Thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” — SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

I wanted to love this film, not just like it. I wanted to tell people it was awesome, not “it was okay, but…”

“The Hobbit” was one of the first fantasy stories I had ever experienced — as a child listened to a recording of the story as read by actor Nicol Williamson. Since then I was hooked. While I thought the battle scene with the Goblins of the Misty Mountains may have been a bit long, I still loved “An Unexpected Journey.”

“Desolation of Smaug” however, proved to be a fair but problematic film.

Smaug was the best part. Wonderfully animated, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, the dragon was both massive and fearsome. The riddling talk with Bilbo was great, and the film did a fine job of presenting Smaug’s menacing presence.

I had no issues with the Orcs as antagonists, either. It actually serves to set the stage for the Battle of Five Armies. Yes, I know it was the Goblins of the Misty Mountains that showed up in the prose, but to be honest, Azog the Defiler was established as a significant villain in the film. It would actually make sense for him to show up at Erebor come “There and Back Again.”

I was fine with the inclusion of Tauriel, although I’m undecided about the romantic interest and potential love triangle that is Legolas/Tauriel/Kili. Kili’s attraction to Tauriel does come across as genuine, and even in his state by the film’s end, part of him accepts the possibility that what he feels may be unrequited. What I hope for Tauriel is that her decision is for her, and not driven by any sense of obligation to either interest.

The scenes involving the Necromancer and Dol Guldur were well done, although I think the big reveal near the film’s end was premature. Could it have been better served if it were done in the third movie, following the White Council’s victory? Hard to say for now. I do think the visuals surrounding the reveal were overdone, and I’ll say why in a little bit.

My problems with this film stem from my initial concerns in adapting a single book into three films — I’m of the opinion that two would have cone the trick — and that’s pacing. “Lord of the Rings” worked because, Jackson started out with three rich novels and cut stuff out to fit a big screen adaptation. With “The Hobbit,” Jackson had to go the other direction and add material in. I contend that’s the tricker way to go in adapatation, because you have to make sure that all the pieces of the story still fit together. In the case of “Smaug” they don’t, and I’m left to wonder if the film sacrifices character in favor of action.

Two of the main action sequences — Thorin & Company’s escaping from Mirkwood and the dragon’s pursuit of the Company in Erebor — are way too long to maintain the necessary tension. In the latter case it undermines Smaug’s power, but that’s secondary.

The Erebor sequence I’m talking about in an elaborate chase sequences where Smaug pursues Bilbo and the Dwarves into the great forge. What follows is this Rube Goldberg series of events that leads to dumping several metric tons of molten gold into a mold to create a giant statue of a Dwarven King right in front of Smaug, which then melts and floods the Great hall and washes over the Dragon. It’s supposed to drive the Smaug out of Erebor and give him motivation to attack Laketown…I think… Two problems here:

1) Molten gold is not going to phase a creature that breathes fire.
2) Smaug was already set to go out the door and attack Laketown (he even said that’s what he was going to do) when the Drawves pulled their useless prank.

It was a pointless film sequence that was tailored for showing in 3D with a high frame rate for its own sake (even though the film wasn’t shot in 3D). Same thing with the Necromancer’s big reveal — designed to be seen in 3D for the sheer visual effect. As I said regarding all the CGI in the atrocious Star Wars prequels, just because you have the technology to do something in a film doesn’t mean you should use it.

Personally, the Forge sequence could have been cut in favor of a couple of things:

1) Meeting with Beorn and introducing the Company by pairs so as to gain his favor (instead of just bum rushing his house).
2) A sequence in the halls of the Elven King where Bilbo actually acts as a burglar and formulates his escape plan.

I also would have liked to have seen Bilbo actually use the Ring to distract the spiders. It still would have led to the Dwarves’ capture, but would have also helped Bilbo’s character arc.

One last issue I had was the heavy handed foreshadowing surrounding the Ring. There’s a big difference between “There’s something weird about this magic ring,” and “This magic ring is eeeeeeeevil!” You don’t need to play the latter when you have a moment where, upon donning the ring, Bilbo can understand what the Spiders of Mirkwood are saying, or that the world looks different, shadowy. Subtle nuances can can work very well and lead to a strong reveal, and if the viewers put the dots together it’ll make for a better experience. Even if you don’t, the clues are still there.

The Hobbit is it’s own story, and it’s possible to treat it as such while it serves as a prelude to “Lord of the Rings.”

The film left me wary about “There and Back Again.” The film has five key events to cover (in no particular order):

1) Smaug attacks Laketown
2) The Dragon-Sickness screws up negotiations.
3) The War of Five Armies
4) The White Council drives the Necromancer out of Dol Guldur
5) Denouement

Laketown and the War are going to be Big Things and will require significant screen time. Ditto with Dol Guldur. A denouement should be brief (but Return of the King’s wasn’t and it worked). The gathering of Men, Elf and Dwarf after Laketown will need some strong character work before the sharp and shiney get to maiming.

Now, if the third film runs as long as “Journey” and “Smaug” (169 and 161 minutes respectively), that should be plenty of time to cover all this. However, if the action scenes go too long again, what suffers?

We’ll know next year, I guess.

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