Bloating Down the River

Last year, when I found that I enjoyed the first Hobbit movie way more than I thought I would, I praised it for avoiding one particular trap: "I was expecting this movie to be a slog. The podcast reviews have been pretty harsh, and I figured that the expansion of a slim book into three movies would make each of them bloated and insufferable." Whoops! Spoke too soon. While The Desolation of Smaug was far from insufferable, it certainly was a bloated slog. The Hobbit never cried out to be expanded into three movies, but now that they've done it, the scarcity of source material means there's even less excuse for failing to tell a tight story, epic or no.

This movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes long. WHY? WHY? The second work is sometimes assumed to be the draggiest of any trilogy, and this is certainly no exception. Unnecessary scenes abound, and several of the ones that are integral to the plot are twice as long as they need to be. Every time the story threatens to focus on something interesting, off we go to a scene of Bard chatting with his children or Gandalf having a conversation with Radagast in which he relays the information we just saw his discover on his own. One character is introduced simply to give the dwarf band some horses, which they abandon in the next scene. Ten minutes, right there.

There were plenty of good points, too. Evangeline Lilly plays a character wholly invented for the movie, and blends in well. Lee Pace steals every scene he's in as the elf king. The cinematography is stellar, as we've come to expect from these films. Some of the battle scenes are fun. The Smaug scenes had me transfixed. Casting Benedict Cumberbatch was a good move - his silky voice carries the menace and intelligence that makes the dragon a truly potent enemy.

So I don't want to give the impression that the movie is awful. It's capably acted, the effects are well-done, and Peter Jackson did a nice job making Smaug an actual antagonist, instead of just a big monster. But as an overall film, for every scene that worked, there were two that didn't. A YA-inspired love triangle ripped straight out of Twilight? A corrupt town leader and his lackey going on and on about the pressures of keeping the citizenry oppressed? When I left the theater, I thought I'd grade it on the good side of okay, since there was a lot to like about it. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I can't really recommend a movie that so desperately needed to have a good forty minutes left on the cutting room floor.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: C+


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