Reviews

'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition' Is a Movie Outstripped by Its Extras

The extended edition of Desolation of Smaug turns the film into a flabby affair, but the ten-plus hours of bonus features could still make this purchase worthwhile for Tolkien fans.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Rated: PG-13
US DVD Release date: 2014-11-04

I still have the copy of The Hobbit that I bought at my elementary school's book fair when I was a kid. The book introduced me not only to Tolkien but also the fantasy genre, which in turn sparked my interest in playing Dungeons & Dragons and crafting my own adventures. The Lord of the Rings also inspired the writing of my own fantasy novel, an unabashed rip-off of Tolkien's work.

I was a fan of director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings adaptation, so I was looking forward to his take on The Hobbit when it was announced. Unlike some, I didn't mind when he expanded the two-film series into a trilogy, nor that he planned on pulling material from the Lord of the Rings appendices to show us scenes that aren't in Tolkien's book.

While there is merit to the argument that The Hobbit is a story for kids, it really is an epic tale, especially when one takes into account its sequel and the ways Tolkien expanded on the first book through those appendices. Sure, it was originally published as an adventure story for children, but Tolkien went back and revised the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter to, among other things, turn a simple magic ring into The One Ring. And that's the kind of thing Jackson has done repeatedly in the first two Hobbit films; for example, when Bilbo fingers the ring in his pocket during The Desolation of Smaug, we hear strains of that iconic Lord of the Rings score.

However, Desolation of Smaug is the film where Jackson's storytelling liberties with The Hobbit start veering into fan fiction territory. Depicting a meeting between Saruman, Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel in An Unexpected Journey (as noted in Tolkien's LOTR appendices) is one thing. Giving Legolas a large amount of screen time in Desolation, accompanied by Tauriel, a female wood elf of Jackson's creation, is another. That Jackson has Tauriel become attracted to one of the dwarves in a Romeo and Juliet-esque subplot is just silly.

Legloas' time in the film also leads into another issue with Desolation: set pieces that feel like video game levels. When the dwarves and Bilbo escape from the wood elves in barrels, they have to not only make their way down a treacherous river but also deal with an attack by orcs, which is countered by Legolas and Tauriel. (For what it's worth, none of that fighting is in the book, by the way.) At one point, Legolas stands on two dwarves' heads while shooting arrows, and later one of the dwarves' barrels pops out of the water, only to bounce just the right way numerous times. It's as if someone on the effects team was mashing buttons on a controller the whole time.

I had the same reaction to the climax, when the dwarves and Bilbo battle Smaug and try to encase him in liquid gold. The scene feels like a boss level in which someone moves the characters around to get this item over there, and then pull that lever, and then do this thing to complete an objective and watch a cut scene. This video game feel comes both from the use of CGI and specific staging.

While these comments make it seem as if I hated it, I didn't. Most of the movie's action scenes are very un-videogame-like, and it retains enough of Tolkien's book that I could enjoy the proceedings, even though I was a bit annoyed by how far it veered from Tolkien's source materials (including the LOTR appendices) in places. On the whole, it's a fun romp, albeit one that could have been better.

Like its predecessor, as well as the Lord of the Rings films, this Desolation of Smaug extended edition adds new scenes and fleshes out existing ones. I haven't seen the Unexpected Journey extended edition, but the Lord of the Rings extended editions were quite enjoyable and added a lot to the theatrical versions. In this case, though,Desolation has to be dinged a bit, as a lot of what was added back in didn't do much for the film. For example, when the dwarves get lost in Mirkwood, it worked fine in the theatrical version; we didn't need more of their disorientation. The same goes for bringing Thrain into the story and putting in more scenes reiterating that the Master of Laketown isn't a nice guy and Bard might be stirring up trouble. The former is an unnecessary detour and the latter just rehashes the same ideas.

If you're curious about the how and why of the film's story decisions, you'll find many answers in the commentary track, which features Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens. As in their LOTR commentary tracks, they put together an enjoyable discussion that has quite a lot of meat in the conversation, as opposed to the "Oh, that was a fun scene to shoot" kind of statements that sometimes pepper commentaries. (My favorite: An extended silence punctuated by, "That was a great scene". Yeah, thanks for the thought.)

The commentary track is a mere appetizer for the main course, which consists of about ten hours of documentary materials spread across a pair of Blu-ray platters. You'll be treated to tons of behind-the-scenes footage, discussions of the hows and whys of everything from script decisions to staging scenes, background conversations that draw on Tolkien's life and work, costumes and effects work, set construction, Howard Shore's score (an hour is devoted to that alone), and much more. You'll even get a chance to see a couple more deleted scenes.

If you were to claim that the bonus materials for Desolation of Smaug are better than the movie, I wouldn't argue with you.

6
Pop Ten
Collapse Expand Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image