The Desoation of Smaug is a film full of chases, heroics, fighting, and great visual design. Very enjoyable, and I suspect it will even be better when seen in 3D (which hasn’t yet hit our area in the rural Philippines).
The bad news: It will be confusing for those who didn’t see movie one and who don’t know the story.
And it doesn’t have a decent ending.
At the end of movie one, we left the unexpectedly heroic Bilbo and the dwarves on a rock after being rescued by the eagles.
Now, after surviving orc attacks and trolls, they come to the really dangerous part of the trek: Through Mirkwood forest.
The forest is now transformed by evil, where even traveling through it will result in mental confusion and getting lost.
Bilbo, in an attempt to figure out which way to go, climbs up a tree and we see the famous “butterfly” scene from the book in the movie: it is one way that Tolkien reminds us that evil might be all around, but there is also goodness and beauty.
The bad news is that this two seconds of hope quickly dies: because, on coming down, Bilbo finds the spiders are attacking his friends. Bilbo’s elven sword and his magic ring helps him to fight them off, but at this point, the elves, who are also hunting spiders, catch and arrest the dwarves for trespassing.
But they overlook Bilbo, which is their big mistake.
The Elves of the Greenwood forest are not the wise elves we have seen before: and their snotty king Thranduil sees isolationism of his realm the only way to keep his people safe. So putting his people in danger for a bunch of keystone kop type dwarves is not in his plans. In contrast, we see a Jackson addition: a female character who says the elves should not isolate themselves: They have to reach out and protect everyone, because they are part of the world.
Not Tolkien, but the theme is a frequent on in the Tolkien universe, and Tariel can fight but also shows more compassion than the more logical elves.
The best scene in the movie is the rescue of the dwarves via the barrels: Upped from a simple ride into an orc chase by Jackson, who loves such things.
The Laketown episode is then expanded from the book, and the scenes of Bilbo and the dragon is straight from the book.
We then see the climax of the film: The fight of the dwarves against the dragon.
The good news: Unlike in the book, the dwarves actually had a plan to kill the dragon. The bad news: It didn’t work.
So the film ends with Bilbo watching the dragon flying away to destroy Laketown, and asks: What have we done.
And there it ends, leaving us a year to wonder what happens next.
As I said, it is a good film, without an ending to close things. And although the final dragon killing scenes are full of excellent special effects, a lot of the film goes so quickly that one wishes that Jackson had not kept the film under three hours. I suspect a lot more of the backstory will be added in the extended edition, but it means there are “holes” in the plot that might be missed by non Tolkien geeks.
So should you see it? Well, I can think of a worse way to spend an afternoon. And the kids will love the special effects/chase scenes.
I give it a four out of five stars.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.