Watching Series: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

We Revisit The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Movies

by and | December 14, 2014 | Comments

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, we here at RT decided to take a look back at the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the first two films of the Hobbittrilogy. Our latest installment covers The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which editors Tim Ryan and Ryan Fujitani rewatched for some fresh perspective.

The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers The Return of the King

An Unexpected Journey | The Desolation of Smaug


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Ryan: The two biggest issues I had with An Unexpected Journey were the jarring visual effects and the propulsive-yet-somehow-mundane narrative arc, which mostly consisted of the heroic ensemble scurrying from one perilous threat only to wind up in another. Fortunately, The Desolation of Smaug found a way to make the former much more palatable and, thanks to some thrilling action set pieces, the latter more compelling, even if the plot followed a similar structure. The Hobbit still feels like a lesser franchise compared to LotR, of course, but even as Smaug juggled a few competing story threads that felt decidedly like rest stops en route to an epic conclusion, it also more fully realized the nascent threat of Sauron, which helped raise the stakes. I have a few minor quibbles with the film, but overall I found it a much more enjoyable watch than An Unexpected Journey, and I’d like to get your general thoughts on Smaug before I delve into the nitty-gritty.



Tim: Judged against The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbit films (the first two, anyway) can’t help but feel less substantial. But what’s wrong with that? If you scale back your expectations, An Unexpected Journey and (especially) The Desolation of Smaug are perfectly serviceable — and frequently outstanding — moviemaking on a grand-scale. The characters aren’t as vivid and the battles between good and evil aren’t as weighty, but as pure spectacle, Smaug mostly delivers. Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage make for fine leads, and Ian McKellen brings gravitas by just showing up. The forest infested by giant spiders shows that Peter Jackson hasn’t lost his affinity for the creepy crawlies, and even though the barrel escape/orc battle may defy the laws of physics (and logic), it’s really exciting. The set design remains impeccable — the M.C. Escher-like twists of the elf lair, the creeky wooden man-made island town of Esgaroth, and the the tight stairs and vast rock sculptures that line the Lonely Mountain are vivid and picturesque. And the scene in which Bilbo enters Smaug’s vast treasure chamber emanates a sense of I’ve-got-a-bad-feeling-about-this dread that echoes the space slug scene in The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, it’s probably at least 20 minutes too long (I have a sneaking suspicion that when it’s all said and done, the three Hobbit movies could be trimmed into one killer three-hour feature). But stretched-to-the-limit Peter Jackson is still more imaginative that just about any other blockbuster director out there.

Ryan: I remember some folks grumbling about the barrel scene when Smaug first came out, and I get that the physics are a little wonky, but like you, I thought it was pretty exciting. The action is visceral, inventive and easy to follow, if a tad cartoony, and the Mirkwood elves come off looking absolutely badass. But as long as we’re talking about that scene, I do feel the need to mention the level of violence in the film: there are a lot of decapitations and point-blank arrows to the face. I didn’t really have a problem with it, and in my opinion the orcs make for much more exciting action scenes than CGI trolls, CGI goblins, or CGI spiders, but I can’t deny I was surprised by the sheer brutality of it, however bloodless it might have been.



You also make a great point about the production design and Peter Jackson’s craftsmanship in general. I still think a Guillermo del Toro version of The Hobbit would have been really interesting, but there’s an explicit familiarity in what we’ve seen so far in Journey and Smaug that feels like a warm blanket — a slightly timeworn blanket with a few rough patches here and there, but a warm one nonetheless — and it makes it difficult to imagine anyone else in the director’s chair.

Having said all this, there were still a couple of things that bothered me about Smaug, which, to be clear, I thought was a far superior film to An Unexpected Journey. I could have done without the elf-dwarf romance between Tauriel and Kili, although I liked Evangeline Lilly; it felt completely unnecessary to me. The rest of the dwarves, save for Thorin and maybe Balin (the old, “voice of reason” dwarf), remain largely indistinguishable from each other. And there really isn’t anything substantive about the story, which essentially amounts to “a bunch of dwarves walk home… but there’s a dragon there!” I can see why Peter Jackson felt the need to shoehorn in the rise of Sauron. Honestly, I was much more intrigued by the history between the dwarves and the elves — briefly referenced in the film — and it seems we may get some of that in The Battle of the Five Armies, so I’m looking forward to the franchise ending with a bang.

The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers The Return of the King

An Unexpected Journey | The Desolation of Smaug

Tag Cloud

dramedy Calendar Star Trek television 2019 The CW Comic Book USA Network Black Mirror Election CMT CBS war FOX 21st Century Fox Amazon Emmys Valentine's Day TV Land richard e. Grant YouTube Premium spider-man SDCC golden globes NBC vampires Apple Cartoon Network social media cats romance See It Skip It dragons Comedy diversity Star Wars what to watch elevated horror Crackle Polls and Games Brie Larson Mudbound Country Food Network comiccon police drama finale Opinion Musical Trailer DC Universe Musicals talk show Anna Paquin Stephen King Character Guide RT History spy thriller Music Lionsgate ratings theme song witnail Women's History Month 2017 Nat Geo Mary Tyler Moore Esquire Ovation GIFs Best and Worst Thanksgiving robots Bravo cooking Comics on TV Creative Arts Emmys zero dark thirty Tumblr CW Seed facebook Nominations teaser DC streaming service ABC transformers The Arrangement Fox News Biopics Paramount DC Comics Mindy Kaling Rock 24 frames Showtime serial killer Toys Amazon Prime A&E ITV New York Comic Con Spring TV Pirates FX Sundance Now based on movie travel Hulu IFC American Society of Cinematographers YouTube Red Superheroes Sci-Fi Interview Pop Holidays dc Mary Poppins Returns Western BET Shondaland aliens Warner Bros. psycho Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt History sitcom 007 nature SundanceTV docudrama Acorn TV Lifetime First Look IFC Films crime thriller PaleyFest true crime Universal Sneak Peek Trophy Talk E3 Disney Grammys period drama Trivia TLC Year in Review El Rey hist Podcast BBC National Geographic biography Drama psychological thriller TIFF Syfy Sony Pictures Marathons Lucasfilm DGA Spectrum Originals Fantasy TruTV miniseries streaming Writers Guild of America Comedy Central blaxploitation comic Netflix Summer Quiz BBC America 2015 dceu San Diego Comic-Con Pet Sematary historical drama award winner Set visit Kids & Family MCU Freeform Tomatazos Marvel anime 20th Century Fox Christmas TNT ESPN Extras Premiere Dates composers Starz Super Bowl politics adventure Reality justice league CBS All Access cults TCA 2017 supernatural sequel MTV TCM mutant AMC OWN NYCC Horror Awards Masterpiece Logo RT21 2016 Columbia Pictures harry potter FXX CNN DirecTV casting binge Ghostbusters mockumentary singing competition Disney Channel Captain marvel Walt Disney Pictures Video Games Mystery X-Men YA Nickelodeon Winter TV Schedule President zombie green book Martial Arts TV thriller APB natural history Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Action unscripted Cosplay crossover political drama Reality Competition adaptation Ellie Kemper Britbox discovery Animation Certified Fresh TCA Dark Horse Comics Adult Swim MSNBC Winners PBS WGN GoT 45 TBS Sundance jamie lee curtis LGBTQ Spike technology Red Carpet crime zombies Infographic Watching Series USA crime drama festivals anthology Paramount Network E! SXSW VICE Fall TV sports Mary poppins Rom-Com cops science fiction boxoffice doctor who cinemax Superheroe GLAAD Box Office Shudder Photos Rocky Epix HBO 2018 Teen ABC Family Awards Tour Pixar medical drama Countdown Song of Ice and Fire VH1 Oscars