The Extended Edition of 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was released on Monday 3rd November. Tolkien film-aficionados have got used to the obligatory 11-month wait for the “proper” version of the film, but is the extra half-an-hour of “juicy” book-based shenanigans really worth it? Warning: spoilers ahead.
Fundamentally, this is the same film as the one that came out in cinemas last Christmas, but with some scenes expanded and parts of the plot fleshed out. Your views of The Desolation of Smaug (DOS), or Peter Jackson’s craft as a director and adaptor, will not be changed as a result of this Extended Edition; it might be more helpful if Warner Bros. slapped a disclaimer on the box saying “Extended Edition does not mean Revised“. For some people it might make them dislike the DOS slightly less, for others it will just emphasise how much they love it; for that reason, let’s save the bother of tediously rehashing the arguments of the film and instead focus on these extended and additional scenes.
The first big addition to the film is the story around Beorn. This was badly needed as the existing scene was so unsatisfying – in my review of the theatrical edition I felt that Beorn had such a limited and irrelevant role that he should have be excised altogether. (My wish to have Mikael Persbrandt replaced by Brian Blessed sadly remains unanswered!) Instead, Jackson has tried to rectify this by shoe-horning in a scene where the dwarves meet Beorn in pairs. Unfortunately, this now feels contrived and awkward whilst adding nothing to the story: to do this scene justice it needed 20 minutes for Gandalf to regale Beorn with the tales of the death of the Goblin-king and their escape on eagles; instead the scene feels so unfinished, unfulfilled, unsatisfactory. There is still no expansion of Beorn’s character nor is there any kind of development in his relationship towards the dwarves. Like Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings films, Beorn should have been removed as an unnecessary distraction from the plot; now he just feels even more incomplete.
In contrast, the expanded scenes in Mirkwood are a pleasure to behold. The sickly and enchanted wood is even more menacing and overbearing with the addition of the enchanted stream. Aside from another “comedic” one-liner from James Nesbitt’s tiresome Bofur (“It doesn’t look very enchanting to me!“), the stream and the surrounding extra material really emphasise the gloom, stuffiness and latent hostility of the forest. It is a real shame that Jackson decided not to include more of this in the theatrical edition: of all the extended scenes this was the most needed.
There are some glaring omissions in the scenes Jackson chose not to extend. If you were to ask the man on the Clapham omnibus what his favourite part of DOS is, he would say “Smaug”. Yet, not a single one of the scenes involving the Mountain or the dragon has been extended. Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but I was rather hoping for an extended conversation between Smaug and Bilbo.
And what about the Elven-king’s halls? In An Unexpected Journey Rivendell was lavished upon us, and I was hoping that, like Rivendell, the audience would be tantalised with more of this new and exciting location as well as its residents. Not even a fleeting shot of “Mereth-en-Gilith”. The attraction of Middle-earth is the diverse beings and cultures. Lake-town (or Bree-on-Sea) is not remotely exciting.
I like the The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition. But I don’t think I like it any more than The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug theatrical edition. It was nice of Jackson to show a bit of leg to Tolkien fans – and I am grateful for that – but I am just not convinced how necessary this all is and, more important, whether it is truly an improvement. The answer, of course, is self-evident: if it were so necessary then these scenes would have been in the theatrical cut.