On The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Continuing from a previous post on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a pre-The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is directed by Peter Jackson. I’m now moving on to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a much better film than the first, though I was not impressed with Smaug though. Lame.

According to the With Nel and I blog post, “Criticising the Hobbit and Exploring Tolkien’s Feminist Credentials“:

I saw the new Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug, yesterday and I, unsurprisingly, have opinions. I’m a huge fan of Tolkien’s books and I think when you’re a fan of a book you can have two responses when that book is then adapted into a film: either you hate it irrespective of quality because no film can ever compare to the film that played out in your head when you were reading OR you love it despite its flaws because you’re just so pleased to return to a world that engrossed you for hours. I suspect that I probably fall into the latter category because I could tell that the film was flawed (so very, very flawed) but I still found myself enjoying it.

The first Hobbit film was infamous for making people sick with its super high definition, frenetic camera work and its frantically paced action scenes. This film is definitely an improvement in this regard but Peter Jackson still makes some odd choices with the shooting of certain scenes.

The constantly moving camera in some sections is disorientating. The camera will sweep, while pivoting, over characters as they move through scenes, making it virtually impossible to follow the characters or the action. I don’t remember this being a problem for the Lord of the Things trilogy but the swooshing, swirling camera is frustratingly persistent here. Why has Peter Jackson suddenly decided that dizzying camera movements are the way forward?

And when did Peter Jackson get so keen on close-ups? There are so many shots of people’s faces really, really up close and I can’t quite figure out what these shots are supposed to show except that Peter Jackson has a really nifty camera.

Cinematographic criticism aside, what about the actual story? After the first Hobbit, I don’t think anyone was really surprised that this second film is not particularly faithful to the book. I personally don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The 1999 film adaptation of Mansfield Park, starring Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller, is such a poor adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel that I tend to think of it as ‘inspired by’ the novel rather than an actual adaptation. I can still enjoy it as an Austen-inspired, regency romp, just not as a book adaptation.

I think it’s best to view the Hobbit films in the same way. The original book is pretty short so by making the decision to turn it into three films, it is inevitable that there’s going to be a lot of additional stuff thrown in there. Most obviously, a lot of characters that were not in the original book have been added to the films, like Radagast the Brown, Galadriel and Legolas. But for the Desolution of Smaug they have not only added Tolkein characters where they don’t belong, they’ve invented a whole new character! A lady elf!

The introduction of a new female character was a welcome move to me. As much as I love Tolkien’s books, they are woefully devoid of female characters. I was really surprised while reading an interview with Hobbit screenwriter, Philippa Boyens, when she said that, “Tolkien writes brilliantly for women.” Really?! Has Philippa Boyens actually read Tolkien?

When the Lord of the Rings books were made into a film trilogy, the female characters of the books were all substantially bolstered. This makes sense because modern audiences and critics expect the inclusion of female characters, even if they are often rather shallow. A lot of time and energy is spent dissecting the portrayal of women in films and Swedish cinemas have just introduced a film rating that judges a film on its gender bias. So Peter Jackson wisely took the virtually non-existent female characters from the books and made them into actual characters.

Out of all the female characters, Arwen is the one that is altered the most from books to films. That epic horse chase with Arwen carrying an ailing Frodo away from the Nazgul? Not in the book. Arwen’s internal conflict over whether she should go with her fellow elves to Valinor or stay in Middle Earth? Also no. Arwen is a complete non-entity in the books. Other characters mention her and how beautiful she is but that’s pretty much it. So I have no problem with Peter Jackson plonking her in an action sequence and giving her an internal conflict over her future.

Galadriel’s role is essentially the same in the books and the film. Galadriel is adored because she’s beautiful – that’s pretty much it.

And then of course we have Eowyn. Eowyn is a sword wielding, Witch-King killing badass in both the books and the films, it’s just that her part is obviously bolstered in the films. Eowyn feels stifled by the gender expectations of her society, she’s good with a sword, and she defies her father to go to battle. So you could perhaps argue that Eowyn shows that Tolkein can write feminist characters but you would be wrong. At the end of Return of the King, Eowyn meets Faramir, they fall hastily in love, and Eowyn declares that her days of shield maiden-ing are over. The book makes it sound like being a badass is just a phase that women go through while waiting for the perfect man to turn up.

Peter Jackson made the right choices in the Lord of the Rings films in bolstering the roles of the female characters and I think the introduction of the female elf character, Tauriel, in the Desolation of Smaug was a good idea as well. And they haven’t just added a token female character; she’s actually quite interesting. She’s a competent fighter who can hold her own like any of the male characters and she’s conflicted in her responsibility to her people vs her desire to help the people beyond the borders of her home. Since the Hobbit films have A LOT of characters, she’s about as developed as she could be. I just hope she’s developed through the next film and not just sidelined and forgotten.

 

According to the IGN review:

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second installment in Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation, finds Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and the 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) continuing their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.

This adventure finds the company running afoul of Elves (including Orlando Bloom’s Legolas), hunted by Azog and his Orcs, encountering a skin-changer named Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), battling giant spiders, and visiting Laketown (whose inhabitants include Bard the Bowman, played by Luke Evans, and the town’s shifty Master, played by Stephen Fry).

The company’s greatest threat, though, comes from the titular Smaug, the giant dragon who has lived in the Lonely Mountain, sleeping in the dwarves’ hoard of treasure, ever since he destroyed Erebor decades before. Our heroes must kill Smaug if they’re to win back the kingdom, but their attempt to do so also risks tragic consequences.

Meanwhile, Gandalf discovers that there is an even greater evil brewing in Middle-earth when he encounters The Necromancer of Dol Guldur — the first sign of the return of Sauron, the villain of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Benedict Cumberbatch performs and voices both Smaug and the Necromancer.)

The cast includes Lee Pace as Legolas’ father, the Elvenking Thranduil, and Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a female elf created for the movie. Sylvester McCoy returns as the wizard Radagast, while the dwarves are again played by Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Graham McTavish, Dean O’Gorman, and Aidan Turner.

First things first: The Desolation of Smaug is much better and more entertaining than its predecessor, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This film clips along at a fast rate, upping the action and the suspense in a way the walking-and-talking first film often failed to. Everything just works better this time out: the battles, the character interplay, the visual effects, the tone, and the energy. If you were wary of returning to Middle-earth after An Unexpected Journey, fear not; The Desolation of Smaug is a superior Hobbit movie in every way.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second installment in Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation, finds Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and the 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) continuing their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.

This adventure finds the company running afoul of Elves (including Orlando Bloom’s Legolas), hunted by Azog and his Orcs, encountering a skin-changer named Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), battling giant spiders, and visiting Laketown (whose inhabitants include Bard the Bowman, played by Luke Evans, and the town’s shifty Master, played by Stephen Fry).

The company’s greatest threat, though, comes from the titular Smaug, the giant dragon who has lived in the Lonely Mountain, sleeping in the dwarves’ hoard of treasure, ever since he destroyed Erebor decades before. Our heroes must kill Smaug if they’re to win back the kingdom, but their attempt to do so also risks tragic consequences.

Meanwhile, Gandalf discovers that there is an even greater evil brewing in Middle-earth when he encounters The Necromancer of Dol Guldur — the first sign of the return of Sauron, the villain of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Benedict Cumberbatch performs and voices both Smaug and the Necromancer.)

The cast includes Lee Pace as Legolas’ father, the Elvenking Thranduil, and Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a female elf created for the movie. Sylvester McCoy returns as the wizard Radagast, while the dwarves are again played by Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Graham McTavish, Dean O’Gorman, and Aidan Turner.

First things first: The Desolation of Smaug is much better and more entertaining than its predecessor, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This film clips along at a fast rate, upping the action and the suspense in a way the walking-and-talking first film often failed to. Everything just works better this time out: the battles, the character interplay, the visual effects, the tone, and the energy. If you were wary of returning to Middle-earth after An Unexpected Journey, fear not; The Desolation of Smaug is a superior Hobbit movie in every way.

For a movie nearly three hours long, The Desolation of Smaug hauls ass from beginning to end, from its Western-style flashback opening to its serial-like ending. The film’s brisk movement largely works, although there are a few hiccups and odd, choppy editorial choices around the time we meet Beorn that mar that nearly perfect pace. When the end credits finally roll, you truly are left wanting more (and, no, I won’t tell you what scene it ends on even if you have read the book).

The Desolation of Smaug features a lot of material either invented by the screenwriters — Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro — or culled from J.R.R. Tolkien’s supplemental materials and notes. Perhaps its precisely because this film is liberated from simply reenacting the familiar beats from the classic novel and embraces creative license to invent, expand, and explore that it feels more energetic and alive than the first Hobbit. It’s as if Jackson simply wanted to make a fun movie here rather than a painstaking recreation of the source material.

Among the additions created by Jackson and his team is a budding romance between the elf Tauriel and the dwarf Kili, a subplot that plays less hokey than you might fear. The relationship certainly blooms quickly, but I guess when you’re the only handsome dwarf in Middle-earth and the only hot chick Orlando Bloom’s not really into then you move fast. Lily rocks as the beautiful, but deadly Tauriel, who serves as the captain of the Elvenking’s guard.

Tauriel and Legolas show off their mutually amazing ass-kicking skills in a number of action scenes, the best of which is the barrel sequence. Rather than just having Bilbo and the dwarves ride down river in empty wine barrels, Jackson has them chased by both Orcs and Legolas and Tauriel, who finds themselves protecting those who were just their prisoners from a mutual enemy. Fans of the LOTR trilogy remember that Legolas had some very cool moves and kills in those films, and the same can be found in The Desolation of Smaug.

We also see more of Bilbo in action here, from his entanglement with giant spiders to his encounter with Smaug. We also get a better sense of the negative effects the One Ring is already beginning to have on him. Freeman once again strikes the right balance between humor and drama here, befuddlement and bravery.

There are a few more shades to Thorin this time as we witness his increased single-mindedness and the tragic consequences it will incur. Of the rest of the dwarves, Balin is once again the group’s conscience, while the aforementioned Kili gets the most to do thanks to his interaction with Tauriel. The rest are still thumbnail sketches rather than full characters, but they serve their overall function well enough.

Evans shows up late in the game as Bard the Bowman, a decent everyman in an otherwise crummy town and the story’s only other noble human character besides Gandalf. (EDIT: I was wrong. Gandalf is one of the Maiar.) Evans certainly looks like a 1940s swashbuckler, but we don’t really get to see Bard in action much here. Fry is almost unrecognizable as the Master of Laketown, who, like the Goblin King, is a corrupt ruler who has grown fat from his own excess. Lee Pace projects cold majesty as the aloof (and occasionally deadly) Thranduil, while Mikael Persbrandt has a brief, but memorable turn as Beorn.

However, it’s really Cumberbatch who gets the biggest bragging rights amongst the supporting cast and new players. His rich baritone gives Smaug a gravitas and regal bearing befitting the legendary beast. (Cumberbatch’s other role as the Necromancer is really more of a visual effect here so perhaps it will pay off more in the next film.) Unsurprisingly, the teasers have revealed only a fraction of what Smaug is like. There really haven’t been a lot of great movie dragons, but Jackson and WETA have created a doozy here in Smaug. Nearly the entire last half-hour or so is the company’s action-packed confrontation with Smaug so you’re in for a helluva show.

The film’s 3D is fine, certainly better than it was in the last film but there were a few points where it becomes distracting (such as the ever-present bees at Beorn’s home). Still, seeing Smaug in action in 3D was a treat. Thankfully, I did not screen this movie in 48 frames-per-second (it is available in that format, but I’m not fool enough to fall for that crap again).

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a rollicking piece of epic entertainment, superior to its predecessor technically and dramatically. It atones for the rather lackluster first film, and generates excitement for next year’s concluding chapter of the trilogy, The Hobbit: There And Back Again.

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One thought on “On The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

  1. Pingback: On The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies | The Progressive Democrat

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