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Movie Review: 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'

The second installment of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy offered quite a bit more action as well, almost too much at times.  Unfortunately, it suffered from many of the same issues as The Unexpected Journey and those problems don't look like they are going away by the time the finale rolls around next year.

Jackson has done a fair job of inflating the movies by injecting other pieces of Tolkien's work into the story, creating more of a tie-in to Lord of the Rings than simply the ring.  Some die-hard Tolkien fans have been turned off by the changes he's made to the story, but I wasn't bothered by them - or at least bothered simply by the fact that something was different.  It was the execution that often fell short.  I wasn't offended that things were changed with the additional material as much as I just believe the movie may have benefited from keeping the focus tighter on the original Hobbit story.

But the biggest issue with the story wasn't the additions, but that the entire adventure they embark on (in the first movie as well) feels like the story version of a Rube Goldberg Machine.  There is never really any tension when the characters are battling their way through foes, especially when the super-elves added to the mix.  It has been coincidence after coincidence to get them to their destination or past an obstacle and if that obstacle was too tough, the dues ex machina of Gandalf or the Elves show up and bail them out.  There may have been a bit of this occurring in the novel, but in trying to organically insert the added material into the movie Jackson made it a much larger and more obvious issue.

The most interesting part was finally getting to see Smaug (though I was disappointed to see yet another dragon turned into a two legged wyrm).  Once past the initial introductions between Bilbo and Smaug however, it once again turned into a series of perfectly coordinated events that created a lot of noise on screen, but not a lot of tension. 

And that is the real shame.  The characters, and actors behind them, are outstanding.  Bilbo continues to shine, Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug is amazing, many of the dwarves find their own moments - with a few standouts, and the newly created character of Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel works.  The scenes and sets they exist in are gorgeous, the effects and music superb, but without that tension there are no real dramatic moments.  For all the added action, the best parts of the movie, like the first, is still the quiet character driven moments.

The Hobbit movies have been little more than popcorn flicks.  Perhaps the original plan of a different director would have brought a different feel to the movie, as it seems a bit like Peter Jackson is just going through the motions and a fresh outlook might have been a huge benefit.  The Desolation of Smaug was a fair movie; if you liked the first, you'll enjoy this one.  But in the end, this trilogy will not be the epic experience that Lord of the Rings was and would be better if it wasn't trying to be.

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