The Desolation of Smaug – too little butter, too much bread

For died-in-the-wool Tolkien fans this second in the film versions of The Hobbit is rather like Bilbo’s description of himself as “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” The Lord of the Rings needed three films to do it justice whereas three films for The Hobbit, at around one sixth of the length of LoTR, was always going to be stretching things a bit thin. So there’s a bit of padding.

Much of the padding is pyrotechnics: the scenes where the dwarves reignite the furnaces under the lonely Mountain is visually brilliant, however it serves no useful purpose in terms of progressing the plot. So too is the pursuit, down the river, of the dwarves in their barrels by both the elves and the orcs. This sequence of scenes in particular is reminiscent of the sword-fight scenes in Chinese fairy tales of the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon genre. Some may find that the repetitive scenes of elves routinely chopping up orcs to be fairly repetitious.

By comparison, the scene where Bilbo first encounters Smaug and his hoard of treasure is brilliant and faithful to the original both in tone and imagery.


The original illustration of Smaug in his lair is well captured in the film.

There is a large amount of plot material added to meet the requirements of three films.

The budding romance between the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and elf maiden Tauriel (Evangaline Lilly) will likely test the patience of the purists. Given that the relationship between Glimli and Legolas in LoTR was made all the remarkable by the long-standing enmity between dwarves and elves, this Romeo and Juliet lookalike seems to be beating the gun a little bit.

The presence of the goblins is a significant change from the original and the presence of the Bolg, played by orc regular Lawrence Makoare, and his minions certainly creates a significant level of tension lacking in the original story. The pursuit of the dwarfs by the orcs certainly adds a continuity to the plot that is lacking in the original story.

Director Michael Jackson takes the opportunity of filling in much of the backstory for LoTR in The Hobbit particularly in relation to the growing menace of Sauron. This central battle between good and evil is brilliantly captured in the scenes where Gandalf ventures into Dol Guldur, the fortress stronghold of the necromancer. The standout scene from this sequence is where the figure of the necromancer morphs into the eye of Sauron in a brilliant combination of images.

Much of the material the is introduced into the film appears to be faithfully drawn from Tolkein’s longest work The Silmarillion wherein lies the fertile ground for the Hobbit franchise.

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