I was hoping that the first installment of The Hobbit trilogy would be merely a Phantom Menace moment, and that Peter Jackson would produce leaner, tighter sequels that would pull this ill-conceived trilogy out of the crapper. But no. I am saddened to report that The Desolation of Smaug is freighted with the same problems as the first movie, and more.
Jackson’s first mistake, of course, was to puff up J. R. R. Tolkien’s slender book into a trilogy at all. The whole story could have been told in a single, two-hour movie. This decision was, of course, based simply on greed, and it necessitated a great deal of dramatic fluffing and padding. Hence new characters, new scenes, and especially new thrills, chills, and battles, have been added.
Jackson’s second mistake was to give reign to his very unattractive penchant for megalomania and cinematic one-upmanship, which first emerged in King Kong. (Jurassic Park has dinosaurs? I’ll show you dinosaurs!) The sad truth is that even as a trilogy, The Hobbit could have been good if Jackson were not trying to one-up The Lord of the Rings.
Of course, to outdo The Lord of the Rings, Jackson also has to re-do it in part, which means that a lot of the new material stuck in here feels derivative of The Lord of the Rings. So we have an elf maiden like Arwen, who, like Arwen, heals a poisoned wound (from a Morgul arrow, this time), and who flirts with a non-elf (the cute dwarf), etc., etc.
This lethal combination of derivativeness and one-upmanship gives vast stretches of The Hobbit the feel of nothing more than a parody of The Lord of the Rings. (Perhaps Jackson’s next project will be nine three-hour films based on Bored of the Rings.)
Jackson’s third error is the farcical cartoonishness of the action sequences. I admit that I enjoyed the elves and orcs battling it out as the dwarves made their escape in barrels. But when the dwarves do battle with Smaug in their underground city, the sequence is so overly busy and absurdly implausible that the net effect is rather uninvolving.
But it gets worse. As the greedy, scheming master of Laketown (played by the Jew Stephen Fry) addresses his people, the camera pans over the audience. At first, I thought some Uruk-hai had crept in. But no, when the camera returned again and again, it became clear that Laketown is afflicted with dark, vibrant, nappy racial diversity.
Peter Jackson endured more than a decade of kvetching about the “racism” of his faithful adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, in which the races of Middle Earth are portrayed as white and their enemies dark. But now he has caved. The first Hobbit movie pullulates with pasty orcs and goblins. And now we have Negroes and Papuans in frigid Laketown.
This movie is an insult to the taste and intelligence of its audience and to the memory of J. R. R. Tolkien. I can’t recommend it, and it will only be out of a sense of duty to you, my audience, that I will rouse myself to see the final film next December.
The supreme irony of this exercise in wretched excess is that the character of Smaug is, of course, a parable on the dangers of greed and megalomania. It is rather amazing that Peter Jackson could work on this project for years without ever glimpsing himself in it.