Last decade, Tolkien fans bemoaned some omissions from Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The friendly Tom Bombadil, a nasty Barrow-Wight and a mean-spirited tree were all omitted completely. We all wondered what it would be like if Jackson had had enough running time to explore all the wonderous aspects of MIddle-Earth. Well, with his extended Hobbit trilogy, we're getting our wish, and, as the saying goes, we should have been careful.
Upon anouncement, we were all skeptical of Jackson's decision to turn a three-hundred-page book into a nine-hour epic trilogy. While the extra material from the first film seemed at least related to the source material, this second installment is exceptionally bloated. With part two only covering 133 pages of the novel's text, the filmmakers had to add a lot. And it seems to be a lot of, well, nothing.
While defending his decision, Jackson likes to report that this added material is drawn from Tolkien's appendices and notes. While this is true in some instances (Gandalf's investigating the Necromancer/Sauron), it is other times completely false. The elven archeress Tauriel, for example, was a completely new creation for the film, as was her part in a love triangle between Kili the dwarf and Legolas (who also was not in "The Hobbit" novel). The romance tries its best to work, but it still feels pretty fabricated, especially since we just met the Elves and have had no previous information about Kili's relationship status. Without a emotional foundation to rest on, there seems to be no reason it is there at all. When scenes aren't completely new, they are padded out with superfluous, petty drama. The Dwarves are going on, but one has to stay behind because he's hurt, oh no! Bilbo found the ancient keyhole in the side of the mountain, he somehow cannot find the key! Oh no! And sometimes, it feels like this is what the "The Hobbit" trilogy is. Watching a character look for his keys. (Hey, wasn't there supposed to be a fire-breathing dragon in this thing?)
Despite all these additional-footage woes, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", when staying faithful to the book, is absolutely amazing. Even if they're criminally short (like the visit at shape-shifting Beorn's), the scenes from the book are where the movie really shines. The fight with the Mirkwood spiders is nice, as is the fun gag-filled barrel-escape down the rapids. The realm Mirkwood is a fantastically interesting location, and its cold, twig-crowned Elf King (played wonderfully by Lee Pace), is fun to watch.
And let us not forget the dragon Smaug, who instantly joins the ranks among the best CG characters in recent cinema. In today's movie landscape, a giant robot/monster/robot-monster is not rare to see, but rarely do we ever really feel the impact of their size. The Transformers and the robots from "The Avengers" were big, sure, but Smaug's size really translates. Either the introductory scene (which slowly reveals Smaug's enormity as he wakes from his slumber) or the way he was filmed (almost everything filmed from the Hobbit's or Dwarves' perspectives) does magic to make him a truly fearful foe. With Smaug being such a great recreation on screen, it is without contest that Smaug is the highlight of the film, and a worthy payoff to the slogging journey that proceeds it.
Seeing such great wonders from the book on the screen only asks the question what a one-shot "Hobbit" movie would look like. Leave the Shire for the mountain, encounter trolls, fight goblins, meet a dragon, battle, battle, battle, and then be back in time for tea. We'd be exhausted having watched the movie, not exhausted because we're watching the movie.
But a complete, fast-paced Hobbit adventure won't come about until someone makes a book-only fan-edit (which is really only a matter of time). Until then, we'll just have to wonder how Jackson and Co. are going to cover the remaining 67 pages of text remaining when they release "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" next December.
To those who haven't read the classic novel, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" should deliver on story and action, but Tolkien fans might just wish this film just axed through to the good stuff.