Another near-three hours of little people running away from different kinds of stuff really tests the patience. There are maybe two exciting set pieces throughout The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, one involving giant spiders, the other barrels in a river. The rest is fluff. It feels like being in a theme park and moving from one ‘zone’ to the next, sterile and procedural with artificial rushes punctuating the tedium of queuing and the empty, candy floss consumerism. Boasting the greatest cast of British actors with magic in their bellies and old English on their tongues this side of Westeros, Desolation of Smaug is full of eye-rolling cameos (Stephen Fry) and neglected talent. It’s self-indulgent and it’s unashamedly profit driven and it’s really boring.
After a brief framing flashback involving Gandolf and Thorin to remind us vaguely what all this running around is all about, we jump straight back into the plot of dwarves and hobbit dodging danger, without any doubt of harm. The special effects are a strange mixture of often appearing stunning and occasionally off-puttingly poor, sometimes alternating from cut to cut. The liquid gold in Smaug’s cave being a particular example of a visual effects artist appearing to take an early lunch break. The great Smaug comes across as no great menace, choosing to avoid blowing the thieving dwarves to smithereens because this set piece has to go on longer and longer.
It essentially suffers from similar problems to the first instalment, but at least that built up some stakes with the lengthy opening in the Shire. There’s just too much stuff and nothing tangible to make these films seem genuinely cinematic. The Lord of the Rings trilogy contained heroes with a growing dedication and compassion to each other. The Hobbit contains a muddling, blurred ensemble of indistinguishable, humourless bumblers. Peter Jackson claims the addition of plot from the appendices, along with things mentioned but not described in the book and the inclusion of characters not in the book at all (hello, Orlando) all add a richness to the world but none of this makes you care about the treacherous predicaments our diminutive heroes find themselves. With about 9 hours dedicated to a trilogy of films based on a single short novel, this neglect is unforgivable. You can’t rely merely upon New Zealand’s magnificence and the special effects for its entirety, especially when they’re a bit ropey. When you start to wonder maybe the Orcs are just a bit misunderstood, there’s a problem.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is out now in the UK and US. Running time 161 mins. mins. Certificate 12A (UK).