The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Peter Jackson has gone down a bad road. As much as I've loved most of his work, the filmmaker's adaptation of The Hobbit is not working out. When he made The Lord of the Rings, he adapted three books into three movies. It was a great idea. The Hobbit, on the other hand, is one book, yet Jackson decided that it was worthy of two films. Then, around the time the first one, An Unexpected Journey, was released, he decided to turn it into a trilogy. His big plan was to bring the actors back and add more material from the appendices of J.R.R. Tolkien's works. That's right, the side stuff that's not actually part of the main story. The stuff only hardcore fans are likely to care about. An Unexpected Journey was fun, although it took way too long to get going. The new chapter, The Desolation of Smaug only feels like a sequel in the last hour; the hour and forty minutes before play like filler, and that's deadly.

I'd describe the plot, but does it even matter? If you've read Tolkien's book, you already know it. If not, you're likely to spend nearly three hours asking yourself, What the hell is going on here? The first Hobbit chapter is a pretty straightfoward tale about how Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is recruited to help retrieve a treasure that has been taken by a dragon. In The Desolation of Smaug, Bilbo is largely relegated to the sidelines for most of the running time. In his place, a lot of side characters take turns coming in and doing things that are only peripherally related to his quest. The most tiresome of them is a half-baked romance between the dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner) and the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). One hundred long minutes later, Bilbo finally makes his way to the dragon's lair.

Jackson's mistake was in trying to turn The Hobbit into something more than it is. He should have just made one really great three-hour movie from the book, and let it go at that. A good story relies on pace and momentum. Throwing in a bunch of stuff from the appendices is nothing more than an act of stretching things out. It slows down the pace. It takes away the momentum that would keep us engaged. Needless padding is the enemy of competent storytelling. The Desolation of Smaug is frustrating because you sense how much Jackson is in love with Tolkien's material, and how much that love has caused him to lose sight of what this tale should really be. Beyond that, the padding will only make sense to those who have already devoured Tolkien. If that's you, you may very well enjoy the film. If not, none of it will likely be of interest. It will, however, be excruciatingly boring. Perhaps the most blatant harm done by the padding is in Smaug's ending or lack of it. The movie stops abruptly with a cliffhanger. The Lord of the Rings trilogy at least provided some sense of small closure in its first two installments. This one robs the audience of any sort of closure. Without all the filler, it could have just moved on with the plot and delivered a terrific payoff.

There are undoubtedly three great scenes in Smaug. One involves giant spiders, another finds the dwarfs riding barrels down some fierce river rapids, and the last one finds Bilbo traversing his way through the dragon's massive, coin-filled chambers. No surprise, they're the best parts of the film. The worst parts are all the others, the parts that aren't about Bilbo. Smaug has a whole lot of them. Too many, in fact.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. The running time is 2 hours and 41 minutes.

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