Review: Exciting ‘The Hobbit: Desolation’ of Smaug Loses Tone of Book

Memo to schoolchildren planning on watching Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy in lieu of reading the novel for your book report: Don’t.

First of all, you could read the entire adventure by J.R.R. Tolkien in less time than it would take you to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (released last year) and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (in theaters today). A third and final movie is expected next year, which will put the total runtime for the adaptation of the three hundred page book somewhere around nine hours.

It’s just not good time management.

Secondly, your astute teacher would surely catch your perfidy because director Peter Jackson has inserted characters and story lines into his movie that do not exist between the covers of the book.

Teachers have a way of sniffing those things out.

Herein lies the internal and perhaps fatal flaw in Jackson’s Hobbit adaptations: They’re too long and involved for normal folk, too Hollywoodized for Tolkien fans.

Desolation of Smaug covers roughly the middle third of the book, as the hearty dwarf band and one hobbit continue their quest to recover the dwarves’ lost underground kingdom from the dragon that has conquered it. In this installment, they enter the dark forrest of Mirkwood, tarry with forest elves, escape to a lake town of men, and enter the dragon’s cave.

Turning a three hundred page book into nearly nine hours of movies would normally be a love song to the fans of that book: the elvish tattoos set, who can identify various species of orcs by sword shape, and who know exactly what hobbits eat for breakfast. It’s an immersive experience, built for those who wish they lived in Middle Earth and not Nebraska.

However, there is a significant difference between the Middle Earth of Tolkien’s dark, adult, brooding Lord of the Rings trilogy and the related Middle Earth of lighter, childlike, bouncier The Hobbit. Jackson perfectly captured the desperation, near hopelessness, and ultimate courage of the former, but now misses the playfulness of the latter.

In fact, Desolation of Smaug is such a weird mix of Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and new material, it’s difficult to see where one ends and the others begin. The main change is the insertion of an orc equivalent of a strike force which shrewdly tracks and attacks the adventurers at each stage of their journey. They’re countered by a sort of elven Navy SEAL duo: Our old-but-younger-because-this-is-a-prequel LOTR friend Leoglas (Orlando Bloom) and his she-warrior pal Tauriel (Evangeline Lily). There is, of course, no warrior princess elf in the notoriously female-shy Oxford don’s original book, but she is a significant part of the movie. It even involves her in a love story.

A love story? In Middle Earth? Tolkien would be shocked and horrified. Those stories are about trekking and fighting and trekking and briefly finding respite and fighting some more and then further trekking. Love is something for hobbits left at home to dabble in between breakfast and elevensies, not part of the adventure.

With all the winks to Lord of the Rings and the new story lines, Jackson loses the tone of his source material. It’s meant to be a tale of adventure, clever wit, and courage of an ordinary hobbit for English children to read by the fire. It comes out onscreen as something closer to a Transformers movie.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. It’s just not The Hobbit.

In fact it’s a fun, if forgettable, experience. The pace moves faster than the previous installment, trading interminally singing dwarves for fighting elves. The introduction of human Bard (Luke Evans) brings some nobility and pathos to the proceedings. A few dwarves begin to have character development that stands out from the rest, most notably brave but flawed leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) and young, handsome, brave, and tallish Kili (Aidan Turner). The dragon (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) is beautiful and convincing in CGI, as are his acres of gold coin. Seen in 3D, it has occasional whiz-bang factor as arrows fly, swords swing, and orc heads fall.

Rated PG-13, the film contains no sexuality or inappropriate language, but plenty of PG-13 level violence. It is not particularly gory, but is persistent. In addition, younger children may be frightened by scenes containing skeletons, mummified dead bodies, and that pesky dragon.

Enjoy the film, by all means.

But, please, read the book. You won’t regret it.

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey

  • fotoldy

    I totally agree with your review of the hobbit but I don’t think anyone reads anymore.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

      Oh, yes they do. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. My kids have bought over 300 books on kindle in the last few years. They’re reading me out of house and home. And I couldn’t be happier.

  • connorhus

    I went to see part two of “The Hobbit” and I did in fact see a movie. It had little to nothing to do with anything Tolkien ever wrote. At least the names weren’t changed but after that all similarity with the true story ends.

    Someone should be ashamed they ever let Peter Jackson near such a wonderful work as Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

      He did such a fine job with LOTR. I really thought so. Maybe he should have left it at that.

      • connorhus

        I would say at best I could live with the adaptation changes up until this latest farce. There was some merit gained with some of the changes in the LOTR trilogy but in many ways those changes were nothing more than propaganda in support of PC/social issues of today that Jackson and his co-writers wish to promote for their own reasons. They have no place in Tolkien. However a true line was crossed in DoS. One that violates the very fabric of Tolkien lore really.

  • Henrique Rodrigues

    A love story? In Middle Earth? Like Aragorn and Arwen?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

      So they’re in LOTR, not Hobbit. Also, they’re very minor characters. And Arwen is a pretty masculine woman (not that she’s not badass, she is, which kind of proves my point.) The love triangle is a major part of the plot of this movie. Tolkien is pretty infamous for just leaving women out. That’s fine. He’s a great author and not everyone can do everything. But putting romance front and center is very non-Tolkienish.

      • connorhus

        There are indeed love stories in Tolkien, even one of incest as the result of evil trickery that ended in tragedy but Tolkien only allowed cross relations between Elven Females and Human Men for a reason. To show us the danger of immortality on the Elves and the romantic draw the fire of mortality had that was given to Men. Elves and Humans were very close in the scheme of things and therefore able to interbreed to a point however the unions took a great toll and required the sacrifice of the Elven Female. In a sense Tolkien was acknowledging that only through the sacrifice of Women were great civilizations built. The Numenoreans, Elrond, Even one of the Great remaining houses of Southern Gondor (Left out of Jackson’s portrayal) were the results of Elven Female Sacrifice and required the Elven Woman to become Human for Love. Something the Elven Men could not do.

        What Jackson and company did in DoS is corrupt the message Tolkien wished to convey to appease the Fangirl crowd and promote their own twisted form of social engineering/equality propaganda.

      • Henrique Rodrigues

        Loved how you called Aragorn a minor character.

  • Kitty

    I actually did read the book about a year ago and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I’ve enjoyed Tolkien’s other works. I totally agree with this article. In my opinion THE MOVIE IS NOT LIKE THE BOOK, IT IS MORE LIKE SOME ANNOYING FAN FICTION CRAP. That’s not a stab at fanfictions though, I’m just saying if you are going to make a book to film adaptation, GET IT RIGHT, don’t add a new character Tolkien never wrote about, okay?? You might as well rename the movie “Peter Jackson’s fanfiction vision of the Hobbit” because he clearly altered the original book. I’m not saying the movie was totally bad, in fact, I kind of enjoyed it. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t mess with the author’s original writings and do whatever you please with it. Have some respect for their original vision of THEIR story. Now I see why J.D. Salinger didn’t want Catcher in the Rye to be made into a movie….. there’s a chance that a director will alter his vision of the story and present something on screen that is different from the original. I’m just saying, what I saw was different from what I read in several ways and I was a bit disappointed in that. Other than that, the film was nice.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

      Fanfiction indeed.

  • Trav

    The movie should have been alot shorter or the series should have been only one film, If Jackson wanted to make a silmarillion he could of done it separately and there were so many false and stupid lines in the movie that bard never said in the books and some false lines that Beorn never said as well. Dwarves are not “blind ” concerning others lives as beorn said, he is wrong. and he never said anything like that in the book. Peter jackson added dialogue that never was in the book and left out so much of the dialogue from the book itself. Also, the dwarves never told Beorn how they killed the goblin king! There were many quotes that werent true and having a dwarf and elf in a love relationship was ridiculous . Kili had no romance in the book. And where are the talking eagles??? If Jackson wanted to honor tolkiens work he would of had the eagles talk and be more involved in the story like they were in the book.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

      Yes. It’s weird, isn’t it?

      As a movie, the movie works. As an adaptation of a beloved book, it falls far short.

  • David

    I enjoyed reading your article Rebecca, and agree with your review. Jackson has done an incredible job in bringing middle earth to life on screen – the level of detail that appears on each engraved sword and bow that appears in the films is just amazing. The landscapes, costumes, and scenery are gorgeous, and I’ve felt that the acting in each film has been pretty spot on. However it has felt very much like watching a Michael Bay interpretation of middle earth. Both films so far have been gorgeous creations, but each has felt bloated and overlong at the same time, and slightly disappointing because of the numerous plot variations differing from the book that Jackson, Boyens, and Walsh have chosen to take. I’ll watch Desolation again, maybe once more, and will definitely be seeing the third film at the cinema, but the first two films have deviated already from the book too much for my liking.

    The book The Hobbit is a lovely story for children and adults alike, and as you mentioned, it could easily be read in the time it would take to watch each of the three Hobbit movies. After watching Desolation, my favourite dragon film is still Disney’s classic Dragonslayer (1981), which I feel is still the best dragon film that’s yet been made, and which I would recommend if you may not have yet seen it. Jackson’s Smaug is a gorgeous creation, but Dragonslayer has never felt like it’s overstaying its welcome while being watched.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X