Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Dragon, a Hobbit and A Dwarf Walk into A Cave: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second in the trilogy of movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit or There and Back Again, which was originally considered more of a children's story than its adult brother Lord of the Rings.  I am not an absolute purist when it comes to film adaptations.  I got over that phase of my life.  I came to terms with the idea that Peter Jackson was including appendices materials into his adaptation, to actually make three movies out of the book.  That said, what Jackson has done is not strictly speaking adding parallel stories from the appendices, but also he has begun to mess with the original storyline in ways that were never in the books.

There was a joke on the internet that after the completion of the third movie a special edition editing out all things not in original Hobbit will be released.  It will be two hours long. The second installment is actually eight minutes shorter than its first installment, which many critics complained about as being to "talky" and not having enough action. Well, part 2 has plenty of action and a lot less dialog.  It also leaves the plot several places.  It is interesting, and I enjoyed the movie, but this is not The Hobbit we first read.

To be fair, Jackson clearly wants to take the children's story and make it more along the lines of The Lord of the Rings. I still recall when LOTR came out someone asked Jackson about doing The Hobbit and his response was why would they do the children's story when he had done Rings? The answer was apparently money and the right to take the innocence and humor of the original story and place it on the level of his Lord of the Rings.  I do miss the dichotomy of the two different stories so the question is did Jackson go too far?

Smaug is awesome. The fight sequences are fun and exciting.  It is an easy movie to enjoy and watch.  You don't feel the need to check your watch.  Still, it seems to me to be missing something.  The sets are as always stunning as are the effects.  The acting, as always, is believable.  Perhaps, now five films at 2hours and 45 minutes on average we've become too familiar to the wondrous and magical world created from Jackson's native New Zealand.  The magic has worn off, but to me it's more than this.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie a lot.  The added material from the appendices answers questions like where does Gandalf go when he just disappears for chapters at a time in the novel and how are the characters from The Hobbit related to those in the LOTR story? Some things though are just out of place.


Jackson's desire to include actors and character from the first trilogy exceeds his grasp.  It's not the council of the White that appears in Unexpected Journey, which is an appendices story; it is the developing love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel, and Fili.  As riveting as the chase of the Dwarves by Orcs is, it really is out of place in the movie and is purely a creation of Jackson and not Tolkien.  The triangle detracts from the character of the Wood Elf King, Thranduil who is an important player in the book.  The three Dwarves staying behind in Lake Town to help the wounded Fili while the rest of the party go on to Lonely Mountain-also not a part of the book- is out of character for all of them, even Fili. The arrival and attack of Orcs in Lake Town and then Legolas and the Jackson created character Tauriel seems out of place.  The battle is fun and exciting, but as a subplot really serves no purpose, except so that Orlando Bloom's Legolas gets more screen time, and the audience gets more of evil Orcs and fantastic battling Elves.

The other issue I have is a small one in terms of plot, but an important one in terms of character and the universal theme of becoming a hero. In the novel, Bilbo's greatest battle is with himself in the tunnels of Lonely Mountain before he first faces Smaug the dragon.  He must find his courage to face the unknown danger for in that moment, he is truly alone. In the movie, however, Gandalf turns to Bilbo and simply says he has changed.  Bilbo is tempted to tell the wizard of the ring he found, but instead he announces that in the goblin tunnels he found his courage.  It is hardly the defining moment in the book.  I had to wonder how Jackson who had so brilliantly captured Frodo's moment of decision to go alone, breaking the Fellowship,  could miss such a defining moment Bilbo's character.

Did I mention that Smaug is awesome? As an action captured CGI, just as Andy Serkis as Gollum before him, Benedict Cumberbatch breathes life into the mighty and egotistical worm.   While when Bilbo removes the ring so Smaug can see the burglar, I had to wonder why he didn't kill Bilbo then and there.  This was not something Bilbo did in the book, just in the movie.  I do get that Smaug is toying with Bilbo and that it sets up another sequence for a battle that did not occur in the book between the Dwarves and dragon.  Again it was an amazing sequence, just more Jackson than Tolkien.

While neither Hobbit film has measured up to the wonder and accuracy of The Lord of the Rings movies, the second is a good movie and easily holds the audience's attention.  With a few walk on characters like Stephen Colbert as a Lake Town spy and even Jackson in the opening sequence, the movie is a fun watch.  Perhaps I am being too much of a purist, since I know that people who have not read There and Back Again have no idea about the changes and additions Jackson has made, or perhaps it is the attempt to make a much lighter story into a much heavier equal that affects the movie, but overall, it is still worth the time and ticket.  And yes, please, more Beorn in the extended edition. I will buy the DVD.