Here be dragons (at last): “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

December 24, 2013


So here we are taking another trip to the Hobbit-hole, because A) MGM isn’t done  squeezing money out of J.R.R. Tokien’s works, and B) nothing else was playing. Seriously. This movie took over Southeast Asia more thoroughly than the Imperial Japanese Army in the late 1930s. I didn’t much love the first one, but, hey, this one has a dragon. Dragons make everything better, right? I mean, except for those lazy-ass dragons from D-Wars which didn’t even have wings, dragons are always cool. And this one is played by Benedict Cumberbatch who, if he doesn’t exactly have a dragon’s physique, has one of the best voices in the biz.  Hey, that’s worth sitting through what seems like twelve hours of padding, right? Plus the seats were really comfy. Anyway, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is better than its predecessor, but still suffers from the same patently obvious bloat. Oh well…

Desolation begins where the last movie left off with our band of dwarves—joined by Bilbo Baggins and Gandolf—heading the fabled dwarf city in the mountains, where Smaug the dragon is Scrooge McDucking all over their vast treasure (by the looks of it, Dwarf-land was the Abu Dhabi of Middle Earth). But first they have to do a bunch of stuff that will give the film its requisite three-hour runtime. To wit:

* They find a were-bear. He doesn’t factor into the plot, so don’t get too excited.

* They fight giant spiders in a creepy woods, and holy shit those spiders are creepy as hell. What’s even more creepy is when the dwarves rip all the legs off one of them. I mean…Jesus, I’m all for killing giant spider,s but that’s just messed up. These guys are supposed to be the heroes, right? Maybe in the next movie they’ll necklace some orcs.

"And now to kill this is the most horrific way possible..."

“And now to kill this is the most horrific way possible…”

* Gandolf tries to uncover the evil that’s afoot in Middle Earth. As it turns out, Sauron has returned…which is kinda the opposite of a surprise. It’s actually a lot like those Star Wars prequels where George Lucas tried to wring suspense out of the identity of the villain, while everyone in the audience shouted at the screen, “It’s Palpatine! We saw the original movies!”

* They end up in an Elf kingdom that’s kind of a Jonestown/biodome cross, where they meet Legolas and a hawt Elf-chick. Peter Jackson seems totally unaware of the hit Orlando Jones’ reputation has taken since the Lord of the Rings movies, so we’re supposed to still think he’s a badass. To this end, we see Legolas do all sorts of OTT action scenes that only exist inside a computer hard drive.

So, uh, how did "Elizabethtown" work out for you?

So, uh, how did “Elizabethtown” work out for you?

* The hawt elf-chick develops a thing for the handsome dwarf who’s played by the guy from Being Human. He’s the only dwarf that’s normal-looking, begging the question: are there two subspecies of dwarves? Are they like Klingons, where there are the original series normal-human-looking ones and the movie/new series ones that look they have lobsters on their heads?

* There’s a Venice-like canal town, where everyone is poor and starving, because they apparently forgot that fish live the water and can be eaten. Luke Evans is the stalwart hero who is set up to kill the dragon in the next movie (the movie all but states this, explicitly).

* The orcs hang around, but don’t do much. The maimed uber-Orc from the last movie that has a personal beef with the dwarves gets reassigned. Seriously. It’s like if Darth Vader got pulled off the hunt for Luke Skywalker after the assault on Hoth so he could oversee stormtrooper-gear procurement someplace.

"Yeah, I was gonna kill some dwarves, but then I had this thing I had take care of with payroll, so..."

“Yeah, I was gonna kill some dwarves, but then I had this thing I had take care of with payroll, so…”

* Bilbo finally gets to search for the headpiece of the staff of Ra or some such that the dwarves need. It’s still unclear why he has to find it and not one of the dwarves, considering he’s searching in a cavernous hall.

* And finally, the fight with Benedict Cumber-Smaug.

"I hope we get to do "The Curse of the Speckled Band" this season on "Sherlock." Think we will?

“I hope we get to do “The Curse of the Speckled Band” this season on “Sherlock.” Think we will?

Desolation is a more interesting movie than The Hobbit if only because it raises the stakes and gives us more dangerous and menacing threats than the ballchinians and retarded goblins from the last one. Still, the movie suffers from terminal bloat. There is a lot of extraneous material, and the action scenes go on way too long. Jackson can’t be blamed for this—he didn’t want to make the book into a nine-hour, multi-year event—but he can’t quite overcome that liability, either.

Created for the movie. Because we gotta get the teenage fanboys in the theater somehow.

Created for the movie. Because we gotta get the teenage fanboys in the theater somehow.

He also can’t overcome the problem of having 15 protagonists, none of whom seem to be expendable enough to give the story any real stakes. After the second or third action sequence that our heroes come through totally unscathed it really becomes difficult to takes things seriously.

The confrontation with Smaug, however, is well worth the price of admission. The dragon is brilliantly-realized—the best on screen since Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer back in 1983—and Cumberbatch’s silky tones make it seem far more urbane and insidious than any mere beast. It’s also great to see Morgan Freeman playing opposite his Sherlock costar, even if it is mostly ADR.

Unfortunately, the confrontation—like everything else—goes on too long. Bilbo dodges the dragon’s wrath, and then the dwarves get in on the action, and it just goes on and on until the big climax when the dwarves, uh, try and drown it in melted caramel, I think. It’s built as the triumphant climax, except Smaug lives to fight the good fight in the next movie, so, yeah, that was kind of a half-hour of dragon-fighting that didn’t mean anything. And still no dwarves die.

So anyway, Desolation is an okay distraction, but this trilogy is never going to be LOTR.

The hell does “desolation” mean  in this context, anyway?

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