The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

I had a busy weekend planned, but by a stroke of luck some time cleared for me and so I headed straight to the cinema and caught the second instalment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a great film, but a mediocre adaptation of the book.

Cover of the first edition of The Hobbit from 1937, from a drawing by Tolkien.
Cover of the first edition of The Hobbit from 1937, from a drawing by Tolkien.

I read The Hobbit when I was eight or nine and was immediately drawn into the world of Middle-Earth. J. R. R. Tolkien‘s story of little Bilbo Baggins overcoming arduous and harrowing obstacles is one that many children can identify with. I know I certainly did.

The Hobbit is a book that I’ve read several times since then and each time I’m amazed at the depth of the story and how well Tolkien painted his world for readers of all ages. Peter Jackson has been bringing Middle-Earth to life since 2001 and I think he’s done a very good job of it overall.

Yet with this latest instalment of The Hobbit Peter Jackson has, for me, glossed over some of the most witty and charming parts of the book in order to add parts that were never hinted at in order to fulfil some ideal of a mega blockbuster film. That isn’t to say that The Desolation of Smaug is not a great action film, the film is nearly non stop action, but rather it does this at the expense of Tolkien’s story. It’s the missing pieces, and not the additions, that cause the film to fall short.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013).
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013).

Conversely, The Desolation of Smaug is a gorgeous piece of film work. As always, Jackson has used New Zealand to provide us with spectacular views of Middle-Earth and the people of New Zealand have every reason to crow about it. The sets, props, and costumes are amazing and Weta Workshop have outdone themselves again. The dragon Smaug is an especially compelling piece of visual work.

Once again the magnificent ensemble cast has giving us a truthful and convincing performance. It is impossible to praise one performer higher than another simply because it’s their work together that brings this film to life. These characters are old friends to me and I’ve never once felt that the actors have not done their best to bring them to life. For that I am thankful.

Even though the story lacks certain elements I felt were more integral to the story, Peter Jackson has given us an exciting film that, for the most part, stays true to the spirit of Tolkien’s story. Perhaps I’ll feel differently after a second viewing.

UPDATE (23 December 2013): After seeing The Desolation of Smaug a second time I found it more enjoyable this time. Perhaps because I noticed things I hadn’t the first time or perhaps I wasn’t watching it as an extension of the book, but rather as a film and story in its own right. What ever the reason, another viewing has increased my regard for the film and the franchise as a whole.

UPDATE (30 December 2013): I saw The Desolation of Smaug in the HFR (high frame rate) 3D yesterday and it was gorgeous. If you can see it in that format you should.

On another point I got to see the preview for the new Godzilla (ゴジラ, Gojira) film due out next May. I must say, as a fan of Godzilla, I’m extremely excited after seeing this preview on a big screen. I hope it goes a long way to erase the travesty that was the 1998 Godzilla.

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