The movie fades to black as Smaug the Dragon flies off. As the lights came back on, I wondered what had gone wrong. It was like finishing the last mouthful of a degustation dinner, but feeling empty and apathetic. In the three hours I’d spent in the film, a flash storm had hit Canberra. I’d later find out that my living room window had been left open and water had been gushing through but, in the drive back to my girlfriend’s place, small puddles caught random lights of the city. Reflected and refracted by the rain and filtered through the ambiance of a Gnarls Barkley CD, Canberra seemed more vibrant.
When a fantasy film seems less fantastic than Canberra, you know you’ve got a terrible fantasy film on your hands. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a dreary, tedious three hours. The film invests heavily in setting up for action pieces that don’t pay off, resulting in a clunky, pointless film.
Desolation of Smaug gives the first film, An Unexpected Journey, the full Phantom Menace treatment. Instead of picking up where we left off with the first film, DoS recaps the important parts of the plot and then embarks on a new story. Why are we here? Because Thorin-Aragorn wants his kingdom back and an old wizard has found him and they need Bilbo to be a burglar.
There is so little going on with the characters — Sir Ian McKellen tries to give it his best, but emoting to green screen after green screen must be taxing on the old guy — that you can never come to care for them. Martin Freeman still hasn’t learnt how to act and he plods along the film squinting at things. The dwarves are pretty much a homogeneous mess — only two or three of the dozen are distinguishable as characters. And we still have no reason to care about Thorin the Aragorn.
The result is that things just happen in a sequence until the end. Somebody’s been poisoned? Okay. Somebody’s been captured by spiders? Okay. Somebody’s staying behind? Whatever.
Oh, and Stephen Fry shouldn’t be in things. He’s as bad as Barry Humphries.
Instead of being a fantasy adventure, DoS wants to be an action movie with slapstick violence that pushes into farce. Just as the droid army failed to inspire tension in the Star Wars prequels, the Orcs don’t seem to post a threat in DoS. Even an escaped barrel seems to execute them fairly effectively.
It’s impossible to describe the characters. Who is Bilbo? He’s the guy that can turn invisible. Who is Thorin? He’s the guy that can issue demands when Gandalf is not around. Who is Smaug? He’s the dragon. Everybody is so flat and lifeless.
The only person who seems to be trying the whole ‘acting’ thing is Evangeline Lilly, who plays the Smurfette elf created for the film. Although she’s creepy — that seems to be the defining characteristic of elves in Middle Earth — at least you get the feeling that she has something going on behind her CGI-enhanced face. Admittedly, it isn’t much that’s good. She’s a magical elf who is supremely talented, thus she’s in the middle of a love triangle. What other role could there be for a girl in a fantasy world?
The emptiness of the film is the big mystery. It’s such a pointless exercise. Why are we trying to get back this guy’s kingdom if he’s such a hopeless cretin? Worse, when the plot requires the two lead characters to change their characters — Thorin suddenly becomes aggressive towards Bilbo, and Bilbo suddenly becomes deceitful towards his friends about something other than the Ring — it doesn’t go anywhere. They immediately swap back to the non-roles that they had before.
There’s nothing uplifting or enriching about the film. It’s a waste of three hours. Avoid it.