"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" has its share of fans and critics. The Peter Jackson loyalists applauded his return to Middle-earth and his faithfulness to the source material, while others found it too slow and stretched thin compared to the dramatically packed "Lord of the Rings" movies.
Well, now Jackson has given both groups something that they can agree on. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is better than the first installment in almost every way. The second leg addresses nearly every complaint from "An Unexpected Journey" and changes up the dynamic in a way that will remind disappointed fans of "The Lord of the Rings."
How did Jackson and company pull it off? The director's trilogy saving about-face can be broken down into three key points.
Get Moving, Don't Stop
It's no secret that everything before Bilbo leaves for the adventure in "An Unexpected Journey" slows the movie down considerably, but it's not until the sequel starts off at a running pace that we see just how much that prologue affected the pacing. "The Desolation of Smaug" is a rip-roaring compared to the first installment, and the film feels more alive with higher stakes thanks to the sped up tempo. If "There and Back Again" can maintain that level of energy, this could be one of the greatest series turn-arounds of all time.
Make The Dwarves More Distinctive
Besides Thorin — and occasionally Balin — the 13 dwarves never felt like anything but one amorphous blob of supporting characters, totally indistinguishable from each other. This did some serious damage to the impact of the first film because of how perfectly the Fellowship was balanced out in "The Lord of the Rings." Seriously, do you know the different Óin and Gl óin or Bifur and Bofur? Neither do we, but now we definitely know who Kili is thanks to a romantic storyline invented for the film. If you don't have the mix of Middle-earth races that made the Fellowship so unique, then certain dwarves need more screen time for their personalities to stand out.
Split Up The Group
As much as everyone loved the Fellowship when they were together, things didn't really get interesting until the breaking of said fellowship. The same applies here. There's a reason that Jackson and his screenwriters decided that it was best to leave some of the dwarves behind in Dale, which Tolkien never did in his book. By splitting up the group, our investment doubles since there can be two co-existing conflicts. The stakes are higher when the characters we care about are spread out. For example, you're more likely to care about Bofur if he's one of the four dwarves in Dale when Smaug attacks as opposed to just another one-thirteenth of the company inside the Lonely Mountain. It's just a smart move made by people who know what they're doing.
Not that "Lord of the Rings" was overflowing with female characters, but "The Hobbit" was in dire need of at least one woman, regardless of species. Tauriel came literally out of nowhere, since the character never existed in any of Tolkien's book, and her romance with Kili became one of "The Desolation of Smaug's" most involving storyline. It also doesn't hurt that her arrival coincides with a sharp increase in creative orc killing.
More "Lord of the Rings" Connections
"The Hobbit" is a great story, but when you're stretching it out over three movies, the strength of that original narrative is diminished. So you have to rely on the novelty of seeing the story play out on screen, in the same visual world that people loved in "The Lord of the Rings." That means there needs to be enough of a connection to the previous trilogy to stir up all of those nostalgic feelings that got people out to the theaters in the first place.