This review was originally written in December of 2013. Images are not my own.
At one point in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug the dwarves cover the famous dragon in melted gold, only to see him burst out of the simmering liquid, flap his magnificent wings and cause the night sky to be littered with thousands of gold stars. It's the most impressive shot of the film and I suppose can be used as an analogy, the filmmakers being the dwarves who have almost smothered the living creature that is the book in their quest to gain more box office gold. It's a shame that the movie did not break free of its lugubrious additions, adding some more stars to the night sky that is the Tolkien Myth.
At one point in the movie a character talked about the elves "feast of starlight" and I thought it was a good description of what made the Lord of the Rings trilogy such a formative part of my generation's imagination. It's full of bright stars; music that will never leave me, moments of sacrifice and character that have formed mine, living people of all sizes who continue to take root in my mind, battles and horrors as real as our own, and a landscape paired with photography that allowed us time to look around and soak it in. And the first Hobbit film had echoes of these stars, scenes that took their time to introduce characters with humour and detail and shots that were beautiful and memorable. But these echoes were muddied by underdrawn additional characters and overwrought moments of peril. There is no doubt that our kid in a candy store, Peter Jackson, went overboard stretching the slender book to three films.
This second film expanded what was wrong of the last one. Moments of starlight are present in The Desolation of Smaug, but are quickly overshadowed by melted, melted something, but certainly not gold. Martin Freeman stands out and it is a shame that we did not see this hobbit in an adaptation worthy of his performance. Cumberbatch's Smaug was a feast to behold, when we could, and the Swedish Beorn was terrific, although his time on screen was far too short. And some of the new locations, including Laketown and it's characters, were very enjoyable, full of details.
There is a rumour that Warner Brothers is planning a middle earth theme park, and after seeing this movie I fully believe it. The studio must have asked Mr. Jackson to supply them with scenes they can turn into amusement rides and the director was happy to oblige with one set piece after another. Ride the barrels down the rapids with Biblo and friends! Ride the pulleys and rivers of fire to catch the dragon with melted gold!
I understand that for three movies some thing have to be added and I was okay with many of these additions, in particular Gandalf's quest into the identity of the Necromancer. But the thrilling additions lumbered instead of thrilled and left me bored and checking my watch.
Maybe I'm getting older. The films that inspire me like the night sky's are those that are creatively told, full of fascinating characters beautifully recorded by photography. This Hobbit has taken a children's story beloved for generations that is filled with starlight, and tuned into a Saturday morning cartoon. Saturday morning cartoons are popular, as this movie is sure to be and the producers will be glad to claim their gold. But it will not form the imagination of a generation and will easily be forgotten in a couple years.