Review: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

Dec. 13, 2013 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY BURL BURLINGAME / Special to the Star-Advertiser

The subtitle of “The Hobbit” is “There and Back Again.” But what if there’s no there, there? Yikes. That would be a lot of sound and fury wasted, lost down the rabbit-hole.

Getting “there” is half the fun, or so claim the automobile manufacturers. The journey IS the destination. And basically, all the Middle-Earth movies — most movies, actually — focus on trying to get somewhere, despite the odds, and when the There is surmounted, then everything afterwards is a stroll in the park, storytelling-wise.

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‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

Rated PG-13

In theaters now
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(Maybe we shouldn’t ask Odysseus how the voyage home from Troy went.)

At any rate, here we are, deep in the journey of “The Desolation of Smaug,” and we have dangers a’plenty, and a plucky band of dwarves and elves and hobbits and a stray human or two to brave their way through any obstacle the scriptwriters can dream up.

And if there’s a problem with “Smaug,” that is it. Our heroes are treading water. Orcs to the left of them, wolves to the right of them, and up ahead, a big ol’ dragon. The inner journey, the dramatic arc for the characters we care about, is rather easily mislaid here.

And, unlike the first trio of films, it’s harder here to keep track. There are a dozen dwarves, and they all have names that sound like power tools, and their motivation … well, let’s just call them the Ferengi of Middle Earth. Most of them are after the Big Score. Only Thorin Oakenshield has a less-selfless goal, and it’s pure selfishness: he wants daddy’s underground kingdom back — so he can swim in the gold coins like Scrooge McDuck.

It feels overstuffed. It feels like the “director’s cut” version of films released on disk.

Okay. Enough. “Desolation of Smaug” is so joyfully and wondrously created, by artisans at the absolute top of their game, that picking at it seems petty. It IS petty.

Longstanding fans of Middle Earth will be thrilled with it — although I fear folks who are newbies to hobbitting will be blindsided. There are amazing things in it to see and hear. Just keep in mind the “plot” is a catch-and-release program.

Jackson is a master of choreographed action set pieces, particularly in a sequence with bobbing barrels filled with dwarves. Evangeline Lilly is a pretty nifty elvish bow-person, although the purists out there may sniff that her character is in the original books. Or is it?

More meaningfully, Bilbo’s character engages in some rather un-hobbit-like behavior. I hope audiences remember why. There’s a ring involved.

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