The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a Three-Hour “Screw You” to the Source Material

But come on, a world in which big-budget, CGI-packed popcorn flicks featuring Kate from LOST as a bow-armed babe elf is a world that ain’t that bad to live in.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Philadelphia showtimes.

Superior to An Unexpected Journey in every conceivable way, the second installment in Peter Jackson’s fresher J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy addresses close to every complaint laid out about last year’s Hobbit kickoff. It’s not monotonous, needlessly rhetorical or extended at the sole behest of technical demands. But it’s worth noting just how the director, long an honorary citizen of Middle Earth, accomplished such positive results: by crafting a nearly three-hour “screw you” to the source material.

Before all you Elvish-speaking Tolkien scholars yank on your mithril chainmail and commence raining flaming arrows down upon your local cinema, remember — if you want to see The Hobbit on any screen that doesn’t exist inside your own brain, it has to be this way. Published in 1937, nearly 20 years before the launch of the The Lord of The Rings novels that inspired Jackson’s career-defining films, the kid-friendly book simply isn’t long, detailed or philosophically hearty enough to justify the creation of an entirely new set of nod-to-Tolkien movies.

Sure, the argument can be made that Jackson should’ve realized this and not made them at all, but come on — a world in which big-budget, CGI-packed popcorn flicks featuring Kate from LOST as a bow-armed babe elf is a world that ain’t that bad to live in. You simply can’t have this book and watch it, too, which is why fist-shaking purists should unclench and accept that literature and cinema have always been two very distinct experiences.


Continuing with the jolly caravan to nearly certain death that began in the first film, The Desolation of Smaug follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and a band of grumpy bearded little dudes led by noble mega-brooder Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) en route to the Lonely Mountain, the former kingdom of the dwarf king’s ancestors. Years back, the titular devious dragon — voiced by Freeman’s Sherlock costar Benedict Cumberbatch, whose talking works for most purposes — drove Thorin’s now-nearly-extinct civilization from the mountain, repurposing its caverns into a gigantic Barcalounger made of gold doubloons and sweet-ass cups. All big-footed Bilbo, recruited for his stealthiness, has to do is infiltrate the cavern and snag a special gem that will help Thorin claim his rightful throne once again. Before all that can happen, though, the merry band’s got to get there, a chunk of time Jackson populates with previously unassociated Tolkien characters, plus elements of his own creation.

tauriel-orcElf warrior Legolas (Orlando Bloom) was never explicitly mentioned in The Hobbit, but he’s weaseled his pretty little blonde head into the proceedings here — of course he has, since he was one of the most popular characters in Jackson’s other films. Also new to the pointy-eared party is Tauriel (LOST‘s Evangeline Lilly), a spry new character created for this film who’s leaned on for multiple purposes — female-driven fight scenes, mainly, plus a romantic subplot involving dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) that adds a light interspecies wrinkle. Yes, we know, nerds — this wasn’t in the book. But who cares? If anything, the discernible differences between text and film can bolster our enjoyment of both as separate artistic entities.

More importantly, if Jackson chose absolute fealty to Tolkien’s original tome, there would be so many fewer opportunities to present pace-setting conflict, intrigue and action. In other words, it would be miserable to watch. Take in Bilbo’s highly embellished barrel-aided escape from the Elf Kingdom — for my Middle Earth money, the best action sequence since The Battle of Helm’s Deep in 2002’s The Two Towers — and tell me this would be a better movie without it.

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  • Jenny Murphy

    Here is the best review I have read – from a Finnish film reviewer who has had with these unending epics…

    • Aquartertoseven

      Why are you trolling every single review of this film on every single site? It’s even working.

    • Geo

      fuck off

  • Mel

    I totally agree. After seeing the movie my first comment was that it wasn’t the same as the book but that I really enjoyed it that way. I usually don’t like movies taken from books as much as the book itself, but because of the differences there were some surprises for me in the movie which made it much more interesting for me to watch.

  • androosk

    Peter Jackson should retire. This movie could have easily been an hour shorter without all the over embellishment of the original material, and it would have been a much better ride. Call it what you want, but it’s not The Hobbit. That name should not be on this trash.

  • Joe

    the movie would of been less miserable to watch if Jackson had stayed true to the 300 page book.

  • Felis

    “More importantly, if Jackson chose absolute fealty to Tolkien’s original tome, there would be so many fewer opportunities to present pace-setting conflict, intrigue and action. In other words, it would be miserable to watch.”

    It is interesting how this assumption makes an appearance in almost every analysis of a big-screen adaptation of classic novels, even though there are absolutely no grounds for comparison and no empirical evidence as to the effects of a truly adherent adaptation.

  • Mac

    Overall I really enjoy all of these movies and having read all of the books, I think they have made these movies quite well. I recently saw the second Hobbit, and really enjoyed it quite much, but of course there were some new added things. They did add some new characters and evolved some of their parts. Some of the added characters have become a few of my favorites, like Tauriel! I know she wasn’t part of the book, be being a teenage girl and personally looking for strong, confident, independent female roles in a movie, I think they nailed this role! I personally thought she was a fantastic add in. Specifically because there was not a really kick-butt female roles in the original trilogy, well other than Eowyn (Arwen and Galadriel were great and the actresses played them great, so I’m not dishing on them. And being a teenage girl I’m definitely not satisfied until there is some romance in a movie so I loved Arwen and Aragorn, but their roles were just not as exciting and explosive as Tauriel’s. And I can’t wait to see how her a Kili’s relationship evolves in the next one, and it still shows no matter who you are you can find love; elf to human/ elf to dwarf .), but I’m sorry she’s not a 600 year old expertise, fighting, kick-ass woods elf, just my personal opinion! I think she earned her spot, but that’s just me? Some of the things they did change bothered me, like how it seems everyone is evolved with Smaug when really in the book it’s just Bilbo fiddling with Smaug. And how the dwarfs run aimlessly around the mountain and fight Smaug, which never happened. And how Gandalf never appears in Dol Guldur in The Hobbit, but he does in one of the other books in the trilogy. And as the whole Legolas, it didn’t really bother me that much, other than he seemed a little more timid, or colder if you would than he did in the trilogy, he just didn’t seem happy and cheery. And I thought remembering, didn’t some of the dwarfs die on the entirety on the expedition? But overall I really enjoyed this movie, and cannot wait to see the next movie in this trilogy, and will be disappointed when it is over!

  • D

    Your point about the escape from the wood elfs is a good one considering they made a clean getaway in the book and there was no action at all at that part. It’s understandable for Jackson to add random action scenes to keep it interesting BUT there are soooooooooooo many unnecessary changes that don’t make the story any more interesting!! The best example probably being the change from goblins to orcs.. like WTF?! What the hell was the point of killing off all the goblins in the beginning just replace them with orcs?? In the book the word orc is used 1 maybe 2 times if im not mistaken, the only time I can think of is when Bilbo asks Gandalf if there is a way around Mirkwood, and Gandalf says “…Before you could get around Mirkwood in the north you would be right among the slopes of the Grey Mountains, and they are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and ORCS of the worst description…” and thats IT. This is just one of many unnecessary changes that had no advantage to making the movie more visually stunning. I say fuck Peter Jackson right in his scruffy ass beard! Anyone who is a fan of the book should agree that he fucked this one up big time.

    I want a redo dammit!!

  • Zeu

    Has this writer read any “source material” beyond the book?

  • Andiamo P

    In my opinion, AUJ was the better movie. DOS was mainstream trash. Bunch of non sensical shenanigans if you ask me. Yes, AUJ had too much singing in the beginning. But the opening scene introduces the viewers to Bilbo and his company, which is crucial. Limited as it may be, you can actually get a sense of the Dwarves individual personalities, and their mission. In DOS the character development is nonexistint. You don’t buy into the plot. At no point do you feel any concern for the characters, or any suspense as they try to meet a deadline. Because of this it just doesn’t qualify as a great movie to me. This is a good action film (with spotty CGI), and like the book, was made for a much younger audience.

  • China White

    I saw two minutes of Jackson’s first Hobbit movie and that was insulting enough. The only people who could do The Hobbit right, now they’re back in business are Cosgrove Hall. Brilliant actors would line up to work for them and they know how to be true to a source when possible, and respectfully modify it when necessary to preserve the atmosphere of a piece.