‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ vs. ‘The Two Towers’

Published 1 year ago by , Updated December 14th, 2013 at 5:59 pm,

hobbit desolation smaug lord rings two towers The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug vs. The Two Towers

December is upon us, which means it’s time for the next installment in Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson’s second Middle-earth trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (read our review).

Jackson’s decision to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s fairly straight-forward Hobbit novel into a sprawling fantasy/adventure movie trilogy – featuring additional plot material that serves as a prelude to the Lord of the Rings trilogy – continues to divide film buffs, as evidenced by the range of critical reactions and general feelings towards the first chapter, An Unexpected Journey (read our review), and to a lesser extent with The Desolation of Smaug.

Sidestepping that debate – how does The Desolation of Smaug compare to the middle-chapter in the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers? One is a rousing fantasy adventure, while the other is a grandiose fantasy war epic – but does one achieve what it sets out to do better than the other?

Well, in keeping with our comparison between An Unexpected Journey and Fellowship of the Ring, we’ll examine The Desolation of Smaug and The Two Towers with regard to five different aspects: the characters, story, world, action/effects and direction. (Of course, if you’re already decided which one you feel is better, feel free to jump ahead and cast your vote in the comments section of this article.)

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The Characters

hobbit desolation smaug bilbo thorin 570x294 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug vs. The Two Towers

Thematically, the first installments in Jackson’s Hobbit and Rings trilogies examine flip sides of fate – choosing your destiny vs. accepting the destiny you are given – which are elaborated upon in the second chapters of each respective series, through the collective experiences of the many, many Middle-eartheans that populate both films.

In The Desolation of Smaug, we get the pleasure of watching Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continue his evolution as a character, gaining more courage and sharpening his wits – but remaining a polite and pleasant (if bumbling) Hobbit at his core. Meanwhile, the film better establishes why Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is perceived by his dwarfish peers as a king-in-waiting and great leader, yet it doesn’t skip addressing the dangerous consequences that his actions bring (nor how Thorin’s stubbornness can be as much a strength as a weakness).

As a result, Bilbo and Thorin continue to make for compelling leads in The Desolation of Smaug, since we are shown heretofore unseen shades of their moral fiber and personality; including, a darkness glimpsed in Bilbo – brought out by The Ring of Power (which becomes a great metaphor for how Bilbo’s newfound bravery/cunning is a double-edged sword) – and Thorin’s questionable motives, as his (Noble? Selfish?) desire to reclaim the Lonely Mountain brings out the cracks in his armor (which is overtly, but still effectively, symbolized with the Arkenstone).

lord rings two towers frodo sam 570x294 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug vs. The Two Towers

Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) has moments of strength, but he’s mostly the same plucky, yet passive, Hobbit in The Two Towers as we saw in Fellowship of the Ring; albeit, worn down by the burden of being Ring-Bearer; it’s Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) who starts to emerge as more resourceful than he originally seemed. Similarly, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) largely treads water rather than making progress forward with his character arc, yet is also portrayed with greater depth (thanks to a series of flashbacks to his time in Rivendell).

Certain supporting characters – like Kili and Balin in The Desolation of Smaug; Merry and Pippin in The Two Towers – are given room to grow in the respective Middle-earth films, while others remain flat and unchanged; save for Gimli in Two Towers, who gets reduced to mostly comic relief and played for laughs a bit too much. Bombur in The Desolation of Smaug, by contrast, is still primarily a source of humor, but he gets adequate time to prove his valor (see: the water barrel sequence).

Surprisingly, it’s Legolas and the newly-created Tauriel who make for especially intriguing (and unexpectedly multi-dimensional) players that intrude on the proceedings in The Desolation of Smaug, more so than comparable additions in The Two Towers like Eowyn and King Théoden.

Depending on how the Mirkwood elves fit into the story of the final Hobbit movie, they could wind up feeling like dead weight (unlike Eowyn and Théoden in Return of the King); the same goes for other additions, whose storylines are but partially finished in these second installments (see: Bard the Bowman from The Hobbit, Faramir from Rings).

Desolation of Smaug Evangeline Lilly Tauriel The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug vs. The Two Towers

Meanwhile, Gandalf gets sent away to manage other tasks (read: functions more as a plot device than character) for large chunks of both films, which are likewise evenly matched in having a wonderful scenery-chewing motion-capture addition: the malicious, yet pitiable, split-personalities of Gollum/Sméagol (Andy Serkis) and the baleful, yet egotistical, dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

In the end, the Hobbit film emerges triumphant, since it takes more time to form nuanced protagonists and supporting characters alike.  However, there is a drawback to that approach, which shall be addressed next…

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The Winner: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Next Page: Story and World

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TAGS: lord of the rings, the hobbit

46 Comments

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  1. God, I love Jackson’s films about Middle Earth! Easily, they are among my favorite movies of all time! They are masterpieces in the fantasy realm!

    • …and by the way, although we all have the inclination to compare them to one another, in the end, they will complement and make excellent bookends for each other. Both trilogies are going to be a must-have for any serious movie collector. I highly doubt that, considering how exceptional these movies are, and how much money they are making, we will see anyone attempt to reboot them anytime soon, probably not in our lifetimes.

      • I agree.
        Its a shame the Star Wars prequels dont do the same. At least for me.

        • yeah. i kept on thinking about that in the theater. almost everywhere the sw prequels went wrong, the hobbit trilogy excells at. its directors like peter jackson and quentin tarantino that show that with just an ounce of effort you can make profoundly engaging films. thats why films directed by people like george lucas and michael bay fall flat on their ass. if they would just give a little effort and care about the film rather than slapping together obvious toy adverts then wed have better films. nobody will remember count dooku in 30 years. nor will they remember the fallen in 30 years. what they will remember is calvin candy and smaug. hopefully the filmmakers of tomorrow are watching Djang Unchained and The Hobbit and realising that the art of cinema is so much more than rusty robots and stupid cg aliens with long necks. its an art form. not a marketing tool. ’nuff said.

  2. I thought The Hobbit sequel was a good film 8/10,but The Two Towers is great.

    • I had one problem with TTT – nothing could’ve topped the battle at Helm’s Deep. So, the final battle in RotK felt very small compared to that. Whereas in the Hobbit, the best is yet to come, the destruction of Lake Town and the Battle of Five Armies and DoS did what it was supposed to do, it set up the grand finale. Whereas TTT completely stole the show.

      • I also thought that the final battle in RotK was a bit anti climactic, but I’ll can’t blame TTT for that.

    • You say that as if great is better than 8/10, great is 8/10. I think you mean ‘fantastic’, or 9+/10.

      • @cjj I would say 8/10 is very good but 9+/10 is great.

        • So you don’t think any films are brilliant/superb etc., just ‘great’?

          • I would say great is a fitting word cjj.

            • Not for films as spectacular as the likes of LOTR. Great doesn’t do them justice and doesn’t emphasise their quality, which is why people use such words as amazing, as they’re much more fitting.

              • It’s sufficient for most people cjj.

                • Is it? I don’t think so.

                  • Well let’s agree to disagree.Peace.

    • I liked TT other than the glaring difference of the tree ents between the book and movie. I really hated how in the movie they just go yep let fight and decide to go to war just by talking with merry and pippin, in the book they say no no no until they find out that sarumon has been killing the forest for lumber – then get enraged by the slaughter and wreck shop. I dont know why but that always rubbed me wrong.

      • Aren’t you confusing what happened in the movie and the book?

  3. I agree its epic but I don’t think ROTK felt small in comparison.It just the best of the films imo.

    The third Hobbit film will possibly be the best of this trilogy with the battle of the five armies possinly taking about an hour of screentime

  4. Two Towers hands down. The Desolation of Smaug was a very good movie but Two Towers just had more. I was actually worried about the cast in Two Towers. Not so much in DOS.

  5. I love this review from a Finnish film critic who is tired of the whole “epic” thing…
    http://mankabros.com/blogs/btp/2013/12/13/the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug/

  6. This comparison makes absolutely no sense. They both have different stories, different themes, different characters, background motivation and even a different atmosphere, with The Hobbit being a children’s book and Lord of the Rings a series of books aimed towards adults.
    The problem is that a lot of people expected the exact same thing as the Lord of the Rings films with the same tone and development, when in reality leaving aside that the story takes place before the Lord of the Rings and features the same characters they have absolutely nothing in common. Of course they’re not going to be alike, and comparing the two trilogies is the same thing as comparing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Skyfall. What? They both feature Daniel Craig.

  7. I do agree the comparison is certainly not a direct one…as the author points out in the beginning before starting with the comparison…..but i do agree with the conclusion.
    The real comparison was of course…was it better than the last hobbit movie, the unexpected journey ?…. Did they up the ante..?
    Hell ya..!
    Almost everything in the movie worked….
    I was a little skeptical about Tauriel… I was okay with an additional character…i just thought it would be a token gesture, instead..it was almost a tolkien gesture (see what i did there..? Sorry, cudn’t resist..). Just the whole way her arc was portrayed…she felt like an necessary addition.
    The barrel sequence hilarious…and cool..
    The way they showed the necromancer…sauron…….reallly cool..
    And then…THE DRAGON…Smaug….utter, bloody, perfection…

  8. The Hobbit: TDOS has better characters than Two Towers?! This is madness.

  9. Even though it only seems logical that the action and effects of The Hobbit should be superior to The Two Towers (actually the whole trilogy) because of the time that has passed and the advances in technology but I still feel that what we saw in the first 3 films is better.
    Maybe better isn’t the right word but for me everything felt more real. Middle Earth felt and looked like a real place. With The 1st two Hobbit films and as I’m sure you can guess probably the 3rd everything just seemed to have a shine to it and even the darkest places of Middle Earth feel clean. But that’s to be expected when the difference in the budget between trilogies is more than doubled.
    I won’t get to picky or crazy because Smaug is flat out amazing and we wouldn’t be so lucky if this movie were made over a decade ago. I’ve even come to accept that we are going to see a lot more CGI Orcs and Gobblins so there’s no point fussing about it anymore.

    As far as the action is concerned. Let’s just say HELM’S DEEP. The greatest battle sequence in cinematic history as far as I’m concerned. It will be a long time (if ever) before that is topped.

  10. This was an excellent feature, Sandy, nice job and I agree on every decision you made, even with the characters being better in The Desolation of Smaug. Not to take away from The Two Towers but Bilbo alone in this movie was incredible and you mix in what they did with Thorin, who was better this time around, amazing.

  11. Guys, this is foolish. LotR movies were so much better.

  12. In the Desolation of Smaug, Tauriel instantly falls in love with Kili with no buildup whatsoever because he is unusually tall and handsome for a dwarf. Okay?
    Most of the emphasis in the Hobbit sequel is on Legolas and his love for Tauriel despite his father’s protests. Who cares? Does it move the plot, no. Are the two characters central in any way to the story? No, they’re not even in the source materal, but they’re forced on us like they’re supposed to be.
    Meanwhile, the characters that do matter – the dwarves, none of them aren’t given enough time to develop, they’re just there for comic relief. Thus, it’s blasphemy to say the characters are better in The Hobbit than LOTR.
    Also, the Hobbit is all visual grandeur, there is no intimacy in its settings like LOTR. Often times throughout the film, so much emphasis would be put on the visuals and CGI and 3d and animation that it would come off really fake, taking away from experiencing Middle Earth on an emotional level, so I would say The World would go undoubtedly to LOTR.
    Peter Jackson seemed to be too caught up in what doesn’t matter. On top of extroneous characters and unnecessary sub plots, he loved Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice work as Smaug so much that he has an extended sequence where Smaug kept talking and talking and talking and talking. When the action finally did pick up, it dragged on and on and just got really exhausting only to climax on a cliffhanger.
    Jackson seemed to have a clearer sense of what he wanteed to do in LOTR in terms of character development, dialogue, balance between intimacy of setting and visual grandeur, everything flowed so seamlessly. I wouldn’t say it’s a tie at all, but to each to his/her own.

    • The dwarves other than Thorin were hardly developed in the book.

  13. I couldn’t give a s*** about characters in Hobbit, nothing changed in part 2. There is no suspence there is no actual deep character developement even for Bilbo.
    The whole movie is dragged almost the same as the first one. Its a nice “watch once” movie but thats it.
    LotR was somehow better. Part 1 was ok, part 2 was better, part 3 was the end so hell with it. Hobbit part 2 is somewhere on the level of LotR 3, nothing impressive.
    Tolkien fans would obviously love it, i guess.

  14. Wait, are there actually people who prefer the theatrical cuts of Lord of the Rings rather than the extended cuts? How many? Like…four?

  15. Great read, thank you!

  16. I just love them all. Any excuse to spend time in Middle Earth is good for me!

  17. So when do these films take place before the lord of the ring films I always wondered if the hobbit films come before the lord of the ring films or is it leading to that?

  18. I completely disagree with this article. The winner should be The Two Towers. It is a better film. I thought DOS was a huge disappointment, less Tolkien and more action cheesy gimmicky blockbuster action.

  19. for some reason the hobbit movies are better than the lotr movies. they sort of feel like television episodes, where lotr felt like a really long trilogy that should have been two movies, with the hobbit i just want more.

    • Not in any way, shape or form.

  20. My only complaint with “DESOLATION OF SMAUG” is the abrupt cliffhanger.

    Otherwise, I prefer it over “THE TWO TOWERS”, whose second half – especially the Battle at Helm’s Deep sequence was a bit of a turn off and tiresome. Okay, if I must be honest. I don’t really like “THE TWO TOWERS” that much. And I liked “RETURN OF THE KING” even less.

    I can only wonder what the third “THE HOBBIT” movie will be like.

    • I loved the battle of Helm’s Deep.

  21. ‘The Two Towers’ and ‘Return of the King’ were the best in the series. If someone went back and retooled the movies, removing the Hobbits, ‘The Two Towers’ and ‘The Return of the King’ would make excellent medieval-dark fantasy stories.

    I like the elves, dwarfs, mages, and everything else.

    I HATE THE HOBBITS.

    • Then you probably should just ignore Tolkien for the most part…You might like Children of Hurin.

  22. The 5 movies are one big awesome Tolkien saga, with one more to go.
    One Ring. One Story.
    Thank you Peter Jackson!!

  23. I really like the comparison to a roller coaster in the last paragraph. Quite fitting.

  24. What are you smoking? The Two Towers is an epic and is regarded by most as superior in all of those categories. It’s more competent filmmaking. Scratch that. It’s excellent filmmaking. Desolation of Smaug is a movie with a somewhat interesting world, unique cinematography and some good moments, but in the end, it’s a freaking goofy action movie. Sure, some of the CGI is amazing, but it’s completely undone by Scooby Doo chase scenes, barrel sequences, and bad CGI (ugh, that molten gold scene is so cringeworthy.) It’s a true disappointment as both an adaptation and a movie in general. I can’t fathom anyone thinking DoS is anything but the low point in this series.

  25. DOS vs. TTT is really not even worth the debate IMO

    but I love Martin Freeman’s depiction of Bilbo. I think he’s the best part of this trilogy.

  26. Idont know, the desolation of Smaug is a good movie, but falls behind the two towers, the later is more epic… The Hobbit(book) is more funn to read, butt movies are kinda stretched… still very good movies, hope third one will be the best out of three…

  27. As if. The Two Towers is much, much better than The Desolation of Smaug. Anyone with any skills of critical evaluation would agree with me.

    Rotten Tomatoes:
    The Two Towers = 96%
    Desolation of Smaug = 74%

    The Desolation of Smaug wasn’t bad but The Two Towers is one of the three best fantasy films of all time. The Hobbit films are pretty poor in comparison and everybody knows that.