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 director Peter Jackson — may have piqued the interest of many of the book’s fans who wanted more, more, more.
Not only would Bilbo Baggins and his crew of dwarves get more screen time, it would also keep important plot points from falling to the cutting room floor, which was a common complaint regarding the LoTR film trilogy.
After seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 48 frames per second, I can say with confidence that I’d rather have one good movie than two mediocre films.
Where one two-hour movie might not have done this novel justice, Jackson’s frustrating penchant for incorporating too many shots of smiling characters, scenes that wear out their welcome by lingering too long, and an overabundance of sweeping wide shots go to the other extreme.
Finally 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).
Thorin would be grateful to have the gem. Its symbolic significance can unite his people under one banner to rid their beloved home of the dread dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Problem is, the dragon keeps the gem, and the fellowship will have to sneak into Erebor’s secret entrance to get into the mountain, grab the gem while the dragon sleeps, and get out while the getting is good.
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 the last act of the film when we finally meet Smaug. In fact, in addition to having very little Smaug, there’s also very little desolation. Though it’s evident that Smaug’s presence has created economic and political problems for Lake-town, things aren’t so bad considering the presence of a very large and mythical creature hanging out next door.
But the big bad of the movie is that it runs in 48 frames per second. That gives the film a more realistic look, which is antithetical given the subject matter.
This isn’t National Geographic — this is a fantasy movie requiring a good amount of suspended belief. Where the standard 24 frames per second adds a blurry layer of movie magic, everything in 48 fps — the makeup, the choreographed action sequences, and the digital effects look jarringly fake.
Overall, the movie is tedious and emotionless with a huge serving 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 sputters in the background.
Even when Gandalf (Ian McKellan) discovers that a certain evil has come back into the world, the threat lacks depth and weight — and partly because we know how it all ends. 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.