FACT: The expression “the desolation of Smaug” refers to the lands burned by the dragon when he took the dwarven kingdom of Erebor, specifically the city of Dale.
OTHER FACT: This movie spends no time in Dale.
The first Hobbit movie felt like a remix of the original Fellowship of the Ring: panoramic shots of people running, orc fights, and the exact same chase music when escaping from underground. But I loved it for the opening in Erebor, which felt like Dwarf Fortress as rendered by Square Enix. I also loved the high frame rate technology Peter Jackson used to bring the world to life. 3D movies are a gimmick, but HFR is the real future of cinema. Go see it in that format. It’s worth it.
In this movie it seems like someone nudges Peter every time he starts to fall back into his bad habits. The panoramic running shots are still there, but shorter and more interesting. You have orc battles, but against awesome elves led by Legolas. The only underground place is Erebor, your destination, and there’s no chase music to be heard. We’re too busy listening to Khaaan.
Sorry, I meant Smaug as voiced by the beautiful Benedict Cumberbatch. Come to think of it, this is almost a callback to the Gollum conversation from the last movie. If Gollum had been a giant fire-breathing dragon.
You’ve seen his eyeball in the trailers, you’ve seen drawings of dragons sleeping on piles of gold. But those renditions fall far short of Smaug’s enormity. He articulates perfectly, his giant mouth moving like Wrex from Mass Effect. You feel Bilbo’s terror as he searches the huge treasure pile, ducking around pillars and slipping on the One Ring to conceal himself.
I wonder why Smaug didn’t kill anyone. Even before Bilbo speaks, Smaug already knows that Thorin Oakenshield has instigated this assault and their goal is the Arkenstone. It’s not really clear how getting the Arkenstone will endanger the dragon or why the dwarves are a threat. They bring swords and axes which are specifically called out as unable to hurt Smaug. If he had remained sleeping and Bilbo had brought the Arkenstone to Thorin, would that make the dwarf king? Could he then summon the other dwarven armies to assault Erebor and kill the dragon? (I imagine the other dwarves smirking “yeah, because that worked so well last time.”)
I loved this movie. Seeing the abandoned Erebor was a delight to metal-crazy dwarves like myself. Smaug’s treasure pile is absurd, a literal tidal wave of gold that could take years to search. The barrel chase was outstanding and hilarious, even if they miscounted and materialized a barrel out of nowhere.
Go, now. Go to the Lonely Mountain by the end of Durin’s Day.