The decision to split the Hobbit into three films — its page length shorter than any of the books in the Lord of the Rings series which were also adapted into film by Jackson — might have piqued the interest of many of the book’s fans. Not only would Bilbo Baggins and his crew of dwarves get more screen time, it would also keep important plot points off the cutting room floor, which was a common complaint in the LoTR trilogy. After seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 48 frames per second, I can say with confidence that the decision wasn’t the best one, especially in Jackson’s hands. Where one two-hour movie might not have done this novel justice, Jackson’s frustrating penchant for incorporating too many shots of smiling characters, lingering too long on scenes, and an overabundance of sweeping wide shots — all these which add considerable length to a movie that needs some precise editing — creates a movie that drags, begs for emotion, and feels empty to its core.
Proving himself worthy of the company that keeps him, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) continues on his journey to help his fellowship of dwarves burgle the Arkenstone, a gem of significance for the dethroned dwarf-king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Caught in a catch-22, Thorin would be grateful to have the gem which has the symbolic significance to unite his people under one banner to rid their beloved home of the dread dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Without the gem, Thorin has no sway over the dwarven realm, and he’s left with no other recourse than to sneak into Erebor’s secret entrance to grab the gem while the dragon sleeps. With time running out — Erebor’s secret door appears with the season’s last light — Bilbo and the dwarves run, fight, get captured by elves, and run some more until they finally reach their destination.
The title seems like a misnomer until we actually get to see the dragon, and that doesn’t happen until the last hour of the film. Though it’s evident that Smaug’s presence has created economic and political problems for Lake-town, there isn’t much desolation — the kind action-craving audiences want to see. And in 48 frames per second, things look a bit too real wiping away that sense of suspended belief in critical moments. Where the standard 24 frames per second adds that layer of movie magic, in 48 fps, makeup looks fake, action sequences look stunted, and digital effects don’t mesh. It’s jarring, tedious, and emotionless with a huge portion of, we’ve been here before. What TH:TDoS lacks is a sense of urgency, as if Jackson had to stop at every rose in the garden while the main plot waited for a kickstart. Even when Gandalf (Ian McKellan) discovers that a certain evil has come back into the world, the threat lacks depth and weight. Added scenes like these that don’t appear in the original text feel like Jackson has lost more than just the plot, and the references seem more designed to connect the Hobbit to his own movies than the books which the movies are supposed to be based on.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
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Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage