A Non-Epic Mistake — A Negative Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

failures to achieve epicness in
The Desolation of Smaug (source)
I watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night, one day after the film's U.S. release date of December 13th. I feel compelled to write a negative review of the film not because I didn't enjoy watching it; I did, just as most action-movie watchers in the world would. I feel compelled to write a negative review because the actions of director Peter Jackson and company merit critique.

I've come to believe these filmmakers' idea of drastically expanding the story of The Hobbit and adapting it to a trilogy of films was a mistake—ambitious and well-intentioned, but a mistake nonetheless. Above all else, I feel compelled to write a negative review because this Hobbit trilogy of films is not, and cannot be, epic.

My review of the first Hobbit film was more positive. I came to conclude after watching An Unexpected Journey that that Jackson and company were successfully pursuing a daring vision to enrich Bilbo Baggins' story with more of the beautiful detail in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. Now, unfortunately, I have to reverse my conclusion: The Hobbit film trilogy may still be the product of a daring vision, but it isn't a successful one—not, at least, in living up to the standards of Tolkien's marvelously written universe.

As a story, The Hobbit never had the cadence of a trilogy. It never had the structure to build a trilogy upon. It is very clearly a single story about one journey to one destination with suspense building to a single (if extended) series of conclusions. As a result, the climaxes of Peter Jackson's first and second Hobbit movies (An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug) are fabricated from whole cloth, as is much of the filler action leading up to them. The third and final film in the trilogy is bound to be better, if only because it can use Tolkien's original climaxes.

We totally lost this guy's point of view and character arc.
(source: screenshot from this trailer)
In watching The Desolation of Smaug, I felt the filmmakers had truly lost all sense of perspective. The story is supposed to be told from the perspective of Bilbo. It is named after him, after all. Instead, the film trilogy turns him into a secondary character beside the dwarf leader Thorin, effusing the spirit of Aragorn. Thorin's turned into a young hero completely against the picture presented in the book—which is of a greedy, elderly leader—and Bilbo gets sidelined.

Without even mentioning the film's other story lines that don't involve Bilbo and the dwarves at all, The Desolation of Smaug completely loses its point of view, which is supposed to be that of an untried, unlearned hobbit, experiencing the greatest adventure of his life.

"Greatest adventure of a naïve hobbit's life" sounds like a great story, while "mixture of action-filled events that predate The Lord of the Rings story" ends up being far less inspiring.

There are legitimate comparisons to be made between the Hobbit trilogy and the Star Wars prequels, particularly in how they fail to reach the same standard of writing and character development achieved in the movies they strive so hard to compliment. To be sure, I think the two Hobbit movies released so far are of a higher grade than the Star Wars prequels. However, there's something to be said for the fact that when George Lucas made episodes I, II, and III, he was ruining his own story; Peter Jackson and his compatriots are maligning classic, beloved source material.

It's a little distracting for this thing
to feature in the film. (source)
The essential problem with the Hobbit trilogy, and The Desolation of Smaug in particular, is that it is an attempt to turn a non-epic story—set in an epic universe—into an stand-alone epic of its own that can lead up to the Lord of the Rings as an equal. That just was never meant to be. The Hobbit was meant to be limited—parochial, even. It was never meant to explain all of the conditions that led to the story of the Lord of the Rings. If it was meant to "explain" anything, it only explains how the One Ring came to the Shire, nothing more.

If J. R. R. Tolkien had written The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings, I'm sure he would have written it differently. But he didn't. Instead, the film audience gets to listen to filler material written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro.

Screenwriters, I've read J. R. R. Tolkien, and you are no J. R. R. Tolkien.

More than anything else, that is why the Hobbit film trilogy was a mistake, and why it fails to be epic.

[Note: For my past discussion of what constitutes "epicness," turn here. Also note that my fiancée contributed significantly to this review; we discussed our thoughts thoroughly after seeing the film together.]