Continuing the story started by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), the dwarves, assisted by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), attempt to reclaim their homeland from the dragon of the title name in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The biggest problem with this film is that it’s not a movie, it’s an episode. There’s no real sense of beginning or end. It merely serves as a filler movie. Not to say that there’s not a lot going on, or that it’s not entertaining, it just can’t be viewed as a singular experience.
When the first of the trilogy was released, a common complaint was that it was shot in 48 frames per second, not the cinema standard of 24. Frames per second, or fps, is the number of pictures taken every second, and 24 gives the footage a “cinematic look”. By doubling this number, the argument is that it makes action scenes much smoother and easier to comprehend; the opposition says that the film loses its magic and subtlety. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug felt more natural than its predecessor, likely because the larger amount of action catered to the higher frame rate.
Throughout the film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug struggles with tone. Two of the best scenes – the spider scene and the barrel scene, as I like to call them – have a very campy feel. You never fear that any of the characters are in serious danger, but the movie realizes this and prides itself on making the most unrealistically epic battle ever, delivered with a wink and a nod. However, when the film introduces Smaug (voice and motion capture by Benedict Cumberbatch), it attempts to turn to a more serious tone. When a dragon can’t hit a single one of the ten targets on screen though, what initially started off as frightening becomes long and tedious.
The length of the trilogy gives the filmmakers enough time to establish a multitude of subplots, but evidently not enough time to fully develop them. The motivations for many of the characters are often left ambiguous, and you’re just expected to not think too hard about it; just know that the characters did certain actions, and you should just accept it, because I’m sure they had a great reasons. Many characters also fall to the wayside. Thorin (Richard Armitage) is the only dwarf of much significance, and most of the other dwarves are merely used as props.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is repetitive, yet very fun to watch. The same beats occur over and over again, but the film rarely drags long enough to leave you bored. The barrel scene and the spider scene are worth the price of admission alone, but the rest of the movie is entertaining as well – even if you are required to see the first film beforehand. 7/10.