The Hobbit’s second chapter is stronger than the last, mainly because things actually happen throughout the film (in the first one, it took 45 minutes to leave Bilbo’s front door). However, Peter Jackson’s needless and obsessive expansionism limits The Hobbit’s success. The many unnecessary subplots, such as the insertion of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, a weird inter-species love triangle between elves Tauriel, Legolas, and dwarf Kili, and Gandalf’s confrontation with the Necromancer hinder the flow of the film as much as their listing here hinders the flow of this sentence. Just when the tension is at its height during Bilbo’s encounter with the dragon, the film pulls a “Back at the ranch” scene and takes us to Bard’s family trying to heal the poisoned Kili, effectively neutering the narrative drive.
And the orc battles – so many orc battles! From what I remember from the book, there were maybe one or two orc skirmishes, three tops, over the course of the quest – it seems that there is a battle with orcs every 15 minutes, and the funny thing is, even after all that fighting, only once is one of the “Fellowship” injured (I guess you could call it the Fellowship, because that’s basically what Jackson is trying to recreate, especially with his prologue set in Bree. The prequel trilogy format pays too much attention to fan service and reliving old moments and not enough time with the scenes and characters that are NEW).
The most egregious of these battle scenes is the barrel/orc battle down the rapids, which is so full of cartoony CGI ridiculousness I felt I was watching a cinematic version of Tom and Jerry going down Splash Mountain.
As the dwarves and Bilbo finally enter the Lonely Mountain, they glimpse the ruins of their civilization, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much more effective these scenes might have been had Jackson omitted the lengthy prologue from the first film, and had let us imagine the riches of the dwarf civilization like Tolkien allowed us to in the book, where important plot threads were alluded to, not blown up and extended in CGI buffoonery. The past was alluded to; Gandalf’s mission was an aside – not a sizable chunk of the film.
When the film works, it works, but it’s too bad this movie feels like a director’s cut – it’s almost hours long, and that goes without mentioning it’s ten minutes shorter than the previous movie. (I can only imagine, with nausea, how long the actual director’s cut will be. Ugh.) The deliberate cliffhanger ending was frustrating, because if the film had eliminated all the dry Legolas parts, then there would have been enough time to finish the story.
The Desolation of Smaug is much better than its predecessor, but really, Peter Jackson needs an editor. Three hours to go!