The second of a planned trilogy of films inspired by the Tolkien book, The Desolation of Smaug was released to theatres over the 2013 Christmas holiday season and is directed by Peter Jackson.

(spoilers abound in this review)

The lengthy first film, An Unexpected Journey, boasted a near-perfect mid-film scene of the riddle encounter between the unwilling burgler, Bilbo, and the tragic creature Gollum. It also contained a wealth of material, characters, plot points and back-story largely missing from the book, much of which claimed to have been adapted from the appendices of Tolkien's Return of the King and filleted in to bring these films in line to the tone of Jackson's Lord of the Rings films.

What this resulted in is something as if the book Bilbo wrote, There and Back Again, was but his interpretation and 'dumbed down' to the tales he told to his nephew Frodo and his friends, with the film telling things like they actually were.

That was my theory, anyway, until it became blown apart by the second film.

The Desolation of Smaug begins with a flashback to just before Gandalf meets Bilbo, at a meeting in the nearby town of Bree between the wizard and the dwarf who is heir to the Arkenstone: Thorin Oakenshield. The most important bit of information here is that there is a price on Thorin's head. After this the film returns to just after the thrilling eagle escape ending of the previous film, where the troupe take refuge in the shapeshifter Beorn's home, who helps them to the Mirkwood forest. Gandalf runs off on other business, leaving the troupe to get themselves lost in the forest and encounter spiders galore.

In the midst of this is when my theory of the film being a more historically accurate version of the events of the book starts to get busted: In the book, Bilbo climbs a tree in the forest and, looking around from the middle of a valley, believes they are still in the middle of it and thus have days to reach the end. In the film, he climbs up and sees... the way out! There is no reason to make this change, even for plot condensing or characterisation motives.

Ok, spiders, spiders augh augh spiders, wood elves with surprise Legolas leading and bonus girl from tv show Lost as She-Elf. Snarky wood-elf king gets the smack-down from Thorin, so imprisons them. She-Elf bonds with Kili, who's pretty tall for a dwarf. Bilbo springs the dwarfs and they do the river barrel thing, only with orcs chasing them. Cue video game sequence with elves dancing on barrels and dwarves hacking about at orcs. Kili is injured. The troupe hitch a ride to Laketown with Bard, and shack up with him, arriving via the toilet. Bard is harrassed by the lackey of the master of Laketown. The master has a striking resemblance to Stephen Fry. The master has a large painting and statue of him, which also look like Stephen Fry. Some of the dwarves stay in Laketown, including a very grey-looking Kili, while the rest climb up the backside of the Lonely Mountain, with Bilbo discovering the huge-ass dwarf statue staircase to the hidden back door. Bilbo also discovers, after everyone else gives up and hides around the corner, the magical hidden keyhole that only moonlight on one day of the year reveals.

Finally, Bilbo heads into the mountain to steal the Arkenstone and not wake the dragon, which he awakes in a seething pile of zillions of gold coins. The dragon is friggin' awesome. It has to be awesome, because all of us Middle-Earth fan-boys-and-girls, even after 50 hours of LotR films and the first Hobbit film, would have stood up and walked out to tweet how 'not quite awesome' the dragon is. The dragon is not fooled by Bilbo's obsequiousness, flame ensues, dwarves pile in to run about and...

Meanwhile, the bonus She-Elf and surprise Legolas show up in Laketown to fight off the orcs who have stealthily crossed rooftops to attack the remaining dwarves. Legolas battles orcs in a suddenly deserted Laketown, previously populated by ethnically diverse townsfolk. She-Elf uses a thinly-veiled tantric sex healing ritual on Kili. Gandalf has been checking out empty tombs in mountains, and a seemingly empty castle on the edge of bunny-sled wizard Radagast's forest, which turns out to host a magically hidden army of orcs. ...and the Necromancer, also known as Sauron, who only needs the light of Gandalf's wand for his shadow to become form. Whoopsies.

The dwarves and Bilbo use an elaborate plan of running about and taunting Smaug into smashing things and breathing fire to make a river of gold for Thorin to body surf in a wheelbarrow. The end result is an angry Golden Dragon who makes for Laketown.

In an amazing ending that ties together the subplot of Bard's character path, Bilbo's courage, and the theme of friendship and working together, Bilbo persuades the dwarves to send a message to the town about a missing scale on the dragon, and although Laketown is ablaze, the dragon is killed by Bard. Audiences cheered and left the theatre, thrilled to look forward to the Five Armies War and Bilbo's journey home in the next film.

Oh wait, no, the film ends suddenly, with the dragon flying to Laketown in just about the lamest cliffhanger ever, leaving audiences silent and needing to use the toilet.

.


Unfortunately, instead of a coherent trilogy tying in closely with his Lord of the Ring films, Jackson has opted for some freaky fan fiction version of The Hobbit, which is very much not suitable for the age range of those who had The Hobbit read to them by parents, or discovered it in a library, or given as a gift. With tonal shifts as abrupt as the camera twists, and introduced plot background as blurry as 'invisible vision', The Desolation of Smaug is a mess.

The Hobbit could have been easily made into one film-- perhaps over 3 hours long-- with an intermission like Gone with the Wind or Lawrence of Arabia. People would be lining up for months to packed screenings to watch an adaption of one of the most popular books ever written. I can't even remember the last film I had to wait more than five minutes in line to get a ticket for.

Instead, we get three messy cash-in films, with an intense focus on design, and yet shoddy CGI elements that break one out of the story. New elements add an adult spin on the story, pushing out the all-ages audience the book's reputation has. While there are pitch perfect scenes, there are also out-of-the-blue changes to the story that don't contribute overall.

But the second film does have a pretty awesome dragon.

This is not a full review.

(Spoilers, sort of)

My daughter is in her teens. She has read the Hobbit. We left the film rather silently. We both agreed that if the film had to have a made up female character, it was disappointing to have a total cliche.

1. The one female has to be an elf so she can be beautiful.
2. Love interest with both Legolas and a dwarf.
3. Oh, dear, the dwarf that is eying her gets injured. Surprise.
4. She-Elf has to choose between fighting orcs with Legolas and healing the dwarf.
5. Duh, she heals the dwarf and then goes after Legolas.

Ok, so how would we have rewritten it?

1. Does she have to be beautiful? Are there ugly elves?
2. Maybe one of the dwarves is female pretending to be male. Maybe they all are. If they can make up a female elf, why not a dwarf? A married dwarf couple in the gang, lying to everyone else for years because they like to fight.
3. How about the love triangle being both her and Legolas hot for the dwarf? Or her being jealous as the dwarf and Legolas make eyes at each other.
4. She doesn't choose to heal the dwarf. She goes after orcs instead. The dwarf survives anyhow.
5. Actually, Legolas has better healing skills and does the tantric thing and she fights the orcs alone.
6. Smaug could be female, a dwarf could be female, lots of orcs could be female.

Well, at least she wasn't a princess.

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