A little background…
I never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, so when I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on it’s release date on my birthday in 2001, I had no idea the film was the first in a trilogy.This was likely in part to the aforementioned fact that I hadn’t read the novel and in part to the four or five shots of tequila I’d had at Dave & Buster’s while celebrating my birthday beforehand.
None of my friends who joined me knew the film was the first in a trilogy, either. And apparently neither did half of the audience. Or else, like me, they hadn’t read the book, as a good portion of the movie theater patrons let out a collective post-midnight groan when Frodo and Sam set off on the path to Mordor and it became clear they weren’t going to get there before the end credits started rolling.
Anyone who is a Star Wars fan knows this feeling well from the second installment of that series (and arguably the best of the three), The Empire Strikes Back. That was my first experience watching a film where I was left hanging in disbelief.
Wait a minute? The music is rising. Everyone’s staring out through the window. This is the end? It can’t be the end. What about Han?!
Twenty years after that adolescent mind fuck, the initial installment of The Lord of the Rings got me again.
Fast-forward to last year, when I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Now, I hadn’t read The Hobbit, either, but I knew it was a single book, approximately 300 pages, so there was no reason to think this film was also going to be the first in a trilogy. But then it ends with Smaug’s eye opening beneath a pile of gold and I thought:
Son of a bitch! They did it to me again!
So when I went to see The Desolation of Smaug in IMAX 3D on opening day with a couple of friends, I knew to expect an unfinished story. What I didn’t expect was to find a story that wasn’t really a story at all.
Let me explain:
When you’re creating trilogies, be they films or novels, we as viewers and readers know there’s more to come. (Presuming, of course, that we realize they’re trilogies in the first place.) And while I was left wanting at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Empire Strikes Back, at least those films resolved one crisis as another one loomed. Even The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey got our heroes out of one sticky situation before setting up the inevitable confrontation with the slumbering dragon. But in The Desolation of Smaug, there is no resolution of anything. The film just stops in the middle of the action. Literally stops. In the middle. Of the action. Cut to black. Roll end credits.
So technically, the film has no ending.
And back to my point about the story not being a story. In addition to not having an ending, this film doesn’t really have a beginning, either. After a short flashback to set up a few key plot elements, it just picks up where the other one left off. So with no real beginning and no real ending, it’s not really a story. It’s just an excerpt. Two-and-a-half hours of cinematic connective tissue.
But at least the cinematography is awesome.