I saw the movie during the week. For me, I tried to view the movie as a standalone piece that drew from a number of Tolkkien sources. I've never read the book. My own familiarity with The Hobbit came from the animated film. It seems very clear that someone wanted to stretch things out. The big question seems to be whether it was story driven or money driven. I think it's a bit of both, but more likely it was about money.
From a story perspective? I've been reading in a number of articles that some of the material that's found it's way into The Hobbit film series actually comes from The Silmarillion. And I've also read accounts that The Silmarillion is a very difficult read, and most likely IMPOSSIBLE to film. But it IS Tolkkien source material that could potentially contribute to a film, and I think that's probably what was behind New Line's efforts to stretch the movies into a trilogy. And New Line has shown that their interest in Peter Jackson's film interpretations of Tolkkien's written work is very much about money. After all, New Line did try to withhold royalties from Jackson, forcing him to sue the studio. But I get the general sense that New Line recognizes that these films are likely to be their last opportunity to cash in on the world of Middle Earth.
As for the film itself? The prologue was cool. At first I was scratching my head, wondering why in the hell is Thorin back in Bree? Sure enough, he turned up at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. And it was nice to see Peter Jackson reprise his cameo role as Carrot Eating Man, albeit sober this time. It was puzzling though, that there were men after Thorin. Would men actually work with the Orcs to hunt down Thorin? And on the cameo front, I was almost expecting an Aragorn cameo. There have been some rumblings that Viggo Mortenson might reprise the role at some point. But perhaps that's going to come in the Battle of the Five Armies?
The pursuit of the company of Dwarves by the Orcs has almost gotten a little tiring for me across the span of two films. The prologue at least served to break that up a little bit. But we ended An Unexpected Journey with the pursuit / rescue by the Eagles only to go back into The Desolation of Smaug with more of the Orcs chasing the Dwarves. At least that was broken up with their encounter with Beorn, and the trek through the Mirkwood.
The Mirkwood sequence was kind of trippy. And the spiders were more than a little bit scary. The Wood Elves? They seemed remarkably different from the Rivendell and Lothlorien Elves that we saw in LOTR. It's funny, because I almost see a Star Trek parallel with the Elves, with the Rivendell & Lothlorien Elves being more like the Vulcans, and the Wood Elves are more like the Romulans. The Wood Elves seem far more aggressive than any other Elves we've seen before. Thranduil especially seems like a real sonuvabitch, and I can understand more and more why the Dwarves don't trust him. I think I might need to see the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey to flesh out my own opinion on Thranduil and why he turned his back on the Dwarves of Erebor.
As for the whole Azog / Bolg thing? I've done some reading and learned that in the books Azog was killed by Dain Ironfoot at the Battle of Azanulbizar. And yes, you can clearly see Bolg as we saw the action figure in that sequence. I personally haven't seen Dwalin killing him, but that scene is really dense, visually. Making out all of the details is a little difficult.
I think the reason for the inclusion of Azog (or a key Orc) was to aid Thorins character for the film. When Azog killed Thorins grandfather, King Thror, it was a humanizing moment for Thorin as a character. It helped to develop the story of Thorin and his oaken shield. And all of a sudden the story wasn't just about the quest to re-take Erebor and it's treasure, but to avenge his slain family members. One thing that I remember keenly from the animated film was the Dwarves being obsessed with the treasure. Thorin in the films seems a bit more complex of a character than that. Still, in Desolation of Smaug, they seemed to explore the treasure obsession a little bit when the Dwarves finally got into Erebor and Thorin was able to see the treasure for himself. And that seemed to echo the scene of Thror's obsession with the treasure that was in the first film.
I don't know that I buy the whole love triangle with Tauriel, Legolas and Kili. A Dwarf and an Elf? Really? Based on Evangeline Lilly's appearance on Conan O'Brien's show it seems likely that the studio wanted some kind of love story. That's not without precedent in Peter Jackson's movies. The whole Aragorn & Arwen storyline was a very minimal element in the print version of LOTR, but was greatly expanded for the Peter Jackson trilogy of movies.
I thought Smaug was thoroughly menacing. The voice definitely worked for me. Cumberbatch did a great job, and the Smaug voice didn't seem anything like the Necromancer voice. And his dialogue with Bilbo? I thought it played well. At least, as well as you could picture a conversation between a Hobbit and a dragon. But clearly, the fight between Smaug and the Dwarves seemed more like a film creation. But Thorin's ride in a wheelbarrow down a sluice of molten gold? Come on.
Gandalf's journey was interesting. His investigation of the tombs of the Nazgul was understated, but cool. As for his quest to Dol Goldur and fight with the Necromancer / Sauron? That I'm not so sure about. I get what the film is trying to achieve about Sauron's return, and his desire to use Smaug as a weapon of war. But it does come across as being almost too convenient of a tie-in leading up to the events of LOTR. There's also the mystery of Thrain that might still be explored.
Clearly, there's plenty left to resolve for the third film. And the cliffhanger seems to leave us in a far different spot than we saw at the end of The Two Towers. But we seem to be on a clear course for the third film, complete with Bard making himself ready with the black arrow in an effort to kill Smaug.