The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: People assume certain things about you if you have certain nerdy proclivities. They assume you’ve seen the whole Battlestar Galactica remake TV series (I have not). They assume you hate the Star Wars prequels (I do not). And they assume you loooove the Lord of the Rings movies, at least the first three (I do not). As a Star Wars fan, it’s actually been a kind of sour treat to witness the mixed and/or disappointed reactions to last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and the idea of a Hobbit trilogy in general: at least, here is the Lord of the Rings equivalent of something that is (a) not as good, overall, as the trilogy it’s prequelizing, (b) bound to be defended by a vocal but shouted-down faction who may rightly point out that (c) it’s not really all that different from the earlier, more-loved movies. Even as someone generally uninterested in Lord of the Rings, I can get behind the hardcore-fan argument; though I’d call The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug somewhat weaker as a film than, say, The Two Towers, I also don’t consider it a massive comedown, at least not on a technical level.
The hitch, I think, is that the underlying material of The Hobbit seems ideally suited for a slightly different sort of movie, a movie that Jackson only makes in bits and pieces, in between long epic journeys of exposition and piece-moving, much of which only sets up the movies we’ve already watched. Rather than making a fresh Hobbit in his established Rings universe, Jackson seems to be remaking The Hobbit in the image of his previous trilogy. (Say what you will about the Star Wars prequels: I don’t think anyone would angrily accuse them of slavishly imitating the first trilogy—even given their many stylistic and thematic connections!) Desolation of Smaug is a bit more fun than Unexpected Journey, because it contains zero (0) 45-minute dinner scenes and one (1) absolutely spectacular dwarf-elf-orc smackdown involving a river, a bunch of dwarves in barrels, and a sexy girl elf that brings to mind many of my favorite recent action sequences from The Lone Ranger and The Adventures of Tintin—action sequences that depend on cartoon-slapstick timing more than pure spectacle.
It also features Benedict Cumberbatch playing a computer-animated dragon, which kinda-sorta means he acts opposite his Sherlock costar Martin Freeman (back as Bilbo Baggins, and marginalized for a solid half of the movie) in a scene that isn’t quite as good as the Bilbo/Gollum face-off in the earlier film, but does have a super-cool dragon voiced with Cumberbatch’s melodious disdain. See, I’m not immune to the fantasy-geek charms of a Lord of the Rings picture. I just wish Jackson had the discipline to make a fun fantasy-adventure without all of the extra portent he ladles onto the good bits. I understood why the first trilogy needed to be nine hours long even in the “short” non-extended version, even though it wasn’t really to my taste. Why I just finished hour five of The Hobbit with at least two, probably three, more to go, I’m less certain.