It’s a well-worn joke that Peter Jackson doesn’t know how to make a short movie. All of his major films have clocked in at 2.5 hours or longer (that’s before the special release director’s cut, and the DVD extras). He’s also a founding member of the Christopher Nolan All-Stars, a.k.a. Directors who Have Too Much Production Money and Not Enough Sense (other representatives include Nolan himself, Tim Burton, and – sorry, man – Quentin Tarantino).
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellan
But in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the second in a trilogy of movies based on the children’s novel, Jackson has pretty much become a parody of himself. This movie is so overlong, so bloated with unnecessary sidebars and pointless characters, and so severely overwhelmed by ego, I actually thought at one point that Jackson must be messing with us on purpose.
Every frame is a representation of all of Jackson’s storytelling weaknesses. Every stupid rock and tree and monument in this movie has a story behind it, which someone must tell under the influence of Hobbit-pot with the assistance of extravagant flashbacks. Evil is easily identified by how ugly someone is. Minorities are almost completely absent, despite the fact that this is a made-up world that can look any damn way you please. There’s always time for a shot of our rugged heroes manning a boat with the wind in their hair. And by the end, you are so overstimulated with 3D swordfights and orc blood and sweeping helicopter shots of New Zealand you find yourself praying for death.
It’s almost two hours before the dragon (the dragon, Smaug, who’s in the title of the movie) actually shows up. And when it does show up, what does it do? Does it set things on fire? Does it chase after people and eat them? Does it cause massive destruction, laying waste to all before it?
No. It does not. It talks for 20 minutes (in the dulcet tones of Benedict Cumberbatch, which I admit is pretty great casting). And what does it talk about? Honestly I don’t even remember, or care. It trades words with Bilbo (Martin Freeman), offhandedly mentions the corrupting influence of power, and whines about how mad he is that the dwarves are trying to take back their mountain. He could have been melting skulls in those 20 minutes! Unacceptable!
The moral of the story is that Jackson appears to have lost any sense of balance. The entire three hours is embodied with vague tension without release- important items are constantly getting knocked out of hands, swirling in slow motion just out of reach. People raise and lower their swords/bows/lances to threaten each other while spitting out plot exposition. Even small details take forever. When the dragon finally appears (again, after two godforsaken hours of translated elf-speech and remembrances of battles past), it actually takes about three minutes just for the creature to emerge from where it’s been sleeping under piles of gold. Watching waves of gold slide and slither away from its scaly body, giving you a true sense of the creature’s size and beauty, is enchanting and pretty scary…for about 30 seconds. After that it seems weirdly gratuitous, like he filmed the dragon in the shower at the Bates Motel.
This movie gets one star, and that is only because it features an actually inspired battle sequence between the orcs, dwarves and elves that takes place on a river. By turns funny, scary, quick-moving, and epic, with a lot at stake, and a foreseeable goal, the battle signifies everything that Jackson can do right with a keen eye and some adequate editing. It also features the deer-like Orlando Bloom reprising his role as Legolas and Evangeline Lilly as a kick-ass she-elf. For “Lost” fans I can attest: she does not get kidnapped or whine about Sawyer through the entire movie, and is much more likeable for it.
Jackson will be back with the rousing conclusion of “The Hobbit,” which will probably last another three hours and span, I don’t know, the last 40 pages of the source material. That’s of course before the Special Edition Director’s Cut. And the deleted scenes. I just realized that Jackson, like Smaug, is on a rampage. He’s been driven mad by his piles of gold, by the corruption of his own ego, by the lack of anyone strong enough to tell him no.
For the love of God- somebody stop him.