If I’ve learned nothing else from the two most recent movies in the Tolkien series, I’ve at least learned how to pronounce “Smaug”. When I was a wee lad in high school we read The Hobbit for a sci-fi/fantasy class I was taking, and myself, as well as everyone else including the teacher, pronounced the name as “Smog”. Now I know better.
It was thoughts like that that kept me going throughout this movie’s 161 minute run-time. Now normally I’m the last person to complain about a movie being long. As Roger Ebert once noted, no good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short. He didn’t have a lot to say about middle-of-the-road movies and length, but he really should have.
I really enjoyed the various Lord of the Rings movies, and the first movie in this series. But, alas, it must be said that this movie is decidedly middle-of-the-road. It is quite dull in several stretches, and it makes you feel every single one of those 161 minutes. The entirety of act 2, especially, drags and drags.
But let’s discuss some of the good. The acting was great, as expected, and the dialogue was well-written and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Bilbo and Smaug, which were crisp, enjoyable and entertaining. Some of the new characters, like Stephen Fry’s pompous mayor, were thoroughly enjoyable as well. And of course it was lovely to see Gandalf, Radaghast, Bilbo, and the various dwarfs. It was even, yes, quite nice to see Legolas who is still pretty easy on the eyes, even if he doesn’t exactly need to be in the movie. I will also say that while I know he was’t in the story, it would have been nice to see Gollum again.
And of course one needs to take a moment to appreciate the sheer beauty of the world presented on the screen. The lakeside town, with its bridges and canals, the inside of the dwarf kingdom, the interior of the elven kingdom (though, oddly, no one in Middle Earth seems to have invented the handrail), and the regular New Zealand scenery are all put to excellent use.
Now on to the rest of the movie. The pacing was absolutely terrible. There were huge stretches of the movie where there was nothing but dialogue. Well-written, well-delivered dialogue, to be sure, but there was just so much of it! Add to that the fact that several of the action scenes, while certainly reasonably entertaining, went on and and on and on. There was no need, for example, for the barrel sequence to be as long as it was, and don’t even get me started on how stupid it is to have someone body-surfing down a river of molten metal without getting his beard singed. There’s also the matter of the cliffhanger ending, which occurs exactly where you’d expect.
I’m really not sure where Jackson and company went wrong here. They can and have made excellent movies before, but this time it just felt terribly off. It wasn’t at all a bad movie, and I’m not disappointed that I saw it. But I can say that I won’t see it in theaters again and I don’t see myself feeling the desire to watch it when it comes out on blu-ray, and that’s really quite a shame.