Many people disagreed with Peter Jackson’s decision to release his Hobbit trilogy in theaters at 48 frames per second, which prompted complaints of inducing motion sickness, looking “cheap” like a soap opera or British television, or being too video gamey (a charge invariably made only by non-gamers). Whether or not it was your brand of pipe-weed, its secret success was that it set a strikingly different visual tone from the Lord of the Rings films, thus making it clear to the audience from the very first shot that Bilbo’s story of adventure and singing dwarves has little in common with Frodo’s slime-and-grime slog through World War Middle-earth.
As the inexplicably tripartite series continues with The Desolation of Smaug, however, that distinction is getting murkier as the world becomes muddier. While An Unexpected Journey showed us new locations, races, and a range of colors that we never saw in LOTR, the second chapter of this trilogy (based on a 300-page book, we’d like to remind you) wastes no time falling back on all-too-familiar themes like uniting armies, impending apocalypse, and Legolas’s dreamboat eyes. Even when these plot points come straight from the book—but especially when they don’t—we lose the endearingly Hobbit-centric perspective that made the first film so much fun.
None of this is to say the film is bad or you shouldn’t see it, as there are some particularly inspired set pieces, and watching Smaug in action is nothing short of stunning. We’ll just have to wait for next year’s conclusion, There and Back Again, to see whether it was worth the detours.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG | PG-13 | OPENS FRI 12.13