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

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