Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug

My Christmas present to a friend was tickets to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. My friend’s gift to me was a handmade, solid wood bookcase, but that didn’t turn out as we’d hoped either. I’ll blog about that one soon.

For now, we’ve got movie review sign.

I’ll start with the good. Visually, this is a very vivid film. I loved the locations and all the little details like the huge honeybees in Beorn’s stables.

That was about it, unfortunately. So what didn’t work?

In the book, Gandalf cleverly entertains Beorn with the story of their journey, so he’s more interested in that than in the steadily growing number of dwarves in his house. The film begins with a giant bear chasing them all into the house, but he changes into a man overnight and serves them breakfast in the morning.

That sets the tone. Over-the-top action with cartoon physics is going to be the norm, and characterization falls by the wayside. Beorn, for instance, doesn’t show his caring for his animals by requiring the dwarves to return the ponies, nor does he follow them to make sure they’ll do it, nor do the dwarves grumble at the prospect of trekking through Mirkwood afoot.

Then again, they step into Mirkwood, wander around in a daze like they smoked some very “special” pipeweed and get caught by the spiders. It all happens in one day, perhaps in a matter of hours. I was looking forward to the food running out (imagine the genuine humor that could have resulted), not to mention Bombur falling in the river and having to be carried. None of that. None of the songs, either. But wait, there’s Legolas!

Legolas was never my favorite character in The Lord of the Rings, but there he was at least a canonical part of the Fellowship. Here, he’s shoehorned in to be eye candy for the distaff side of the audience. For the men, there’s Tauriel.

One of my pet peeves in movies is when the producer decides an all-male cast is bad, so he adds a woman who’s gorgeous and kicks ass and falls for the hottest of the males. Basically, she’s a Token Female Action Girl. I’d rather just see an all-male cast, and Tauriel has no personality other than feisty, flawless and fond of Kili, with whom she flirts in an awkward, cliched way.

Kili, for his part, tells her a sob story about how he promised his mom he’d come home. Goodbye, Kili. You were nice in the first movie. I hope you escape soon, and I don’t mean from the elf jail.

Bilbo breaks them all out, but instead of closing the barrels, they all sail along in open upright barrels with Bilbo clinging to the side of one of these. Which would be fine, except Bilbo calls himself “Barrel-rider” when he’s talking to Smaug. When exactly was he riding?

The Orcs chase them. Legolas and Tauriel chase the Orcs. Much action ensues. Legolas actually gets slammed around by the Orc leader on one occasion, but of course he still looks like Barbie’s perfectly groomed younger brother, except for a single artistically placed trickle of blood. Meanwhile the dwarves reach Laketown and meet Bard, your Generic Hero with Adorable Children Who Adore Him.

Then they reach the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo is the only one clever and persistent enough to get them in, and his reward is to be sent to find the Arkenstone (there’s some backstory about how that will unite the dwarven clans somehow). He tiptoes in and Smaug wakes up.

Smaug is the single biggest disappointment in a film crammed to the ceiling with disappointments. He can’t kill one hobbit who’s visible — yes, unlike in the book, Bilbo takes off the Ring and talks to him. He senses the presence of the Ring, yet doesn’t seem at all interested in acquiring it. Then he tries to kill the dwarves and fails miserably.

In fact, the dwarves outwit him at every step of the way, even using his flames to fire up their forges, which make a giant golden statue of a dwarf. It looks like one of those big gold-foil-wrapped chocolate Santas. Smaug stares at it like he’s wondering if it’s a pinata, and the statue dissolves, drowning him in molten gold.

Sadly for Thorin, he hasn’t read A Game of Thrones, so he doesn’t realize that molten gold cannot harm a real dragon. So Smaug swims out and says he’s going to Laketown. Bilbo runs up shouting that those people are innocent. Smaug growls something about revenge, turns and flies off. Presumably he realized the script wouldn’t permit him to so much as singe the beard of a single dwarf in this film — let alone a visible hobbit standing a few yards away and shouting at him — so his only options were either to go to Laketown or to sit around in the Lonely Mountain until a handful of dwarves ate him.

And there the film ended. Thanks be to Eru.

Oh, Gandalf. I almost forgot about him, which is pretty easy to do. He had a major role in the first film, but here he just seems to be at a loose end until the Necromancer captures and imprisons him, like Saruman did in The Fellowship of the Ring. Radagast and his bunny-sled show up for a cameo, but he doesn't do anything either.

This film shows the results of trying to stretch a children’s book out to cover three movies. It’s mostly action, action, action, with none of the camaraderie of the first movie. The dwarves don’t tease Bilbo or joke with each other, and there’s no point in Smaug roaring, “My wings are a hurricane and my breath death!” if he can’t actually do anything except let the dwarves make a fool out of him. Finally, one question. How does Thranduil have both long flowing white hair and eyebrows like Ugly Betty’s?


Margaret Lesh said...

I recently saw the first installment of The Hobbit--I'd waited after reading the original lukewarm reviews--and was so disappointed with it. I was very glad to have not purchased the ticket, and I'm not planning to see the second part. Peter Jackson has ruined the book. It is not a nine-hour story, and I really despise how the original story has been so bastardized. Ugh.

The LotR movies were wonderful; I looked forward to The Hobbit. It really should have been one 3-hour movie and not this stretched-out disappointment.

(Mclesh from AW)

Randall said...

we’ve got movie review sign

I'll try to walk without rhythm. :)

Maria Zannini said...

We saw this over the weekend. I had heard it was better than the first movie, but to me it was only marginally better.

The first movie was way too dull and slow. It took them an hour just to begin the journey. We nodded off twice during all the singing and food thumping. Thank goodness we caught it on dvd.

I almost hate to watch the third film but I feel I'm invested now. All I know is that I won't be in any hurry to see it.

Barbara Martin said...

Thanks, now I can save my money.

Marian Perera said...

Hi Mclesh!

Agreed. IMO, Jackson had two good options - either keep this as a single, three-hour movie. Or have three films, but tell a more complex story as a result. For instance, have the Ring trying to possess Smaug. That would have been much more intriguing and unpredictable.

Instead Jackson took the third option - stretch the story out like chewing-gum over three movies with plenty of filler. CGI, action, and a flat romance that we all know is going nowhere. Plot? What plot?

Marian Perera said...

Randall - I'd love to see a MSTing of this. It's guaranteed to be less of a letdown.

Maria - I won't be heading out to a theater to watch the third film, that's for sure. I'll wait for the DVD to hit the public library.

Barbara - Yes, there are better uses for our money than this.

Ruth Cooke said...

I actually somewhat enjoyed the movie, but I didn't love it the way I loved the three LotR movies. I'll probably see it once more, just to take my son. Since I saw the LotR movies mega times (each) in theatres, I must say that PJ is missing out on a lot of income by stretching it out.

I was originally looking forward to the extra material, but it should have been two movies, not three, and they should have been more like two and a half hours each, not three. There was a lot of fluff there that was simply Peter Jackson saying, "Look how much money they gave me to spend."

Or in the words of my very dissapointed daughter, "I wish somebody would take away Peter Jackson's budget!"