Peter Jackson is in love with special effects. I know – it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me when we’re talking about the man who started out by doing gory splatter films and decided to spend his newfound director stardom on yet another remake of King Kong. But man, it does get tiresome in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Of course, effects is and must be tremendously important in a film trying to recreate Tolkien’s world. The problem comes from how the spectacle takes centre stage here, actively hurting the experience. The movie shoves tedious chase sequences or battle scenes in your face frequently and repeatedly, scenes so long I have lost interest in what’s going on well before they’ve reached their conclusion. They’re drenched in CGI effects allowing for stunts so unrealistic I quickly lose my suspension of disbelief, and all the tension is lost.
Even if Jackson hadn’t torpedoed himself this way, the stakes are low to non-existent because the premise of these scenes are rarely about anything else except the characters’ physical safety – and I’m pretty sure they’ll be OK. It becomes a roller-coaster ride you watch others experience.
There’s a big difference between the adaptions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit movies. For Lord of the Rings Jackson had to edit down three extensive novels into three movies. This guided him to choose wisely what to portray in the movies, enforcing rather tight, economical storytelling. With The Hobbit he was allowed to expand a single (rather simple) novel into three long movies.
The result tells us that the man needs an editor, badly.
Padding the story by borrowing material from the Silmarillion (and, I guess, quite a lot from Jackson himself) fragments it with endless uninteresting subplots that fail to create a cohesive whole, seemingly disconnected from a main premise that in itself doesn’t feel important.
Unlike the Lord of the Rings books, The Hobbit – the novel – simply doesn’t have what it takes to frame the epic saga of good versus evil that Jackson has envisioned for his new trilogy. It’s simply a nice little story, and that’s good and plenty if you make an adaption respecting that. But the films wear the clothes of an epic without ever truly being epic. They’re just long. They don’t seem to know what they want to say, but use a lot of words to say it.
If he would only have allowed it to be Bilbo’s adventure and no more.