I loved An Unexpected Journey and have spent a good portion of the past year arguing with people who thought it was too long. Ultimately though, most of the scenes in the first Hobbit installment people whined about were straight out of the book. There's not a minute of the movie's forty minutes in the Shire I'd cut. Hell, I even love the extended edition. Sure, the "Pale Orc" felt a bit silly, but that felt like a minor price to pay for a great interpretation of the first part of the book.
So then. All that makes this rather uncomfortable.
I just got back from seeing Desolation of Smaug, and... uh.... Why the hell didn't Peter Jackson just do these as two movies?
Let me back up a bit. I actually like Desolation of Smaug. Or, more accurately, I enjoyed watching it and expect to enjoy watching it at least once more before it leaves theaters. Then I'll buy the extended edition and enjoy that. It's a fun movie, full of zany action sequences, incredible monsters, and beautiful settings. But as a narrative story... it ignores or rewrites the book. What we get instead is, well... kind of dumb. Cool, but dumb.
The movie touches on moments from the book and even has some good twists on a few. Beorn was neat, and I really liked Jackson's twist on the Mirkwood spiders. Unfortunately, he rushed through these, which was an odd decision for a 2 hour, 40 minute film based on a third of a book.
But he had plenty of time for the adventures of Legolas and Tauriel. I don't mind so much that these characters weren't in the book (or in Tauriel's case, any book): I just don't like what he did with them. Legolas would have been amazing in an extended cameo, but his presence here felt absurdly out of place. Hell, it didn't even feel like Lord of the Rings: his scenes were more reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean.
I liked Tauriel when she was introduced, but when they revealed where they were going with her... ugh. I get what they were going for, but I wish they hadn't. I'll put it like this: when they reveal a detail so cheesy you cringe, rest assured they haven't even touched on the cheesy part yet.
The movie's last act focused on Smaug, and it was awesome. But it involved a major rewrite in the same scale as Frodo, Sam, and Gollum being dragged to Osgiliath. It gave us some great adventure moments but added nothing to the story.
I said this movie was fun, and I mean it. I compared it to Pirates, and that's not a bad thing - the scenes where Legolas is jumping around make for a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure, and that's a hell of a good time. But as an adaptation of Tolkien, this is way off mark.
So, I'll ask again, why do three movies? If they'd cut the Pale Orc entirely, you could have left in everything else in the first movie - songs included - and still had time to get through almost everything in this movie that had some basis in Tolkien. Maybe you'd cut when they reached Laketown, but I'm betting they could have filled in the rest with the time they'd have saved cutting him from part three.
Is it worth seeing? Sure. Just be aware it's by far the weakest of the five movies we've gotten so far. Let's hope the last installment is better.