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

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