly that damning; the general implication is that if you’ve been okay with Jackson’s general Middle-earth filmmaking principles in the past, then you probably won’t end up having any significant gripes with the second Hobbit installment. On the contrary, it should leave you all the more pumped to see the (you know what’s coming) epic conclusion to the trilogy, with The Hobbit: There and Back Again.

518000123 3 725 498 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Early Reviews: A Thrilling Adventure for Tolkien Fans

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Look for Screen Rant’s official review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, when the films opens in theaters on December 13th, 2013.

Source: See the above links

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  1. Ah nice, just found out the embargo was lifted and was hoping you guys would do this article. Didn’t want to read any of the reviews just in case of spoilers.

  2. Looking good so far. One major complaint I had with the first film was it’s slow pace and lack of plot progression but Desolation of Smaug doesn’t seem to have that problem. These reviews got me pumped, really looking forward to the movie.

    • I just don’t get the complaint about the first film having a “slow pace”. For me, after the characters are introduced and they leave the shire, the movie is pretty much non-stop action. I enjoyed it very much, and it met all of my expectations, as it apparently did for many others as well, since the movie made over a billion dollars. I am hoping, however, that those of you who were less than thrilled with the first enjoy the second and third.

      • Well to be honest, the first 45 or 50 minutes took place in Bilbo’s house and that was just much too long for me. I actually got annoyed. I’ve only seen it once actually so I can’t quite remember how the rest of the film went but I remember being tired and very bored half way through the film. And this is coming from someone who enjoyed every minute of the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was planning to watch it again but didn’t want to really go through it again lol, though I may rewatch it this week before watching Desolation of Smaug. I’m hoping I enjoy this installment more, it looks like I will anyway.

  3. I’m so excited to see this film. Along with American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street and Anchorman 2, this is one of my most anticipating films of the year, easily. I liked the first one and enjoyed Bilbo Baggins character played wonderfully by Martin Freeman and let’s not forget about one of the greatest characters in this franchise even though he had short screen time, Radagast the Brown. And every time I see “Riddles in the Dark” in the first installment, I get goosebumps and shriek like a little girl (I’m not a girl btw). I just want to see Bard, Beorn, the Necromancer development with Gandalf and Radagast and most of all, the interaction between Bilbo and the menacing Smaug because we are bound to get chills when Smaug speaks just like I did when in the trailer he said “I am king under the mountain”.

  4. I fall inline with the bottom guy, i havnt seen this one but part one wasnt even a shell of what lotr offored. It was a patheric return that mirrored the phantom menace

  5. I don’t understand how all of you can approve the needless changes to the source material (without providing any source to where those changes came from) and yet, you complain when Harry Osborn is made the green goblin before Norman. Not saying that it’s wrong but c’mon.

    • I have to agree with you. While the vast majority of changes to LotR were understandable to hit all the major points ans still retain the essence of the story, The Hobbit trilogy conversely appears to be adding much more, “because”; Turning Thorin into a Dwarf in his prime, giving us Dwarves that look more like short Humans, putting the group right in the middle of the Stone Giant game, adding in Azog (because we didn’t have enough real antagonists?) changing how and where the Goblin King was killed, the 14 stooges running over the ramshackle bridges, giving Legolas a somewhat major, party saving, role (compared with no role), adding in another non-existent female Elf to add to the Legolas connection, and that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head.

      Jackson had gotten too full of himself and his accomplishments and is now overconfident enough to change things as he sees fit instead of having the reverence for the source material he had with LotR.

      Sorry but I don’t worship at the shrine of Jackson and no person is above reproach. While making successful films does garner him a certain measure on the leash, you have to keep proving yourself with each and every movie you make. There are no “bys” or “he will do better next time” in my book.

    • I thought it was pretty well- known that they were adding all these new stuff from Tolkien’s supplementary writings. We’re obviously never going to get a film of the Silmarillion, so isn’t this the best way to see more of Middle- Earth’s elements on screen?

      • Yes, Van Dyne, it is/was well known. The few here who complain about the expanded storyline have a history of doing so under other discussions. As if no other screenplay ever differed from the book on which it was based…

        Heck, if any movies are guilty of expanding upon the “books” on which they are based, they should be complaining about Batman, Spiderman, Superman, etc.

        • The problem is that comic books (as wonderfully explained by WatchMojo) is that there are often re-imaginings and different versions to a character’s past. It’s not one single story that has no variants or different versions or things like that, like Dune who has 3 books telling the same story from different points of view. Here many changes were unnecessary. I mean I could understand why they would add the complete Necromancer story (although making him a recent threat was just plain stupid) or to expand the story, since half the book is Bilbo sleeping. But why adding Radagast? Hell, not even a nice Radagast, a Jar Jar Binks Radagast. Not to mention that the ridiculous inclusion of Legolas and that Elf chick that are nowhere in the book have absolutely nothing to do with the story, and what about Azog?

          As I said in my comment, how can you approve all this changes but Superman killing Zod (something that has happened over and over again) is a sin.

      • I don’t know if Alex is referring to the inclusion of the Necromancer/White council storyline but I wasn’t. Everything I listed was NOT in the books [that way], appendices or unfinished tales. Jackson decided to twist, change and add things for no good reason imho (I can’t speak for the Legolas/Tauriel addition being a 100% bad decision in the upcoming movie, but the other things I listed I use as empirical evidence)

  6. oh, I’m so excited, next week can’t come soon enough!

  7. I’m as vocal as anyone about my love of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I am totally biased in my praise for all three.
    So while The Hobbit had some problems I still give it a 8 out of 10 and have re-watched it a few times already.
    Now that I’m reading reviews that say The Desolation of Smaug is even better than An Unexpected Journey I’m tickled pink. I’m not someone who would let bad reviews alter my view of any movie but it does feel good when the reviews are great.
    I can’t wait for Friday morning. :)

    • i have the whole series to date and I can’t wait until next Friday night to see what happens in Desolation of Smaug. I am also looking forward to There and Back Again. I would love to see The Simarillian done as a movie also.

  8. This one should be an improvement – this is the money part of the Hobbit. It does not surprise me that it has better pacing, more action and so forth. That comes with the territory. However, I will not believe that this is a good film until I see it with my own eyes, and that probably will not happen in the theater. I tend to agree with those critical-review excerpts, at least with regard to An Unexpected Journey and the approach to The Hobbit in general. The first film really does not hold up for me, even to the middling level of tolerance that I initially gave it.

  9. I am looking forward to seeing this. My theater is showing it in High frame rate. Is it worth seeing it in high frame rate and is the film more life like?

  10. Now I admit I am biased since I love lord of the rings…. But didn’t those two negative reviews basically have no complaints about the actual movie? I just pictured a couple writers with their noses permanently stuck up in the air

  11. I adored “An Unexpected Journey” and I am super excited to see “The Desolation of Smaug”. I love that Jackson has expanded Tolkien’s universe to give us a more in depth look at it by using other Tolkien works. Seems to me that it will enhance the movies instead of detracting from them.

  12. I love a film where the story unfolds slowly. Particularly when it is a Clint Eastwood directed movie.

    But The Hobbit was a snoozefest. Too little story stretched over too much time.

    • I scratch my head whenever I hear this complaint. After the characters leave the shire, the movie, at least for me, is pretty much non-stop action.

      To each his own…

  13. I re-watched the Hobbit last night after not seeing it and being disappointed since the cinema release.I really liked it and will watch it again.Sure the opening 40 mins is clearly for kids only,but then again so is the book.

    • The first 40 minutes also serves to introduce the characters to anyone who may not know them. Not everyone has read the book, you know.

      • Yes your right of course.I think its very funny,Bilbo’s complete confusion,and the song is pure Tolkien.

        • These two sets of trilogies are going to make excellent bookends for each other. I can’t wait to spend an entire weekend watching them from the beginning, The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey, to the end, The Lord of the Rings – Return of the King.

          Truly, this is a collector’s set of films if there ever was any!

    • I just wish they would say it the way it is: “a thrilling adventure for Peter Jackson fans”. I have no idea how someone can claim to be a Tolkien fan and say they enjoy this as well . It doesn’t supplement or enhance the books, it detracts from and often outright mocks them. It’s a “children’s story” from a more mature age made into an all-ages movie for an immature age. No character development (Bilbo is an action hero from the moment he walks out his door; Thorin doesn’t have to be swayed by Bilbo’s heroism, Bilbo’s already his hero by the end of the first movie). Non-stop action so you don’t have to ever think at all during the movie… and yeah, I’d lol at the people who were “bored” but it really does sadden me for today’s generation; it does explain the clowns who get too bored driving to actually drive and insist on texting and taking selfies instead of, you know, DRIVING. Make sure we get the snot and poop gags in though, no subtle humor for today’s discriminating audiences…

      smh

      • Apologies though len (?), that was meant as a general reply to the article and not directed at you specifically.

  14. Looking forward to this, like many The Hobbit was very slow to get into unlike any of the LOTR movies and had way to much CGI for my liking and not as much character development. But from the looks of this sequel it seems that Jackson is getting back to what made LOTR the best trilogy of all time and that’s good news for everybody!

  15. 8 hours to tell the story of the Hobbit over 3 years is beyond ludicrous and at current ticket prices, is just plane criminal. The first part was worse than watching paint dry!

  16. That sounds promising. I would love to a film up there with The Lord of the Rings series.

  17. I cant wait to watch this film! Desolation and there and back again will feel very close to the Original trilogy. Exciting time to be in Middle-Earth

  18. I’m really hoping this second part is a vast improvement over An Unexpected Journey. AUJ was such a pale shadow of its predecessors that I seriously considered skipping out on the rest of the series. Slapstick humor, action stunts that had no place in Middle Earth (i.e. riding a rickety wood scaffolding twenty stories down a chasm and sustaining no meaningful injuries), CGI orcs that in no way meshed with the live action orcs from the trilogy, cheap rehashes of old scenes (Gandalf doing his ‘darken the room and speak deeply’ thing at Bag End and the way the ring first falls onto Bilbo’s finger, for example), the Saturday morning cartoon portrayal of Radagast and that whole sled scene had no place inhabiting the same world.

    The story was good, the acting and dialogue were good, the costuming and sets were good. The execution was terrible. I’m all for adding in the appendices material and have no problem at all with the running time, but so many things went wrong that I have a hard time believing the version of Middle Earth in The Hobbit can possibly be the same one we see in The Lord of the Rings. Desolation of Smaug has a lot of work to do if it hopes to salvage the series.

  19. I am excited for this film. I’ve read on a couple of LOTR fan sites that has a little more information on the film and based on their “experience” I am feeling good about this movie. It sounds like Jackson is getting back to what worked on LOTR and has toned down the CGI. I also like the fact that one review said that the HFR with 3D is much improved and serves it’s highest purpose in this film.

  20. SPOILER ALERT: The Desolation of Smaug is the same crappola as the Hobbitt, just more intensely so, and goes farther astray from Tolkien’s charming little tale about the personal journey of discovery of a HOBBITT, which is superceded in this installment by a tragic heroic tale about a dwarf, for cripes sake. Jackson’s film should be called “Thorin Desolates Smaug’s Ass,” for Bilbo the supposed protagonist is everywhere diminished in Jackson’s telling, and all of his actions serve to advance not the story of his own character development, but that of the true protagonist, the soon to be tragic hero Thorin. There really was never any need to bring along Bilbo on the quest in Jackson’s story, for it is the mighty Thorin who reclaims his kingdom by his own efforts, and not by the efforts of the not very crafty Bilbo. Once again as in The Hobbitt the action sequences are pointlessly excessive and non credible, and dished out as so much cheap filler. When the dwarves rode upon the molton gold in the climactic scene I actually cried out “Oh my gosh” in the theater, shocked as I was as to the degree to which Jackson was making a mockery of Tolkien’s mythical world, which has degenerated now into mere video game entertainment in Jackson’s lazy hands. I don’t know how a lover of Tolkien’s noble mythology could ever approve of Jackson’s throw-in-the-kitchen-sink approach to film making, where each over the top action sequence is calculated not with the idea of story advancement in mind, but with the thought “how can I provide the audience with another cheap thrill?” The end result is not to thrill the mind, but rather to numb the mind. What ever happened to the creative genius that was evident in TLOTR trilogy? And I must say that there is no joy whatsoever in Jackson’s latest Hobbitt installment. Middle Earth seems to be under as much or even more threat of orc attack as it was in the time of the War of the Ring, what with orcs running ramshackle through Mirkwood and even Laketown for Jupiter’s sake! And it is bad enough that Thorin and eight dwarves are able all on their own to kick Smaug’s butt out of Erebor, but instead of staying and fighting it out with them to reclaim his lost treasure, Jackson has Smaug decide to skip out and wreak havoc on the people of Laketown, rather than fight for his treasure hoard. Why for Jupiter’s sake? Because that was how it was written in Tolkien’s book? Well, that only makes sense if Bilbo sneaks off from Smaug and the dwarves are away, not if they’ve wrested control of Erebor from Smaug after he has controlled it for 60 years. It’s all just pointless and stupid and a great disservice to Tolkien’s text. But if it allows for more big action sequences, then the modern audience says “How cool!” But I say, what a disgrace! The Desolation of Smaug still rates as a 2 1/2 star movie, it’s not incompetent film making, you’ve seen this seem formulaic video game action flick over and over again in the last 10 years, but it is a travesty as an adaptation of the Hobbitt of JRR Tolkien.

  21. I have read LOTR and was a Tolkien fan since, the second movie was about to be out so i bought it, just to read it before i watch the movie. This book(available in a set of 2, or sometimes as a single book), is just as the other Tolkien’s masterpiece, truly amazing. Buy it if you are a LOTR fan, trust me it is for a collector, and something you won’t regret.

    • Same here with me, and also a Tolkien fan, here in India, it was hard to find the big book store so I could find, but finally I got it from the Ambience Mall of Gurgaon city, yes it is available a set of 2 and a big nice poster (I stick it on my room). I am going to keep it with me forever and waiting for the movie.

      All the Best,
      Hindi Shayari.

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