This one's worth skipping.

This one’s worth skipping.

A strong disappointment.

A strong disappoint-ment.

In my review of the first Hobbit film, I mentioned how my father spoke of the possibility that Peter Jackson was transforming into the next George Lucas, i.e. a filmmaker who was once involved in the making of a great trilogy that did so well critically and financially that when he gets to making the prequels to said trilogy, the rest of the people who helped creating it no longer dare simply telling him: “Um, dude, that’s a terrible idea”. With the release The Desolation of Smaug, this prophecy has come true.

Gandalf and Radagast worry that war is near.

Gandalf and Radagast worry that war is near.

By jove, there are so many great things in The Desolation of Smaug, and yet there are so many more mediocre ones. The things I liked about the first Hobbit I liked even more in Smaug, and yet the eye-rolling aspects are even more insufferable. This picture could have been so great, but oh what a mess of a movie it is.

The story, to begin with, starts where the last film left off. The lovably quirky hobbit Mr. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continues on with his quest alongside the wise wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a tough band of dwarfs lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to reclaim the mountain that was taken from the dwarfs by the big and dreadful fire-breathing dragon Smaug, played via voice-over and the art of motion-capture by Benedict Cumberbatch. Why a creature that’s so clearly not human requires a human doing mo-cap is anyone’s guess, but Benedict’s voice is spot-on! In any case the group splits up when Gandalf is forced to join with his cousin Radagast (Sylvester McCoy), who warns of a great evil growing in an old fortress ruin; an evil that may or may not be linked to a certain gold lump carried by the hobbit of the group.

So, pursued by one Azog (Manu Bennett) and his cult of Orcs who worship the aforementioned unseen evil, the rest of our heroes continue their journey towards the mountain – The Lonely Mountain, to be exact. On their way they encounter giant spiders that speak to each other in a manner that only makes me miss Gollum more and are captured by badass Mirkwood elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his kinda-sorta love interest Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who bring them in for questioning at the castle of Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace), who betrayed the ancestors of Thorin on the day the mountain was taken by Smaug. Things are still heated between the dwarfs and the elves because of this, but with such darks times coming, will they perhaps be forced to join together and fight side-by-side? Who knows, perhaps even romance will blossom between characters that were invented for that sake alone and thus have squat to do with any of Tolkien’s works? Can the movie be so cruel?

Other characters we meet include Bard (Luke Evans), a poor bowman who helps Bilbo and the dwarfs enter the town outside Smaug’s mountain (Lake Town) when the time comes, and Beorn, a shape-shifting being who is played by, I kid you not, Sweden’s favourite tough guy Mikael Persbrandt. Why? Who knows? It’s just cool!

The great and stupendous Smaug, one of the film's greatest things. Few though there were.

The great and stupendous Smaug, one of the film’s best things (although the pictured effect is unfinished).

There’s also Stephen Fry and Ryan Gage as what’s essentially expies of Theoden and Gríma from The Two Towers, because if it’s one thing Peter Jackson likes to throw in to ensure that these movies are as drawn-out and lengthy as the installments of the original Lord of The Rings trilogy (besides fart jokes and over-the-top slapstick), it’s all this tedious fanservice. Peter, your film, as well as its source material, already has plenty of great scenes! You don’t need to throw in terrible ones just to make it three hours long! You don’t need to recycle characters and ideas, especially when it concerns Legolas’ surfing. He surfed on a shield in The Two Towers and one oliphant trunk in Return of The King. In this movie he surfs on everything he finds, including dead Orcs. Groan.

Other than for the sake of making more money, why must it be done this way? Why does The Hobbit, a book that is so much shorter than any of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s individual Lord of The Rings books, also need a 9 hour long trilogy based around it? Yes, I know it also borrows elements from The Silmarillion and the suchwise but I have this theory that none of that stuff involves kindergarten-level toilet humour, action scenes that make Kung-Pow look dignified and restrained by comparison, or laughable 3D gimmicks, e.g. insects that keep flying into the camera in three seperate scenes (unless I’ve somehow miscounted) and one scene that involves our heroes riding in barrels through streams and waterfalls whilst being fired at by Orcs and elves.

Thorin and his companions, back to claim what is theirs.

Thorin and his companions, back to claim what is theirs.

Having felt torn on the film beforehand, when the barrel scene came I knew for sure: I do not like this film. I swear if the action in this scene is not so cartoony and ridiculous that it completely takes you out of the movie, then the fact that parts of the scene are clearly – and I mean clearly – shot with what appears to be a damn GoPro camera certainly will! I’m not kidding. The colours, the water on the lens, the shutter speed: those few shots were unmistakably composed of GoPro footage. My brother said during our screening that he expected the next shot to be a clip of a person hugging a lion in 50 Fps.

Speaking of frame-rate, though, we didn’t actually have to see this film in the high frame-rate of the last one. Not that this made it harder to spot more technical problems, like the shots of molten gold and metal inside the Lonely Mountain that don’t even look like they’ve finished rendering and, really, just the overall overly polished look of these new films in general. By comparison, the original trilogy was more gritty and used more practical effects and sets. These new flicks, like the dreaded Star Wars prequels, contain more digital imagery and more scenes that are so polished and “perfect” that they look unnatural and distracting. This type of post-work is the Photoshop of movies. It makes the fakeness so much easier to detect.

I’m aware that it seems from the paragraphs above that I believe this film suffers mostly from technical problems, but there are some story-based ones as well (hurray), most being the results of more franchise-bloating filler. We get a love triangle that only the most hardcore Stephenie Meyer fans will be interested in between Legolas, Tauriel and the only dwarf that fangirls will deem attractive enough to require a love interest that isn’t a traditionally hairy dwarf lady. So, just to recap: the love triangle is between one character that doesn’t do much in the book, one that isn’t in the book at all and one that isn’t in anything Tolkien’s ever written.

Thranduil, Legolas and Tack-on-iel.

Thranduil, Legolas and Tack-on-iel.

We also get cheesy dialogue, a padded climax that I swear to Morgoth is almost on par with the first Expendables in terms of overblown-ness, and many other things I don’t think were anywhere in the book. I’m at the part where they meet Beorn so I haven’t gotten to the bit with the “fat dwarf that looks like Obelix”-jokes or any of the Benny Hill chase scenes yet.

And yet, even with all this stuff that falls ever so flat, I cannot go as far as to say that The Desolation of Smaug is a horrible movie. It does have well-selected actors (even though Lee Pace’s character was originally going to be played by Doug Jones, so we missed out that), occasional scenes of genuine tension, a welcome return for frequent Orc-player Lawrence Makoare as Azog’s son, more interesting stuff for the dwarfs to say and do than last time, and some visual effects that still look great. For instance: the dragon. That there is some excellent work and the people who worked on those particular visuals are the ones I applaud the most this time around. Of course Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is also a lot of fun once again, and for what it’s worth, when Jackson inexplicably mixed goofy slapstick with gorey fight scenes, it did recall the time when he made movies like Braindead.

But The Desolation of Smaug it is not as forgivable or likable as An Unexpected Journey and certainly not as breathtaking as the trilogy I grew up with and loved. Watching it was like being forced to watch your friend play a goofy and disorienting video game with the occasional cutscene that tries to make you take the game seriously for a few seconds. I’m sad to say that this is the first thing related to this franchise that I am giving thumbs down. Now to wait for the next one, I guess.

2/5 whatever