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By Anita Felicelli

About this blog: I grew up in Palo Alto and now live in Mountain View with my husband, daughter and two corgis. After about a decade grappling with the law, first as a law student at UC Berkeley and then as a litigator around the Bay Area, I left ...  (More)

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Why "The Desolation of Smaug" is So Disappointing

Uploaded: Dec 14, 2013
Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug isn't terrible, but it's not great either, at least not for those fans that preferred the well-paced children's classic adventure of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit to his somewhat ponderous and adult-oriented The Lord of the Rings. Jackson's decision to stretch a fun book out for three movies in order to embellish upon storytelling that's tight and well crafted plays out poorly.

To be sure, The Desolation of Smaug is more fun than An Unexpected Journey, the first movie in Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy. As the movie starts, Bilbo and the dwarves are making their way towards the mountain to recover the dwarves' treasure from the dragon Smaug. We're quickly thrown into their skirmishes with the interesting creatures of Middle-Earth. Watching in 3D makes all of these well-crafted pulse-pounding action sequences especially enjoyable (and partially justifies the obscene cost of going to the theater for a placeholder middle movie).

In particular, Jackson crafts a wonderful sequence in which Bilbo climbs to the top of some autumn trees to get a sense for how far they have left on the group's journey to the mountain and shakes out some beautiful blue butterflies. The serenity is disrupted by a riveting battle with giant forest spiders.

Another thing the movie does do well is its portrayal of Smaug, the intelligent but arrogant dragon that pillaged the dwarves' treasure. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch and gorgeously digital, Smaug and his interactions with Bilbo yield the most dynamic scenes of the movie.

The fun actions sequences are a marked improvement upon the first movie, but that's actually not saying much. Jackson adds an annoying and unnecessary romantic subplot between one of the dwarves and Tauriel, a girl elf warrior played by Evangeline Lilly. Lilly is okay in her role and I sympathize with the motivation for adding women to Tolkien's male-centric story, but this subplot and other efforts by Jackson to emphasize that this movie is the backstory for The Lord of the Rings detracts from rather than adds to the original.

I was also never sure whether all of the humor in the movie was intentional. Everyone speaks in that pompous breathy way that's meant to convey importance in fantasy movies and community theater Shakespeare productions. A scene in which the dwarves ride down the river in barrels is a true feat of technical genius, but it is also ridiculous.

Unlike Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's The Hobbit is light-hearted, so sometimes the tonal choices make sense. On the other hand, Bilbo's personal growth ? his choice to be courageous and his journey towards heroism ? is part of what makes The Hobbit such a great story. There's some gravitas to that storyline in the book that gives depth to the humor. Actor Martin Freeman does an excellent job portraying Bilbo, but Jackson has surrounded him with too much farcical humor, too many drawn-out fight scenes and a painfully long run time to give this storyline its due.

Jackson's The Hobbit could have been a grand, stirring adventure, a story of how even the small, complacent and unimposing have the ability to become heroes. Instead this movie is just another bloated cookie-cutter action adventure fantasy with great CGI. This is all the more disappointing because Jackson's team did such a great job interpreting and trimming the fat from The Lord of the Rings.

Undoubtedly there are many Tolkien experts and fans of action/fantasy movies that will vehemently disagree with me. What did you think of the movie?
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Terence , a resident of Bailey Park,
on Dec 14, 2013 at 4:23 pm

unintentional humor, ad hoc love story, et al - hallmarks of Hollywoodization

Posted by Sara, a resident of another community,
on Dec 14, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Personally, I thought the first film was much better. This one seemed to drag on, and the romance between Kili and Tauriel almost made me regret seeing the movie. It also made Legolas look like a creep and Thranduil was very disappointing. We got like 3 minutes of him trying to be cool and sassy and failing. Though Smaug himself looked fantastic, I really wish Peter Javkson had stuck closer to the book. I love The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, but this was just very disappointing. I\'m not sure how much I'm looking forward to There and Back Again now. Hopefully it will be better than this one.

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 15, 2013 at 6:19 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Thank you both for your comments. Terence - Probably true, but I wouldn't have expected it with Jackson's interpretation of The Hobbit, in light of his interpretation of LOTR.

Sara - Curious to know what made you like the first one? I liked the scenes with Gollum, but other than that, I had trouble staying interested. I felt the same way about the elves in this one. I suspect There and Back Again will also deviate a lot from the book.

Posted by Michael Martinez, a resident of another community,
on Dec 15, 2013 at 8:44 am

I\'m not sure "Tolkien experts" care to disagree with anyone about anything at this point. I did not like "Desolation of Smaug" simply because it makes no sense. "An Unexpected Journey" was a much better movie, in my opinion.

But when you\'re making movies for tens of millions of people, you can\'t please them all at the same time or in the same way. It\'s a shame anyone has to feel defensive about their reviews.

You\'re allowed to like what you choose and to say so. I hope other Tolkien and Jackson fans agree with that.

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 15, 2013 at 8:53 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Michael Martinez- Absolutely! I read LOTR, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion when I was a little kid, so I'm not one of those fans who remembers tons of stuff about Tolkien's vision and I enjoy being filled in by the many people who do. Even if they disagree with me. For example, this abrasive, but knowledgeable post gave me a lot to think about with respect to the first movie: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/dislike-peter-jacksons-em_b_2342591.html. I'd like to read something like this for The Desolation of Smaug, but I'm not the one to write it.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Dec 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm

There\\\'s no Hobbit in the Hobbit.

The bravery of the dwarves in this version overwhelmed the growth of Bilbo into a leader. When the book\\\'s dwarves cowered the filmic dwarves were Gung Ho kick ass characters. What did they need Bilbo for?

I also think that Smaug\\\'s warning to Bilbo NOT to trust the dwarves was buried in the conversation in the film version, while it is almost the HIGHLIGHT of the book. The Dwarves are far too charming, hardworking competent brave and acrobatic. In the book they are money grubbing proud and exploitative.

Posted by Movie lover, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 15, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Saw the movie today. Felt that it moved faster than the first one. Did have the disadvantage of being the middle,film-- so thee was no ending-- just the film stopping. Some good action scenes. But what I did not like was the high frame rate-- made it look like a video game or like I was watching it on a HDTV

Posted by Akai Koru, a resident of Green Acres,
on Dec 15, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Movie was horrible. Jackson is just trying too hard to connect the dots between LOTR and the Hobbit. Yes they are connected in many ways. But he had to add in all this BS that just destroys the story. AND worse than that he had to rewrite all of the best parts of the book to include his nonsense.

Posted by nexangelus, a resident of another community,
on Dec 16, 2013 at 6:18 am

Having grown up on a staple diet of Tolkien and other fantasy books, I am afraid the transfer to film has changed the whole essence of the book (The Hobbit). The humour in the book is far funnier than in the film (slapstick nonsense) and the addition of the unnecessary fight scenes, stupid love interests, characters that don't belong, the so-called appendices add-ons and what not, detracted from the main story. Jackson is treating us like most other Hollywood directors - as fools. It is time that they left more to the imagination, trusted the viewer and stopped filling films full of complete and utter nonsense which lessens character and plot development. Nothing in this film impressed me, not even the 3D. I became bored when the wood elves captured the adventurers, that was not too far into the film. Even Smaug in my imagination was far edgier and well embellished (did he not have an awesome covering on his underside of jewels in the book?).

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 16, 2013 at 7:13 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments (and for the most part, commiseration.) Dan, well-said: "There's no Hobbit in the Hobbit."

nexangelus - I think you're right that Smaug had mostly iron scales, but he did have gems covering his belly.

Posted by Ken, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Dec 16, 2013 at 9:09 am

Personaly i really enjoyed the first movie. Found it followed really well the book but this follow up has really disapointed me. so many little things missing from the book. dont know if u noticed but for one the enchanted forest didnt make them cross the poisonous river.. the whole love story put me off aswell. actually got bored half way through the film.. Im still wondering how bard is going to find out about smaughs weak spot as there were no birds around to listen in on smaghs and bilbos conversation... too many little details missing and adding some ridiculous extra story lines.. did like the comment from legolas to gloin telling him how his son was ugly. XD poor gimli.

Posted by Wewedede, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Dec 16, 2013 at 7:17 pm

[Portion removed.] The second film was superior to the first in every regard! There was better pacing, better action, better set design, better character development, an actual antagonist (two really: the orcs and smaug), even the color pallets was better - the Hobbit looks like it was filmed through a mud brown filter. I seriously cannot possibly fathom how anyone could prefer the first movie to the second unless you are a purist and are that bothered by the artistic license taken with aspects of the second film. I\\\'ll be seeing desolation at least 3 times. If I never see the Hobbit again it will be too soon.

Posted by Gus M, a resident of another community,
on Dec 16, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Horrible, disappointing, and long winded of a movie. J.R.R. Tolkien is rolling in his grave. (No disrespect intended to Tolkien)

Posted by Bonez, a resident of Atherton,
on Dec 17, 2013 at 2:23 am

Ironically, they constantly make mention of the greed of the Dwarves. Their greed is only rivaled by the greed of the production staff stretching a great story just to make as many movies as possible.

Posted by Raymond, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Dec 17, 2013 at 7:52 am

The book was better. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Posted by fantasyfanatic, a resident of Community Center,
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:05 am

Did anyone else think that Orlando Bloom failed at reprising his role as Legolas? It was unbearable to watch. He was so fantastic in LOTR and honestly he looked like he was CGI most of the time. In addition to that the special affects were lacking, they spent more time making it 3D then using the advanced technology to make it look real. I also hated that if Peter Jackson was going to stretch one book into 3 movies then there was no need to change/cut/or add anything. I\\\'m all for creative interpretation but he murdered the storyline. Beorn was one of my favorite characters and he was involved for 2 scenes...I love The Hobbit and LOTR but this was truly disappointing. AUJ was better than this one but still not the greatest. All I know is I will not be skipping to the theater for the last one.

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:49 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Bonez - it certainly seems that way. This trend of stretching out wonderful (and reasonably sized) source material into overlong multi-part movies is getting annoying.

Fantasyfic - now that you mention it, yes Orlando Bloom did look like a CGI-created character. Something about his movements seemed off. I thought maybe that was something about the frame rate mentioned by Movie Lover above, but then all the other characters should have looked that way, too.

Posted by mikemikemike, a resident of Green Acres,
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:45 am

Thank you finally someone else besides myself (and everyone in the theater) thought this was a long and unnecessary movie. Too many LOTR references, and long fight scenes. With no payoff. I saw the first movie and forgot what happened because it was so unmemorable. I\\\'m surprised more people are not on youtube complaining. I am so pissed at jeremy jahns on youtube. I looked at his review and listened....never again will I listen to him. but i agree with most of your review.

Posted by Juan Olive, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Dec 17, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I never read the books but I've really enjoyed all 5 movies so far. I think all your comments are fair and I agree that some of the Hobbit and this one does get a little slow at times and looks absolutely wonderful to look at and hear at other times. But I'm pretty simple minded when it comes to movies. I judge a movie by how many times I will or can actually watch it over and over and these 5 so far, I can honestly say I could enjoy each one more then a few times.
The one example I can give you (As if any one cares) is this. Star Wars, I can only watch 4,5 and 6. 1,2 and 3 I refuse to watch. Maybe not 3, that was the best of all 3, but the point is, Jackson has made 5 that are entertaining to watch over and over.
Merry Xmas Everyone

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

mikemikemike - not sure who Jeremy Jahns is, but I'm assuming a popular reviewer on You Tube?

Juan Olive - I see what you mean. It's true that critics usually review a film just as it first comes out, watching it at most twice, so they might miss the value to a film that does not impress on first or second viewing, but has a longer life for purposes of holiday tv viewing or the like. I think the first time I saw It's a Wonderful Life as a kid, I didn't really get what was so special about it, but after watching it perhaps 30 times, I love it and can't imagine the holiday season without it. Have a great Xmas.

Posted by Steven A., a resident of Shoreline West,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 5:50 pm

A great review Anita. Desolation was a big disappointment, IMO by far the weakest of the five Jackson hobbit films. After an hour I was yawning and shifting in my seat. The plot and acting were overwhelmed by the CGI. It just left no time for anything else. The animation wasn't even good. Most of the time it looked like a cartoon. Hope they do a better job with the last film.

Posted by Marcia P., a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on Dec 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm

DoS feels like so many other fantasy-action films out there, now. Lots of action, LOTS of CGI (and obviously CGI, I\'m sorry to say) - the wonderful characters Tolkien developed were overshadowed by the unnecessary fighting, Jackson-verse (non-canon storyline) and dumbed-down characterizations (Radagast - I was embarrassed to watch him). I, too, was bored and found myself rolling my eyes at the elf-dwarf romance, Thranduil\'s pastiness, and the ever-present orcs. Jackson lost himself in this one - I hold little hope that he will find himself in the third film.

Posted by Travis, a resident of another community,
on Dec 22, 2013 at 9:11 pm

I just have to say, I loved the lord of the rings trilogy. Peter Jackson was amazing in every way while making it (even though almost every battle with orcs was in sunlight, which almost all orcs can`t stand).

The same can not be said about the hobbit trilogy. The first one I found was great, with all the added in details put in perfectly and nothing that I could see really missing that matters, and Jackson adding an antagonist that keeps many non-Tolkein readers entertaind. The desolation of smaug is a different story. So much unneccasary stuff was added in! A love story between a dwarf and an elf, a morgul arrpw hitting kili, 4 dwarves staying in laketown, it just doesn`t fit. And the fact that Peter Jackson seemed to ignore so much of the book to add his own ideas, like the dwarves trying to steal weaponsIin laketown and smaug and bilbo having a talk about how he would be bringing his treasure home. Even all the orcs having matching armor with great weapons although they were realy from poverish caves and could care less about matching armor sets. I just can`t see myself buying the movie to watch it for years to come like I did for the first one.

To you all who actually read my endless ramblings thank you for listening to my opinion.

Posted by Kevbo, a resident of another community,
on Dec 23, 2013 at 1:13 am

Hallo from Berkeley.
Since Jackson\\\'s blown it a la Lucas, is there any chance that the rights could still be obtained from the Tolkeins for another try--now that we know what doesn\\\'t work.
I think if they\\\'d taken the screen play from the old cartoon of The Hobbit and made it into a live action film they\\\'d have done a MUCH better job than this, without even having to think about it. As someone commented above, they BURIED all the good dialog from Tolkein amidst a lot of clap trap. It\\\'s like Jackson didn\\\'t even understand the story on a plot/pacing level. Only good thing added was the elf warrioress, but I\\\'d say that was mostly the actress\\\'s gifts (and that of her dwarf friend).

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 23, 2013 at 8:06 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Kevbo - Agreed- it's astonishing that the quaint cartoon version we all saw as kids managed to trump Jackson's version.

Posted by Ana Davis, a resident of another community,
on Dec 23, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Actually I think your review is SPOT ON.. as a Tolkien purist myself.... I was extremely upset with the idea of this female elf character added in and I completely agree that their stupid subplot removed me from the more interesting (and whole point of the movie) story. Smaug and Bilbo were perfect... but adding in the dwarves made no sense at all and only delayed the film for 15 more minutes.. when in reality the film should have ended with Smaug's death. As a Tolkien fan, I say right on to your statements because I do not understand how all the other fans out there are giving such rave reviews for an unnecessary CGI filled "action show".

Posted by Poliwogs, a resident of another community,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 1:53 pm

The first Hobbit movie was great. There was a lot of character in it. It had songs! I thought they should have had more of that. You were well 30 minutes plus into the movie and they hadn't left the Shire yet, but I didn't care because the movie was doing such a good job of enriching us with the world and its culture. Jackson does a great job in filling in between the lines here. Seeing Bilbo struggle with the Dwarves in his house is funny and entertaining.

There were tangents that Jackson went off on, some good and some bad. The beginning where Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Dwarves were great. The whole thing with Azog the (dead) Defiler, was unnecessary or ineffective as filler. Fighting can only entertain you so much. The point of the story is killing orcs and too much fighting can bore people pretty quickly.

It was getting tedious to see orcs dying throughout the second movie. There were so many action sequences. The orcs kept on interfering with the storyline, again, not an effective filler. The added female elf character was annoying because there was so much time spent on her and this made up romance with a Dwarf. Perhaps it would have been more effective if there wasn't so much time spent on them. The story veers off the rails so much that we are pulled away from Bilbo in the mountain to watch her trying to save the Dwarf while Legolas is killing more orcs! Enough with the orcs, already! Let's get back to Bilbo and Smaug!

Speaking of which...

The movie may have been forgivable if Jackson did not screw up this crucial scene.


I actually jumped in the theatre, saying "Oh, what?"

I only read the book once, and I'm not a Tolkien die-hard fan; but I do very appreciate stories in their originality and being faithful to their integrity and messages. This wreaked of an almost George Lucas quality.

It all goes massively downhill from there. Again, everything could have been forgiven if the movie did not venture down this wild tangent. The dwarves come in to help Bilbo? How will they help his thieving? They are immediately spotted.

They then decide to escape through some other tunnel. They find out they can't. Then they decide to kill the dragon. The movie then becomes a Benny Hill sequence with Smaug, this terrible "calimity" being made a fool of by dwarves taunting him every which way, getting tangled in wires and buckets, and Thorin pulling a Legolas feat of dexterity on top of the snout of the dragon! Despite all of this, everyone knows that Smaug is going to escape. The whole gold pouring plan was hard to believe and a weak filler. I was actually getting very bored throughout this sequence. I was looking forward to this movie for so long, but my mind was drifting to thoughts of what I should have for lunch tomorrow.

What is going on?

There were no songs in this movie. What happened to them? What about the great shape-shifting bear? They could have spent more time on him. They could have spent more time on Gandalf and what he actually did during his time away. They focused on Gandalf, but again, they changed it, making it far less epic and again, including a bunch of orcs. Enough with the Sauron references... We get it. The audience is not that dumb, even if they hadn't read the books.

Too many tangents. Very weak fillers. Too many special effect demonstrations. Strange omissions of songs and other qualities that make Tolkien's world great. Jackson focused on the wrong things to expand and detail in this movie. Azog's meddling could be forgiven in the last movie because he played a small part in it (nevermind that he was never in the Hobbit), but in this movie, there are too many "Azogs" and not enough Hobbit.

Posted by Marjorie, a resident of another community,
on Jan 6, 2014 at 6:27 pm

I saw the movie yesterday and was so disappointed that I started to look for online reviews to gripe about it with others. The whole movie was one big fighting sequence with too way many orchs in it. There were no songs, no humor, no warmth. There were only some truly disgusting looking spiders and a dracon, who might just as well have been the local janitor instead of Benedict Cumberbatch, since his voice had been altered digitally too much.

What I just can't forgive Peter Jackson is that he hasn't just added the fighting scenes like he did in the LOTR, he's also removed significant parts of the actual plot to make even more room for them. Beorn and Mirkwood were real disappointments in that aspect. I was really looking forward to seeing Beorn's home as one peacefull place for the dwarves to rest before the grande finale, but I blinked and it was already over.

I will probably go and see the final part of this mess out of morbid curiosity, but in my honest opinion Peter Jackson has ruined the whole story. This is not the Hobbit, this is another, way bloodier story with almost the same characters but not quite.

Posted by PJ, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards,
on Jan 31, 2014 at 11:56 pm

The Desplation of Jackson!

It is arrogant to mess with the classics. This movie was at best an interpretation of Tolkein's work;but to me it was a mutation, or abomination. There is a reason this book is a hundred-year old classic without waning. But Peter Jackson thought he could make it better if it was BIGGER, BOLDER "MORE MORE MORE!" Wouldn't it be great if the dragon transformed into a giant fighter jet! Give me a break Jackson. Don''t mess with the classics! They belong to everyone!

the film was loads of fun but I'm sure many who never read the book are wondering how it became classic.

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Feb 1, 2014 at 11:45 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Hi PJ - I think you're right - I've noticed several pieces of writing around the Internet suggesting that Tolkien is somehow not to be taken as seriously as other literary masters, notwithstanding the scholarship that underlies all his writing. Seems likely to me people make this assessment based on the movies and not on the books. It's unfortunate.

Posted by Angel, a resident of another community,
on Apr 27, 2014 at 8:36 pm

I loved the first movie and didn't like the second one. It felt disjointed.A lot of the scenes felt too short for me. There seemed to be almost no 'Tolkien' in this movie which is think is probably why the movie didn't turn out so well. LOTF and the first Hobbit movie still kept the atmosphere of Tolkien, but that was missing in the second movie and so it failed to make that link to the first movie. A lot of what i was looking forward to wasn't there and i was disappointed. I thought there'd be more Beorn, more Thranduil, that the enmity between the Mirkwoord elves and the dwarves would flesh out more, that the characters themselves would be more developed but they weren't. Bilbo himself didn't get a lot of attention. I know people complained about the length of the movie but it felt rushed to me.
Also Thorin's decent to madness was supposed to be handled better. Leaving some of the dwaves behind, made no sense. The whole fighting Smaug scene was ridiculous. Bilbo's scene with Smaug though i loved. I even though there could have been more dialogue. Because as far as i am concerned that's what dragon's do, at least in the older stories, they talk. They're supposed to be wise and enjoy conversation, even if they plan on eating you later.
As for the Kili and Tauriel thing,that, that i hated. Flat out hated. As far as i am concerned, she wasn't supposed to be there. At all. I have no idea why people want to put extra females in Tolkien's work. No, he didn't write women into his books. And they turned out fine. I was perfectly happy with this adventure being a man movie. She wasn't even cool. Not to me. Fighting wise, yes, she could fight. Otherwise? Nope, no coolness. I thought that relationship could have been replaced by a Legolas-Kili friendship. It could work as they're both archers, both princes, both with a little overbearing father figures and it could put a bit of foreshadowing to the Legolas-Gimli feidnship.
The original story was really about Bilbo's growth and change as a character from being a homebody hobbit to, well, a hero and it seems that the film lost sight of that.
Unfortunately DOS was so bad for me that i still feel as if i am waiting for the real movie to come out.

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