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

rotten aliens 2015 AMC hispanic Food Network halloween Pirates Warner Bros. criterion 4/20 Sneak Peek PlayStation nature name the review X-Men Hallmark Christmas movies 007 book WGN Baby Yoda binge transformers Extras Holidays Binge Guide YA TCA 2017 comiccon Set visit mockumentary YouTube Mary poppins The Arrangement BET Watching Series President Countdown E3 BBC political drama dramedy Women's History Month PaleyFest dc Peacock Drama asian-american animated vampires Calendar tv talk talk show fast and furious south america screen actors guild Disney streaming service Quiz harry potter Superheroe Best and Worst technology Amazon Prime Pop Disney+ Disney Plus Tumblr stand-up comedy Trophy Talk Pixar IFC Films crime drama 2017 doctor who Cartoon Network Tubi war Paramount chucky Emmy Nominations comic Adult Swim VOD jamie lee curtis Ellie Kemper Ovation laika Year in Review space El Rey comedies TV Land TV renewals romance SDCC Shondaland concert Star Trek Turner Classic Movies hollywood Amazon Prime Video hist TCA Winter 2020 Crackle sag awards Rom-Com films best richard e. Grant movie Western universal monsters Epix based on movie foreign sequels science fiction video Pride Month cooking Christmas Emmys blockbuster Schedule WarnerMedia crime The Walking Dead BAFTA Comic Book independent Premiere Dates Rocketman Rock See It Skip It Mindy Kaling superhero OneApp diversity streaming Spike Biopics Marvel Television Apple TV Plus Red Carpet latino renewed TV shows cartoon documentaries canceled documentary breaking bad First Look sitcom Spring TV Cosplay boxoffice Polls and Games Lucasfilm YouTube Premium cats Family Marvel Opinion FXX disaster crime thriller festivals Netflix Christmas movies Fox News docudrama 2020 OWN HBO Go Walt Disney Pictures Disney Plus PBS Logo American Society of Cinematographers news 45 A24 Comedy revenge golden globes TNT Pet Sematary Mary Poppins Returns SundanceTV joker Nickelodeon blaxploitation thriller Martial Arts USA Network anthology video on demand Nat Geo natural history Reality worst Freeform Esquire Avengers Musicals child's play directors cars Summer cancelled Sundance TV A&E 2019 Acorn TV 72 Emmy Awards unscripted Dark Horse Comics Crunchyroll Britbox E! BET Awards Oscars game show Creative Arts Emmys TruTV game of thrones Animation The Witch Video Games BBC America quibi Arrowverse National Geographic New York Comic Con Apple TV+ Elton John Marvel Studios Masterpiece a nightmare on elm street Awards Mudbound children's TV Mary Tyler Moore mutant FX Lifetime Tomatazos Action true crime 2018 VICE History Pop TV reboot elevated horror USA Chilling Adventures of Sabrina TCM crossover cancelled television finale Sundance Country Teen Universal werewolf Stephen King twilight Syfy Valentine's Day dogs theme song toy story Starz period drama medical drama Writers Guild of America screenings VH1 sequel Infographic Netflix social media kids MCU Turner nbcuniversal parents Rocky 20th Century Fox obituary psychological thriller franchise The Purge ABC stop motion adventure Winners 24 frames Heroines Amazon Studios versus Film Trailer singing competition Bravo GoT ghosts TCA Awards sports Photos zombie rotten movies we love FOX teaser HBO Max stoner GIFs Amazon NYCC DC Comics Superheroes ABC Family ITV batman canceled TV shows Shudder NBC DC streaming service Lionsgate dark Academy Awards reviews free movies adaptation Columbia Pictures Election dragons CW Seed Toys comics cops Classic Film Hallmark Certified Fresh anime Nominations Comedy Central Fantasy CBS Sci-Fi CBS All Access spider-man biography Podcast DirecTV casting Black History Month composers die hard Vudu supernatural strong female leads Comics on TV Super Bowl psycho MSNBC APB what to watch witnail Disney justice league Endgame serial killer FX on Hulu Tarantino GLAAD DGA 2016 satire indie Musical Ghostbusters Box Office series TIFF politics The CW Fall TV Black Mirror Character Guide CMT CNN Hulu Mystery MTV green book slashers Holiday robots Reality Competition discovery LGBT TV TCA 21st Century Fox classics travel Kids & Family critics Interview First Reviews Brie Larson spy thriller spain San Diego Comic-Con cults spinoff award winner Paramount Network Chernobyl 71st Emmy Awards TBS Discovery Channel Television Critics Association Lifetime Christmas movies Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Captain marvel LGBTQ DC Universe movies historical drama Winter TV ratings romantic comedy Cannes Showtime Anna Paquin miniseries indiana jones Marathons cancelled TV shows BBC One YouTube Red IFC ESPN Thanksgiving all-time TLC Hear Us Out zombies Sundance Now SXSW Film Festival Sony Pictures christmas movies police drama RT21 spanish language HBO mission: impossible cinemax Travel Channel cancelled TV series Song of Ice and Fire scary movies television Awards Tour facebook Funimation Star Wars Apple Grammys dceu RT History Disney Channel Television Academy Horror Trivia emmy awards Music Spectrum Originals zero dark thirty