I was stoked for the 2nd installment of The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug. Peter Jackson had so far proved himself an adequate steward of Tolkien on the big screen. I didn't agree with all of his artistic decisions, but I understood them at least, and could forgive him the occasional gaffe simply because he got most things right. I'd give him a B+, perhaps even an A- for his work on the Lord of the Rings, and the first installment of The Hobbit looked like it was going to continue in this tradition.

Spoilers Below!

The Hobbit is not a large book. So stretching the middle third of it out into a 2.5 hour movie was going to involve some creative plotting. But that's okay, there were actually quite a few little adventures the dwarves and Bilbo got into while crossing Mirkwood, plus I knew they would be delving into auxiliary material covering Gandalf's adventures with the Necromancer, so I wasn't too concerned.

So I was a little surprised and concerned when the band got through Mirkwood, apparently in less than 1 day. Literally, "We're going in circles, oh no, spiders!" and then they were in the Elven King's dungeons, and Mirkwood was dispensed with. Jackson apparently wasn't going to spin out the movie with the awesomeness of the dark forest. Shame, so much potential for medieval mythic imagery, and the Faerie-like trickery of the dark sylvan elves. But he just phoned it in, recycling old Elvish art direction from Rivendell and Lorien, despite the differences in the elf cultures described by Tolkien.

To make up for dropping all of the Mirkwood potential (perhaps the DVD will reinsert them as bonus scenes), he added a ridiculous barrel-riding chase scene, and an extended Laketown sequence that tried to evoke political intrigues for no apparent reason. It was here that I began to get deeply concerned about an impending shark jump. Jackson split the dwarf band in two, leaving behind 3 dwarves in Laketown, which then led to an orc attack, and an elvish counter-attack... inside Laketown. Perhaps I am alone in wondering how this could go down in a fortified town of hardy northern men without any of them getting involved. This skirmish did nothing to advance the story, so I can only assume that there is more nonsense to come that will only become apparent in the next movie, so we have that to look forward to.

Meanwhile, Thorin and the rest of the company rush to the Lonely Mountain in a single day, get into the secret side door, and send Bilbo in on reconnaissance. Another hasty rush through essential plot points--which is alarming, because there is close to an hour of movie to go.

And then the movie goes completely off the rails.

I'm not going to dissect it in detail, because frankly, it was just plain stupid and I have no desire to re-live it. But suffice it to say that the 10 remaining dwarves get into a running battle with Smaug the dragon, and defeat him by taking a few minutes out to smelt more gold than exists in the whole world, cast a huge statue of a dwarf, and use it to flabbergast Smaug long enough that they can attempt to drown him in a veritable lake of molten gold.

In a feat of 1990s-level CGI, Smaug emerges from the gold like a glistening T-1000, and decides at that point that he should just abandon his lair and gold to these intruders, and fly off to Laketown, because... well who the hell knows at this point!? I'd like to say "because that's what he did in the book!" but that clearly was not a concern during the preceding 45 minutes of fucktardery.

I'll be looking forward to the fan re-edit of this one--one that drops the idiotic "action" sequences that do nothing to advance the story, and restores some of the faerie whimsy tone that was enticingly present in the first instalment. I'll also spend a lot of time wondering what Guillermo Del Toro might have done instead.