Last year I posted an article about dragons in the excitement leading up to the first Hobbit movie, and then a review on the first Hobbit. This week I continue the series. I saw the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Wow, what a ride! All in all I liked it, but I definitely feel that this is most certainly a Peter Jackson movie and not a Tolkien movie. The book The Hobbit is really more of a loose guideline at this point.
(SPOILERific content below).
That being said, unless your a purist the movie is magnificent. Like all of Jackson’s Tolkien-inspired films the movie felt short to me, even though it was long. Well… almost.
I remember Fellowship of the Ring: the first time I saw it, even at 2 hours I felt I had only been there 20 minutes and the movie was just starting. Time winked by. The Hobbit movies have had a bit more of a meandering feel to them, though still fun.
While watching The Desolation of Smaug, I enjoyed every minute of it. I remember remarking to myself, just before the dragon appeared, that I liked the movie’s experience reminded me of the Fellowship, and that it didn’t feel long or meandering.
But then Smaug happened. In hindsight, the last 30 minutes or so (or was it longer?) of the movie is where I think Peter Jackson started to hurt the story.
First off, Smaug gets a generous amount of screen time, for which I’m very happy. Smaug is magnificent, and almost steals the show from Bilbo.
The first 15-20 minutes or so of Smaug are truly magnificent. This is, hands-down, the best animated portrayal of a dragon in any medium to date. He’s huge. He’s terrifying. His entrance is absolutely grand. Peter Jackson takes cues from modern big monster movies, and we feel like Smaug truly is this big monster, and Bilbo caught in some nightmare.
But then… it falls apart. Peter Jackson’s decisions to deviate from the book haven’t hurt the story too much so far, and in some areas have been an improvement. But once we decide to have the dwarves enter the mountain, and have a long sequence of Smaug chasing dwarves around the inside of the mountain while the dwarves try to figure out a plan to trap him and bring him down. Now the camera pans out to show Smaug on the screen, and we see him not from the perspective of the hobbit, but from the perspective of the audience. He becomes small in our vision, less mysterious and daunting.
And the worst part is this: after the buildup of how awesomely mighty he is (and he is awesomely mighty), he keeps saying how terrible and awesome he is and how he can’t be killed and is the ruin of kingdoms… yet he can’t kill a single dwarf running around the mountains? Really?
Now, I know Peter Jackson can’t well start killing off dwarves. But in making that whole sequence, Peter Jackson didn’t preserve Smaug’s power for the audience that he had so magnificently built up in Smaug’s opening scene. After the minutes crept on of Smaug being ineffective, he starts to appear…
However, the look on Smaug’s face when he sees the big gold dwarf statue… priceless. Like a cat seeing a laser dot, thinking “Oooooh. Shiiiny.” Smaug almost becomes cute in that moment.
There are other significant deviations from the book, although I can see the thought process behind them. I’m not talking about Legolas and the ambivalent love interest (does she have feelings for Legolas, or Kili the dwarf? I’m rooting for Kili, but frankly Peter Jackson didn’t develop this enough to make it worth having. I wanted more romance, not a brief nod to romance… or none at all, like the book).
The significant deviation involves the One Ring. In the book, the ring acted simply as a ring of invisibility, and Bilbo used it to his advantage. There was no heaviness or sense of foreboding at that time. Peter Jackson decided to make the Hobbit a stronger prequel to the Lord of the Rings, and Bilbo becomes consciously aware that the Ring is evil and shouldn’t be used. He may not understand why, but he vomits from what greed for it makes him do. I actually like how Peter Jackson plays this out, but it sets up the unfortunate Smaug addition. The place where Tolkien’s vision was more genius was how Bilbo taunts Smaug, and it alone backfires to prompt Smaug to go towards Laketown… because he can’t find Bilbo.
In the movie… Bilbo keeps taking off the ring and rarely uses it because it makes him uncomfortable. And Smaug is keenly aware of Sauron’s return to the world (at least how I interpret his hinting at it). Smaug also senses the One Ring on Bilbo.
The nice tie in with Dol Guldur is that the orc armies pouring forth for the Battle of the Five Armies (in the next movie) are coming as a deliberate move on Sauron’s part to take the Lonely Mountain. I don’t believe this was the case in the books (or if it was I missed it). I had thought that the orc army in the books were simply the goblins from the Misty Mountains after the dragon’s gold.
I do like how the bid for the Lonely Mountain and the problem of the dragon is strongly tied into the Lord of the Rings… even highlighting why Gandalf is involved. I like the allusion to the larger strategy played by the world powers.
At one point, Smaug curiously tells Bilbo he should let Thorin have the Arkenstone, because it will drive him mad. I seem to remember the source of the dwarves’ descent into maddening greed was the “Seven Rings for the Dwarf Lords in their Halls of Stone”, and not the Arkenstone per se. (Was the Arkenstone built by a dwarven ring-bearer). Unlike the Three Elven Rings, and like the Nine Rings for Men, the Seven were touched by and forged under the supervision of Sauron. They were evil, but they simply didn’t corrupt the dwarves in the way Sauron had hoped (they were so driven by greed they weren’t useful to him as, say, the ringwraiths were). In any case, I find it curious as to why there’s been no mention of any dwarven rings of power, one of which Thror and Thrain supposedly had. Since Peter Jackson had the whole entering Dol Guldur line, that would have been a nice detail to include (since, if I remember correctly, Gandalf discovered that during his first visit to Dol Guldur, prior to the book).
Other minor comments: I absolutely love the depiction of the elven king Thranduil. I like his conscious awareness of what “we serve the One” means when he interrogates the orc. Legolas, and all the elves, seem more fey and less human than they did in the Lord of the Rings movies. They possess a wild, dangerous feel, without any of the warmth of Galadriel seen in the first Hobbit movie or the nobility of Elrond. They are a fallen elven people, hiding in their kingdom, isolationist and fearful of the influence of the outside world… except the hot elven woman, of course. She’s stereotypically warm and alluring, unlike the rest of her people. Hmm… I wonder if I should be bothered by this.
Legolas seems more manly and less girly than he did in the Lord of the Rings movies. He looks more buff and I think he has a wider face. He must have stopped working out before he met Frodo.
Bilbo. Bilbo is awesome. This performance, I believe, is the greatest aspect of both Hobbit movies. I find him much more agreeable, relatable, and admirable than Frodo. Not that there was anything wrong with Frodo, but side by side Frodo’s a bit of a whiner. Bilbo might not be prepared for life on the road, but he buckles down and carries the air of a “stiff upper lip”.
The spiders of Mirkwood: fantastic! I was wondering if he was going to have them talk like they did in the books. I really like how it takes putting on the Ring to hear their speech. Creepy, and another indicator the Ring is Eeeevil.
All in all, my one complaint about Smaug is minor, and the other observations are just that: curiosities. I loved this movie, and when all factors are thrown into the mix, I think the movie rendition is as good as the book (even though some aspects fall short of the book), but should be considered a separate story at this point and not The Hobbit. And… this did not need to be a three-parter. (White orc Azog: still totally unnecessary). This could have been done in one three or four-hour movie. Or two at most. Really interested to see how the third one goes, and I hope it’s not just a two-hour Battle of Five Armies slugfest.
Final personal verdict: 9 out of 10.
Until next week,