Following on from An Unexpected Journey, the Desolation of Smaug follows our hero Bilbo, the dwarves and Gandalf as they continue in their quest to defeat Smaug the dragon and reclaim Erebor. This 2 hour 41 minute instalment sees them meet Beorn, a man who turns into a bear, and travel through Mirkwood and Laketown before entering the mountain.
As always, the visuals were stunning. New Zealand’s landscape offers a gorgeous and varied backdrop for chase scenes, and it’s clear that no expense was spared on the built sets and CGI either. Each location felt right for what it was and who built it and lived there; the Laketown set in particular had a very lived-in feel, and the scale of the interior of Erebor was breathtaking. At Dol Guldur, unusual and unsettling camera angles add to the sinister atmosphere.
Performances, too, were fantastic. I find it difficult to pick out any particular actor to draw attention to as they were all very much up there. I will say it was a delight to see Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown, a pompous and tyrannical opportunist – and his costume was spot on too.
But it seems to me that director Peter Jackson is rather too fond of the story and its world. The length of the movie – approaching three hours – is testament to this. Lingering shots of the New Zealand landscape; certain sequences like the barrel run and various fight scenes stretched out longer than they needed to be; whole scenes that could easily have been trimmed or cut with little lost. The film could have been leaner, tighter, without losing its epicness.
In the second half of the film, when there is action in three or more locations, the film jumps between them rapidly. Scenes are chopped up, cut off to see something else somewhere else before being returned to five minutes later after a foray to two other locations where, similarly, only parts of scenes are shown before being cut off themselves. It makes for a disconnected experience.
Though epic in scale, there remains a little silliness, most notably in the barrel run sequence, which shows that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously – a little bit of ridiculousness and slapstick lightens the tone, a reminder that the story the film is based on was a children’s book.
But in other places the younger audience seems forgotten. There are two shots in particular which are rather unpleasant, one of them even chilling, and not suitable for young children.
The ending was rather abrupt. This goes back to my earlier point about Peter Jackson clearly being rather too fond of the franchise – and splitting the story into three movies instead of the originally planned two. The Desolation of Smaug does not stand alone. It does not end in a manner that feels like an ending. Yes, it’s part two of a trilogy, but it’s a year until we see the third part. And even Two Towers, part two of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, had a clear and satisfying ending which nevertheless acknowledged its position in the trilogy. The Desolation of Smaug does not have that. There is no element of the story which has been resolved, allowing progress to the next challenge as with The Two Towers. It ends with a cliffhanger – in my view a great big raised middle finger from Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema.
I did enjoy the film, don’t get me wrong. But the drawn-out length and the unsatisfying ending saw me leave the cinema disappointed rather than excited. When I got home, my fiancé asked me if I thought there would be a Lego video game of it, as there was with The Lord of the Rings and various other major franchises. I said yes, I think there will be.
“Will you play it?” he asked. We have the Lord of the Rings Lego game, my Christmas present from my brother a year ago; I loved the Lego Star Wars and Lego Harry Potter games – this is a game series I’ve been enjoying for years.
But to this, I replied: “I don’t know.”
Last time I gave An Unexpected Journey 7/10. I don’t think I can give even that to The Desolation of Smaug. Like its predecessor, this movie was too long, too lingering. In places it didn’t know if it was aimed at children or not. And while it was fun and stunning to look at and pretty cool, there was a lot of trimming that could, even should have been done to bring the movie down to a leaner, more reasonable length. But the ending is what really killed it. All build up and no pay off. So I rate The Desolation of Smaug a disappointing 6/10.