So you thought The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wasn't exciting enough? Get ready for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second film in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: Check Out Our Cumbersome Titles trilogy, where the camera swoops and whooshes over meticulously constructed and choreographed scenes of battles, derring-do, death, brushes with death, more battles, thrilling escapes, unlikely alliances, quips, even more battles, gorgeous scenery, the biggest, baddest, best CGI dragon ever created, and yet still even more battles!
It's like the climax of The Adventures of Tintin, except better, because most of you actually know these characters and their eyes don't look dead like the characters in Tintin. But why am I talking about Tintin when I should be shouting about Jackson's super whiz-bang epic-a-go-go!? Gosh, how could anyone complain about a two hour and forty minute avalanche of thrills and chills!?
Actually, I'm going to complain a little. Here's the deal: I've never read anything by J.R.R. Tolkien. Nothing against the man or his works; I just never felt the need to wade into novels requiring me to learn about the history, peoples, and cultural and political relationships between the nations, factions and colorful figures of fantasy worlds. I have enough trouble keeping up with this planet.
The first Hobbit flick put me to sleep. This one almost did. I got through the first two hours due to the wham bam factor, especially during an over-the-top but undeniably dazzling escape/pursuit scene set on a raging river. But despite the great-looking visuals, I was acutely aware of the film's lack of story. What I was watching seemed less like a quest for the ages and more like well-shot footage of a mega-cool amusement park ride or next-generation video game. When the travelers finally reached a town and the pace slowed, my eyelids began to droop and I had to fight to stay awake, until the best dragon ever (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) appeared and I perked up.
Understand, I enjoy spectacle as much as the next person, but I need substance as well. For too much of the time, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who I believe is the central character of the whole shebang, seems like just another member of the gang. The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is off on some side-task. He does that a lot, doesn't he? A relationship between a female archer named Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and hunky dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) is promising, but won't be resolved until the next installment.
I get that Jackson views this movie as simply the middle portion of a nearly nine-hour story. But I nodded during the first part and won't see the finale for a year, leaving me with a beautifully imagined thrill-fest with too little personality and too many situations TO BE CONTINUED next year. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is going to be a massive hit with fans of the book and of Jackson's uber-productions, but for me, viewing it as a movie unto itself, it's eye candy without enough flavor.