IMDb – 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes – 74%
With The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug now available for your viewing pleasure, and with a somewhat controversial title for director Peter Jackson’s third Hobbit entry now revealed, the time seemed appropriate to offer our take on Bilbo’s journey. Smaug and its predecessor, An Unexpected Journey, have been commercial successes but have also endured significant criticism, mainly for the thinness of their stories as Jackson stretches J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel to its limits in order to form a trilogy. Considering just how beloved, and for some sacred, Tolkien’s The Hobbit is, Jackson’s trilogy was bound to alienate and anger some regardless of the entertainment value the films presented. As a non-reader of the books but lover of the Lord of the Rings movies, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Before I get carried away, TO THE CRITERIA!
Should I pay to see it?
The movie was made in many ways to be seen on a large 3-D screen through which Smaug could terrify (which he still manages) and New Zealand could amaze with its landscape porn, as it did in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you’re dying to see it in theaters, I’m sure the release of the trilogy’s conclusion will offer some opportunities to see all three in such a manner. Otherwise, it is absolutely worth the price of rental or streaming or other more illegal ways of watching. As someone who unabashedly loves Jackson’s LOTR films without being the type of fan who knows every in and out of Middle Earth and its peoples, I probably have a more flexible mindset than devoted Tolkien readers when watching these movies. I can’t get frustrated by every alteration of use of artistic license because I don’t know when they are occurring! For me, the talks of Jackson taking on only a handful of Tolkien’s chapters for this film didn’t matter much, as what I saw before me was simply a visually stunning and constantly entertaining action film. Like The Two Towers was to The Fellowship of the Ring, Smaug proves more accessible than its elder, still filled with lots of wandering but containing more action and memorable characters than An Unexpected Journey. Now I can’t say Smaug matches The Two Towers, perhaps the most rewatchable action movie of our time, but if you’re not weighed down by expectations and influenced by love of Tolkien’s book, you will surely be entertained.
Could I watch it with a date?
In the same vein, Smaug seems to be a better date option than Journey. If I were your date, I have to admit there would be some seat clutching and stifled screams, seeing as I still hate giant spiders even when they’re not wrapping Frodo up for dinner, and Smaug’s immense presence (augmented by Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice) sends shivers down my spine. Really, though, Jackson and his team constructed this movie to be a commercial success. What date could go wrong with LEGOLAS RIDING SPIDERS? Evangeline Lilly joins Orlando bloom as the badass she-elf Tauriel, and other familiar faces such as Lee Pace and Stephen Fry add to the fun. There are moments in which the sparseness of source material shows its face, but this mainly leads to some extra galavanting, rolling around in barrels and other debauchery. Another storyline likely to please less devoted fans is that of Bard, the crafty merchant from Laketown with a weighty past, as desperate to vanquish Smaug as Bilbo and the dwarves led by Thorin.
Could I watch it with my mother?
Though not typical family fare, the movie does offer some things Mum can probably appreciate. I’ve yet to meet anyone in the world who does not like Ian McKellen, so Gandalf should continue to put smiles on a crowd’s collective face, especially when saying delightful things like “It’s undoubtedly a trap.” Smaug is not a masterpiece in the mold of Return of the King, but it does begin the process of setting up Battle of the Five Armies, just as Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers did in the first Jackson trilogy. While the quest of the dwarves awakens Smaug and nears darker forces, Gandalf faces Sauron and the whispers of a war to decide the fate of Middle Earth. Thorin tells his faithful comrades, as Smaug hunts them in the Lonely Mountain, “if this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together.” Big statements like these will come to a head in the final installment, and that may be the one to watch with mama. Smaug grossed almost a billion dollars worldwide about as quietly as a movie can do so, and Five Armies will surely surpass that threshold. This second entry is still at its heart a bridge to an epic conclusion, but it remains time and money well spent.