“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is quite possibly the least talked about sure-to-be-blockbuster movie of all time.
I do wonder what life would be like in a world where director Peter Jackson had stuck to the original plan and only released two "Hobbit" movies instead of three. Would the reaction to the first movie, “An Unexpected Journey,” have been better? Would we all be more excited for “The Desolation of Smaug”? Would I have heard at least one person say the words, “I cannot wait to see ‘The Desolation of Smaug’” by now?
It’s remarkable that a series that started out as popular as “The Lord of the Rings” has become something of an afterthought. (An afterthought that still makes a lot of money, I will add.) But I feel that “The Hobbit” is basically the “How I Met Your Mother” of movies right now; we all continue to watch because we’ve invested too many hours to give up now, even though we’d probably rather be doing something else. Actually, the difference between “The Desolation of Smaug” and this final season of “How I Met Your Mother” is that “The Desolation of Smaug” is serviceable entertainment.
It’s certainly an upgrade from last year’s “An Unexpected Journey,” in that there are no seemingly endless musical montages. So, yes, the journey of a group of dwarves to reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) continues. But the dwarves really are the biggest problem with the “Hobbit” movies compared to the “Lord of the Rings” movies. There are just so many of them that we don’t really know much about them as individuals, save for Thorin (Richard Armitage). I suspect this is why Jackson decided to bring back Legolas (Orlando Bloom) from “Lord of the Rings” and just completely make up a new character, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), to add at least the semblance of variety.
And it seems that the only thing the dwarves are good at doing is getting captured, then waiting around for Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to save them. This happens in the first movie, and the dwarves manage to get themselves captured an astounding three times during “The Desolation of Smaug.” (A case can be made that they actually get themselves captured four times.) Watching people go from place to place, getting captured each time along the way, doesn’t make for the most interesting of heroes.
But think if “The Hobbit” had been made into just two movies instead of three. Most of the bloat of the first movie would have had to be cut, giving the first movie a much more urgent pace. We’d be talking about the grand conclusion to a remarkable five-part movie series. All of this makes me a little sad because when “The Lord of the Rings” movies were released, each one was an event. “The Hobbit” movies feel more like a commitment we wish we hadn’t made, but it would be rude at this point not to show up.
I know this is a strange way to say that I actually liked “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” though it just feels like watching a lesser facsimile of “The Lord of the Rings” movies. I mean, look, it’s still fun to watch Ian McKellen, who appears to still be having quite a nice time playing Gandalf, but the problem with the old wizard is that he always has something else to do -- always leaving the group to go off on some other adventure -- leaving us with this group of dwarves we barely know.
We’re never going to feel the bond with Thorin and his dwarves like we did with the group from “The Lord of the Rings.” And, in turn, we’re never going to feel a bond with Bilbo like we felt with Frodo because it was through Frodo’s interactions with the other characters that we learned to like Frodo. We still know very little about Bilbo because we know so little about the 13 –- 13! -– dwarves that he’s been hanging out with for almost six hours of screen time now.
But, at least “The Desolation of Smaug” is entertaining. The characters are doing things other than eating and singing. There is an actual payoff when Bilbo and the dwarves finally do reach their destination. And the showdown with Smaug is a true crowd-pleaser. But, hey, we only have to make it through one more of these -– and it’s a shame that this is what these movies have become: An obligation as opposed to an event.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.