Hello everyone, and welcome to 111 Archer Avenue. What started as a film review blog has become my online judgment forum. I will review the occasional movie or DVD, post an interesting trailer, critique a newly-read book, talk about sports, and share my thoughts and opinions on random issues. You can also follow me on Twitter (@OlieCoen) or check out my work on DVDTalk.com. Thank you and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Movie Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage
Year: 2013

In preparation for this movie I brushed up on my Tolkien.  I reread the book & reviewed it (The Hobbit), I watched the first movie & reviewed it (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), and I got out my Elvish phrasebook so I wouldn't feel like such a tourist.  Let me start off by saying that I love the original novel & have read it a dozen times.  I think it's a phenomenal story that can instantly translate into a great film without a lot of work or embellishment.  That said, I'm not a crazy purist.  I understand that small changes are necessary to help the book fit the screen and that not every single detail will make it past the final cut.  I also understand that a little extra might need to be added to flesh out a scene, add to a conversation, what have you.  Peter Jackson did a great job with the Lord of the Rings movies in sticking to the book as much as he possibly could.  I was shocked that he didn't do the same with the first Hobbit movie, crafting entirely new pieces out of thin air.  And so I guess I was prepared for much of the same with the second movie, but I had no idea that the story would be completely butchered beyond recognition.

This second film relates the second part of Thorin & Co.'s journey from the west back to their homeland in the east where a dragon awaits them.  The group, including Bilbo & Gandalf, have just escaped the Misty Mountains and the goblin horde.  There, Bilbo encountered Gollum, found the ring, and started serious events in motion.  But for now the goal is still the Lonely Mountain and the retrieval of the dwarven treasure.  The party, still harassed by the pale orc, seek shelter with Beorn the Bear.  From there they will travel through the dangerous forest of Mirkwood, past the Wood Elves realm, to the town of men on the Long Lake, and then up through the wastelands to the mountain and the awaiting enemy.  Not an easy trek, and one that will take all their luck & courage to complete.  They will battle their pursuers, giant spiders, Elven captivity, the shortsighted laws of a troubled town, and ultimately Smaug the Terrible as they creep closer & closer to their ancient treasure and the fate that awaits them in that desolate place.

I can only take so much before I explode.  The first film added quite a bit, seemingly vamping much of the time in order to stretch one film's worth of material into three epic movies.  So that frustrated me as a fan of the book and made me wish they had done things differently.  But this movie took that practice to a whole new level.  Almost every single word spoken, action shown, battle fought, and plot unfolded was a complete fabrication.  The timeline was the only aspect of the book that was followed; first Beorn's, then the forest, the Elves, Lake Town, Smaug.  But nothing that happened in those places was at all what happened in the book.  Beorn is an ugly giant?  Orlando Bloom pops up?  An elf falls in love with a dwarf?  Bard is a smuggler?  Bilbo & his friends fight Smaug in the mountain?  Umm, no, none of that happens, none of that is in the book, someone just made all that up and his name is not J.R.R. Tolkien.  It's unbelievable that the movie would stray so far from the novel that it becomes almost unrecognizable.

Now, for someone who hasn't read the book in years or maybe has never read it, I can see how the story being totally different wouldn't bother you.  I can see how you could enjoy this movie as an action-packed adventure.  If I had never read a popular bestseller, saw the movie, thought it was great, and then learned that it was nothing like the book I might not care.  But then again, The Hobbit is not just some book.  It's one of the greatest novels ever written, the Bible of fantasy, a near perfect execution of comedy, drama, & tragedy.  This is a story that doesn't need rewritten and that's what was done with this second film.  Sure, there were parts that were enjoyable; the action was cool, the sets & music were of course beautiful.  But as someone who loves the book, the "neat" parts seemed unnecessary to me.  I didn't need the orcs to talk like Klingons.  I didn't need a made up love story.  I didn't need Legolas shooting a million bad guys through the brain pan.  What I needed was a functional representation of the classic book, something akin to what Peter Jackson has proven that he is capable of doing.  What I got was a fantasy movie that was very loosely based on The Hobbit.  Judging it that way, it was OK & maybe you'll like it, it's not horrible.  But judging it as a film version of the book I love, I'm appalled that there wasn't even an attempt to stay true to the story, to showcase the wonderful & hilarious & heart-breaking writing that Tolkien poured into one of the best books ever written.

My rating: ✰ ✰


  1. Tad long and dull in parts, but altogether, a fun travel-back to Middle Earth and made me understand why people should hype-up what’s next to come. Good review Olie.

    1. Thanks Dan. I can't say I didn't enjoy parts of it, but from the perspective of a fan of the book, I can't call it a great movie. It was action-packed, but basically based on nothing.

    2. My wife and I could not make it through An Unexpected Journey, it was just so weak. I explained that they had to stretch the one book into three movies, but I had no idea they would throw Tolkien out the window. Yes, it's been many years since I read the books, but thanks to your review I'll just stick with the Baskin/Rankin animated version as the prequel to the Lord Of The Ring films. It sticks to the story and is true to the vision of Tolkien and features some of the greatest voice talents of all time. Apparently it is the best film version of The Hobbit we will ever see in this age or any other.

    3. Desolation definitely abandons the book even more than Unexpected Journey, if you can believe it.