Well, I guess waiting a month to see DESOLATION OF SMAUG shows you how excited I was for it. To be honest I still didn’t have any urgency but figured that since I did intend to see it eventually I wanted to see it while 3D was still available. It seems to me like the movie ended its brief flirtation with the public consciousness at least 2 weeks ago, but I heard a group of grey-haired gentleman in the theater questioning why it was mostly empty and there were no “young people wearing costumes.”
I learned my lesson from part 1 and skipped the High Frame Rate version playing at the Cinerama, usually my preferred theater. On Imax 3D there was some ghosting but it looked like an actual professional movie, an immediate advantage over my experience with part 1. For that reason it’s hard to really compare fairly, but I think I enjoyed this a little more than the first one, despite having the same flaws.
There’s no getting around that I think this whole endeavor is misguided. Padding out a short, simple children’s story with volumes of supplementary material to stretch it into a 9+ hour epic trilogy is a straight up bad idea that only a crazy person would do. The crazy person in question is Peter Jackson, director and actor who plays “Guy Eating Carrot” in the first shot of the movie. I don’t mean to get too down on him, because I’ve enjoyed almost all of his movies over the years and I think it’s useful to have obsessive guys like him, George Lucas and James Cameron always trying to go huge and to push technology forward. But it’s becoming more evident that Jackson’s not as good of a storyteller as either of those guys. What if just as an artistic challenge he tried to do a short, tight movie that includes all the necessary information and will not be part of a series or have an extended edition? I can’t really picture there ever being a disciplined Peter Jackson again. Or maybe there never was one. But at one time there may have been a Peter Jackson who was vaguely aware of the concept of “restraint,” and that is the Peter Jackson I would love to see making movies.
Think of the DVD extras, Peter. How are you gonna have deleted scenes if you don’t delete any damn scenes? Do it for the special edition.
So like the first chapter of THE HOBBIT this middle chunk is pieces of a funner-than-usual fantasy movie peppering a long slog to nowhere. The most obvious thing that should be cut the fuck out is the entire subplot about Gandalf. He splits up from The Hobbit to go on a journey to find out that he senses that there is some kind of war that is coming and… gee, I wonder how that will turn out. It’s like if the Star Wars prequels spent 20 minutes just on telling us that there was gonna be a Death Star in the later movies.
But accepting that that’s what this movie is, there are some fun parts. Martin Freeman returns as Bilbo “The Burglar” Baggins, owner of the magic crack ring that makes him invisible, going on a trip with a gang of dwarves trying to reclaim their homeland or a jewel or something from some prick dragon that lives under a mountain. Despite the title it’s not always clear if The Hobbit is supposed to be the main character, but at least I felt like I knew him better than most of his dwarf posse. Was there always a dwarf that looked like John Travolta? I don’t mean the one that looks like John Travolta in BATTLEFIELD EARTH, I mean the other one.
I don’t know that much about dwarves. I know they’re good at mining. I kept expecting them to whistle while they worked. Is that racist? Or is it just an observation about their culture? You tell me.
When last we left them they were on top of a mountain and still had to travel further to get to this dragon mountain. There are still some cool animated orcs following them, but mostly just watching and waiting to attack them later. In the woods there are not lions and tigers but there is a bear. Gandalf plays a funny prank on the dwarves and convinces them that the way to be safe from the bear is to break into his house and sleep there. You know how much bears love that. They want you to eat their porridge too. It turns out this bear is some kind of werebear and when he comes inside in human form I swear to Christ I know the exact math of how he was created:
Later they get lost in the woods and the hobbit pulls a classic rookie movie: he playfully strums a giant web, attracting the attention of an army of giant spiders who cocoon them all and try to eat them. This is one of the highlights of the movie, a battle suspended in the air, falling through webs, and with the creepy bonus of the spiders speaking English when he puts the ring on. That little hairy-toed fucker actually slays a bunch of the spiders mercilessly, going the extra mile to take off the ring and spook one of them before stabbing him to death. He also kills a baby! I honestly think this was a legitimate case of self defense, but they play it like he’s a drug fiend going too far because he dropped his precious and the baby stepped near it. Afterwards he’s all dirty and sweaty, his clothes all fucked up, just like a real street junkie.
And I don’t believe any of these dwarves who gave him so much grief in part 1 never fuckin acknowledge that he just saved every one of their tiny little asses.
There was a picture going around of Conan Stevens from TRUE LEGEND dressed up as the lead orc, and supposedly it’s terrible that they decided to go with an animated character instead. But to me this is not like I AM LEGEND where the effects are kinda distractingly fakey, these are AVATAR level characters. Stevens looks cool in the picture, I would’ve liked to see him in there, but we have hundreds of movies with slimy muscle dudes in boney armor swinging battle axes around. I gotta give this one credit for bringing the otherworldly beasts of fantasy paintings to life in ways we haven’t seen before. Unfortunately, this one makes a big entrance for a really cool new orc with a fucked up eye and then either they didn’t show him again or I just lost track of which one he was, because I didn’t notice him again.
Later our little guys get taken prisoner by the elves. This is different from the part in part 1 where they stayed with the elves or the part in one or more Lords of Rings where they also stayed with the elves, because this time they’re in jail cells. They’re convinced it’s gonna be a long bid and you know what that means: the dreamy dwarf who looks like Jimmy Fallon better watch his ass. But they go a different direction, they have him start flirting with a female elf guard, so it’s leaning more in the direction of an ILSA SHE WOLF OF THE S.S. type prison movie than an AMERICAN ME type deal.
You remember Legolas, the blond elf from the RINGS trilogy, he’s in this one and he has a bunch of good action parts but they portray him as a possessive asshole who stands around and gets pouty because his dad won’t let him date a lower class elf and she’s given up on him and has her eye on some little dwarf dick.
The other highlight is another action sequence where the dwarves escape elf prison by riding barrels down a river and then they get attacked by the orcs and then the elves also fight against the orcs. I’m actually kinda surprised at the praise the scene has gotten because it reminds me of the big chase nobody but me seemed to like in KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, but without as much of the ebb and flow and building to climaxes that Spielberg naturally oozes into a scene like that. But that’s forgivable because honestly these movies work best when they just treat it as THE HOBBIT: THE RIDE. In fact I kinda wished they had the Splash Mountain music playing during this scene. It’s fun because it’s very stylized, cartoonish kinda action choreography, everybody knows exactly when to swing, when to duck, when to jump. Legolas stands on the heads of two dwarves, shoots one arrow through the heads of two orcs. Kinda reminded me of that old Jet Li movie FONG SAI YUK the way he runs around on top of people. There’s alot of different types of parkour in this one: dwarf-head parkour, forest parkour, mountain parkour.
By the way, it’s interesting that I kinda forget Orlando Bloom exists sometimes, ’cause he’s in several of the biggest movies of all time. He’s a star of the original LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and of the three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies that count. Plus he’s in both TROY and KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, so he’s no stranger to epics. They should put him in a STAR WARS or a FAST AND THE FURIOUS, make him give Ian McKellan a run for the money as king of all franchises.
Speaking of FAST AND FURIOUS, Luke Evans from FURIOUS 6 is in this as a middle earthling who helps transport and shelter the dwarves through a human village near the dragon’s place. Honestly when I heard he was in this one I assumed he was one of the dwarves in the first one and I just didn’t recognize him. Instead he’s kind of the token regular sized character and seems destined to kill the dragon in part 3. All I know is the dragon better not kill him unless he wants Jason Statham on his ass. Which would be the best reason to stretch this series out even longer.
This guy lives in a little shack with a couple daughters, I feel so bad for them having to share that little place with 13 dwarves who arrived covered in dead fish and then hid submerged in piss and shit. I’m sure there’s a 15 minute singing and bubble bath scene that will be in the extended edition, but you can’t tell me they got all the smell out. Then that night the family gets home-invaded by orcs and then two warrior elves also come inside and join the battle. On one hand they’re gonna have nightmares until they’re 300 years old, on the other hand I’m sure nothing is open past 6 pm in this godforsaken village so maybe they appreciate some excitement.
You know who’s a dick? Fuckin Smaug. Or “Big Wyrm” I believe was his nickname on the block where he grew up. He’s that dragon they talked about in the first one who allegedly stole the dwarves’s gold and then he just lives in a cave. He sleeps buried in gold coins and treasure and shit. Not sleeping on a pile of money – actually completely covered in mountains of gold so you don’t even know he’s there at first. He doesn’t even spend the stuff. I don’t know what his deal is. Has he been hibernating since he stole it? If not what the fuck does he do with his time in there? It doesn’t seem like much. I don’t see any books around.
To be fair, hoarding wasn’t even defined as a mental disorder until the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, so it would’ve been hard for him to get help. Also because he’s a fuckin dragon who attacked the village and killed a bunch of people.
Smaug is a cool animated character though. I know Guillermo Del Toro, when he wasted years of his life not making this movie, planned to do him with animatronics. That would’ve probly been pretty cool, but this works too. He has a smarmy look on his face and he slithers around and he kinds gestures with his claws.
The way the dwarves try to deal with Smaug is pretty cool. They’re working together to get this giant contraption started, and it seems like they’re gonna dump molten gold on him (a pretty good fuck you to a materialist like him) but if you’ve seen it SPOILER you know the mold opens up and they’ve made a giant gold statue of the dwarf king to shove in his face. It’s a patriotic gesture! A boot in the ass, it’s the American way type deal. But ALSO it’s unstable and melts into molten gold all over him. Excellent planning, fellas.
At the end Smaug gets covered in gold and flies out to attack the city and man, I would’ve given this movie 4 stars if the theme from GOLDFINGER played over the end credits. Instead they have a fairly tasteful ballad. I would’ve gone 3 stars if at the end it segued into an awkward rap about Smaug, but no dice.
Here’s the kind of thing I’m thinking. I have this song on vinyl:
Consider this: a verse by Busta Rhymes. He gives an overly literal description of some scenes from the movie and then quotes his famous “Rah! Rah! Like a dungeon dragon” line from “Scenario.”
Better yet: Busta Rhymes as the voice of Smaug in the movie itself. Admittedly, the arrogant rumble they got out of famed moistener-of-American-panties Benedict Cumberbatch was pretty much perfect. But Busta would’ve been perfect plus.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.