I had been looking forward to watching The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug all year-long. After how I lukewarmly received its predecessor in An Unexpected Journey, I hoped and read that director Peter Jackson would be back in form for the sequel. Before going to the midnight screening, I read a few reviews (spoilers didn’t matter as I have read the novel time and time again) which all said that the middle piece of the story was by far better than the first. I was excited. The trailer made it look awesome, and after the way that Jackson stuck to the book’s main plot points (although taking a few liberties, primarily in the main villain of Journey), I had little doubt that he would do stick to the storyline’s guns again.
Until, that is, I watched the review that my favorite critics gave the film. Ty Burr and Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe gave the movie a 3/4 star rating, but in their video review said there were several parts that may ruffle the feathers of fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original work, including a cross-species romance. All of a sudden, this pit developed in my stomach and I was much afraid.
The movie starts out amicably enough, with a flashback straight from the book that I am glad was shown, when Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) meets Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) at the Inn of the Prancing Pony in the town of Bree. There, Gandalf convinces Thorin to reclaim his ancestral kingdom of Erebor which was taken over by a dragon when his grandfather Thror was king. From there, Jackson throws the book out the window and hurries the movie along so he can get to the final destination of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain where Smaug the dragon sleeps on piles of dwarf gold.
It picks back up with the Company of dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf being chased by an orc-pack astride wargs (large, wild wolves) that are closing in. Gandalf knows one point of safety ahead, the home of Beorn the skin-changer, who at night takes the form of a bear-like creature that is rather dangerous. Gandalf warns the Company that Beorn has no love of dwarves (or unexpected guests), but he gambles that his hate of orcs and the evil that pursues them will be greater. It is this scene where we first see Jackson set fire to the novel. Instead of a good chapter of the book dedicated to the creation of a friendship with Beorn (including where Gandalf mentions that he slew the Great Goblin), our vaunted director creates an action sequence where the bear form of Beorn inexplicably attacks the dwarves, and after being repelled changes back into his human form as he grudgingly welcomes the dwarves with little or no explanation. Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt nails the role of Beorn, but is only given a handful of lines and little screen time, as the film hurries along to Mirkwood, where Jackson continues his butchering of the book. Such crimes (with limited spoilers) consist of the following :
-Trimming and cutting Mirkwood down to one trippy sequence (which is actually accurate and done well), and one action scene involving Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the spiders that capture the Company (minus Gandalf, who has gone on his own quest).
-Forcing Legolas (Orlando Bloom) into a starring role and making him seem like an entitled and uptight prick, which is nearly the polar opposite of his character in Lord of the Rings.
-Creating a major character and love interest for both Legolas AND Kili the dwarf (Aidan Turner) in Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, from LOST) in a predictable and unconvincing romance.
-Commuting the timeline and sentence of the dwarves to the Elf-King Thranduil’s (Lee Pace, Lincoln) prison to one day instead of months.
-Changing the scene where Bilbo creates a stealthy escape for the dwarves from prison in shipping barrels into an absurd action scene that involves Bombur destroying orcs while in his barrel, Legolas and Tauriel engaging regiments of orcs with the ease of Peyton Manning in a pee-wee game (all the while swinging from tree to tree and running across the river like little monkeys), and the wounding of Kili by a poisoned arrow (which he does not know is poisoned), which predictably can only be healed by elf-magic that Tauriel possesses.
-The twisting of Bard the Bowman into an outlaw, where in the book he is in fact the defender and voice of Lake-town.
-The ruining of the arrival of the dwarves into Lake-town.
-Creating another action sequence in Lake-town where Legolas and Tauriel along with three dwarves that got left behind in Lake-town from the quest to the Mountain, engage orcs led by Bolg who are hunting Thorin Oakenshield.
-Having a poor end to the Dol Guldur – Gandalf storyline that is non-canonical.
-Making a middle sequence of a film series where nothing except rising action and exposition is created. Nobody major dies. Nobody major lives. Nothing major is resolved. Everything, literally everything, is left in limbo for the next movie.
-For this last point, lets review the major events of Jackson’s first middle movie The Two Towers with The Desolation of Smaug. Granted, The Two Towers is a novel where things are meant to be somewhat resolved, but Jackson could have easily incorporated any event into Smaug that creates some resolution. In fairness, we’ll let Towers have twice as many resolved events as Smaug simply because of the book length.
The Two Towers
Eomer destroys the Uruk-Hai, is expelled from Rohan.
Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard, persuade him to attack Isengard.
Gandalf comes back to life, meets with Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn.
Gandalf releases Saruman’s spell on Rohan King Theoden, Theoden rallies Rohan.
Saruman creates an army to pillage and destory Rohan.
Saruman’s forces meet Theoden’s at Helm’s Deep, Saruman gets defeated.
The Ents led by Treebeard attack Isengard and win a decisive victory.
Frodo and Sam capture Gollum who becomes their guide to Mordor.
The three reach the Black Gate, and turn aside at the advice of Gollum, who starts to progress as a character through Smeagol his alter-ego.
They are captured by Faramir, who takes them to Osgiliath.
Despite being tempted, Faramir lets the trio go after Frodo nearly gives up, Gollum becomes fully evil and bent on waylaying the ring bearer after a perceived betrayal and capture at the hands of men.
The Desolation of Smaug
Bilbo and the Dwarves are attacked by spiders in Mirkwood, then are captured by the wood elves.
They escape imprisonment by the elves.
The 13 and one Hobbit meet Bard and are smuggled into Lake-town.
The Company makes for the Lonely Mountain, they reach it, and Bilbo attempts to find the Arkenstone as requested by Thorin.
The Company awakens and engages Smaug.
Gandalf infiltrates Dol Guldur.
The Two Towers totals 10 events. The Desolation of Smaug totals 6, of which two are still unresolved, bringing the total to 4 actual happenings. To wrap this section up, that simply means that a lot of nothing happens in this movie. It is a bad second installment. Jackson rushes past major events and makes them minor ones, and instead hurries up all for the big finish in the end, which never actually happens. It’s like running a 5K race as fast as you can, only to realize once you hit the 5K mark, that it’s actually a 10K race. You’re exhausted and deceived, but you are only halfway there.
And then there’s the romantic story between the Elf and the Dwarf, which is just complete rubbish. It hogs so much screen time and so little viewer investment, that it robs time from the main character of Bilbo (you know, the hobbit that the movie is named after) who is so wonderfully played by Martin Freeman. Jackson decides to sit there and go through the motions of a baseless romance instead of continually developing his main character.
My other main critique of the movie (on a strictly film basis) is that just like the predecessor, Peter Jackson relies on the overuse of CGI in action sequences. He cannot make up his mind if he wants to make a movie for kids or a darker movie for adults ; as the action scenes are comical in nature, and with the computer generated goblins, creates a sillier and less scary atmosphere than in Lord of the Rings. He populates Desolation of Smaug with video gamey fight numbers, and then juxtaposes it to a room full of rotting corpses that best demonstrates his inability to decide who exactly his target audience is. I have had people ask me if there is a fundamental (novel based) difference between goblins and orcs in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings because of how different they appear in nature. It is decidedly for a turn of the worse.
As much bad as there is in this movie, there is just as much good. The cast is wonderful. From the Master of Lake-town (Stephen Fry) to Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), almost every role is extremely well acted and perfectly cast (with the exception of Tauriel, who shouldn’t have had a role to cast for in the first place). Smaug is beautifully animated and voiced, and all scenes with him in it are worth the weight of a gold-plated Dragon (yet another Jacksonian “twist”). Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) isn’t given nearly enough screen time, as too much instead goes to the Master’s assistant in Lake-town, in a horrible and forgettable role played by Mark Mitchinson. His disgusting, unibrowed character is the largest casting and character creation mistake outside of Tauriel ; with those two characters omitted and the stick removed from the behind of Legolas, this cast would be perfect.
The plotline with Gandalf infiltrating Dol Guldur is very interesting, and although somewhat ruined by how it concludes, is very dark and mysterious as well. Jackson also well demonstrates how Bilbo is being consumed by the ring in just his short possession of it. Although at times a bit preposterous, the action scenes can be quite comical and have some really cool shots, despite the dramatic loss of realism.
Without reading the book, the movie is good, but not great. Several plot adjustments and character omissions could give his film a significantly higher grade, but unfortunately it turns out to go no where, and fails to be a sum of all its parts. This is Jackson’s worst film set in Middle-Earth yet, despite all of the potential it had. 6/10
But if you read the book, here’s your review.
The film is an utter betrayal of the novel for the following reasons.
1. Beorn did not attack the Company as in the film, and expounded his character to a rough friendship with the dwarves, and a true one with Gandalf. When he skin changes into a bear, in the book he is still able to control himself. He intentionally kills goblins and wargs, and nails their skins to his property to ward off intruders. It works.
2. Tauriel does not exist, nor do any events involving her.
3. The Master of Lake-town’s crony does not exist.
4. Legolas and Azog are not present in The Hobbit book. Azog is actually dead at this point in time.
5. The Dol Guldur storyline is wrong for many reasons. Gandalf does in fact infilitrate the fortress (twice), but here’s a side note. In Lord of the Rings lore, Gandalf and Sauron are the same race, being angelic creatures who have descended upon the mortal to guide (in the case of Gandalf) or corrupt (in the case of Sauron). Sauron is more powerful than Gandalf and Gandalf fears him, but they have the same basis at the least. When he sneaks into Dol Guldur (the second time), Sauron (once under the guise of the Necromancer) flees to Mordor, fearing being discovered by Gandalf before he can openly present himself as the Dark Lord. There, the Grey Wizard finds Thorin’s father who has gone mad in prison, and obtains the Lonely Mountain map and key to give to Thorin. Gandalf barely escapes, but escape he does. The movie gets it all wrong with Gandalf losing a ridiculous “battle” with Sauron’s spirit, and ending up imprisoned in a cage. In the novel universe, not only would the Grey Pilgrim never risk a battle with the spirit of Sauron, but he wouldn’t allow himself to get utterly embarrassed and jailed. There’s a reason this guy once snuck through Moria and into Dol Guldur twice, he’s kind of a boss. He also wouldn’t fear a stupid orc like Azog, as this is a guy that went toe-to-toe with a Balrog.
6. The timeline is skewed. The Company spends months wandering in Mirkwood and in the cells of the Elvenking. There were also assaults on the Woodland Elf realms by orcs, but none happened when the dwarves where there. In fact, one of such attacks happened and coincidentally freed Gollum, who was being held captive by the Wood Elves, as Gollum then pursued the Fellowship into Moria. Everything is commuted to one continuous happening instead of events being spread across time.
7. Mirkwood is wrong. Much MUCH more happens in the forest than in the movie, as the dwarves wander lost and practically starved to death before being captured by the Spiders, where Bilbo uses Sting and the Ring to free them. Besides spiders, there are also flies that Mr. Baggins has to fight off.
8. Barrels out of Bond. Bilbo had worn the Ring consistently throughout having snuck into the halls of the Elvenking. It took him some time to find out where the dwarves were being held, how to reach them, who had the keys, and how to get them out. When he finally formulated a plan, he stuffed the dwarves physically in each barrel to sneak out under the noses of the elves in complete stealth. There was no escape fight, as the elves did not realize that their prisoners were missing until they surfaced in Lake-town.
9. Lake-town is wrong. Although the setting and Master are correct, Bard was not an outlaw or imprisoned, in fact he was known as the defender of the town. Seeing as the dwarves were smuggled in, their arrival is greeted with surprise and hope, as the citizens hope that the Mountain King will restore the Kingdom under the Mountain again and bring everybody wealth. No dwarf gets left behind in Lake-town either, and Bard shoots the Black Arrow from a bow, not some type of lance caster.
10. The discovery of the side door is also incorrect. This is how Thorin escaped from the Mountain when attacked by Smaug in the first place. Although he forgets the exact location of the door, he knows it exists and that it is in moon runes. In perhaps the dumbest scene of the movie, the dwarves “give up” when told that the door will be illuminated by the “last light of Durin’s Day”. It occurs to none of them (even though it occurs to every audience member) that the last light isn’t daylight, but instead moon light, as dwarf runes (as evidenced in Moria) are often written in moon script to hide the entrance.
11. The dwarves never engage Smaug. Bilbo steals a golden cup from the horde, which after much riddling and flattering talk with the dragon (which did happen), Smaug furiously erupts realizing part of his treasure is missing. He then goes off to wreak havoc on Lake-town, where he meets his demise. The entire sequence of the dwarves plotting and creating devices to attempt to off the dragon are all out of Jackson’s mind of meddle.
11. There is no fight in Lake-town. No invading wolves or orcs, no Bolg, no Legolas, no Kili, no love story, nothing. The only fight that occurs in Lake-town involves a very large dragon.
All these facts leave me completely puzzled. The first movie was criticized for sticking too close to the book (for the most part), as critics felt that the story took too long to develop. Here, Jackson throws the book into the trash and creates a movie that is “inspired by” the novel instead of “based upon” it. It seems that he does not know how to correctly incorporate events into a movie to make it whole, instead drawing one out and rushing the other. It also confounds me that he could shoot one movie at the same time as another, and yet have two completely different variations come out. One was well grounded in the source material, whereas the other takes monstrous liberties on it.
It also upsets me that Peter Jackson felt like he could do this to J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. In essence, he is saying that the story he has and wants to tell is better than the story that Tolkien told, which is 110% incorrect. There’s a reason that Tolkien’s novels did so well, and became so legendary and famous that Jackson could make such a profitous franchise out of it. PJ’s ego is basically saying that he is more intelligent and creative than J.R.R. This assertion is so hilariously false, as one of these men directed Meet the Feebles and Braindead, whereas the other created an entire language, universe, and novel series all out of his own imagination.
If you are a fan of the novel like I am, you are going to find this movie offensive. This is the worst amount of liberties that Peter Jackson has taken in any LOTR based film yet, and it shows. It’s the same old story of Hollywood basing movies off good source material. If something is good, you do not change it and mess with it, especially with its core events. If it can be visibly improved (such as The Hunger Games : Catching Fire), go ahead and take those liberties. But for something that is such a work of art as Tolkien’s, this movie is a sad moment, and a betrayal of Jackson’s responsibility to guard the franchise that we the fans love. As a fan of the novel, the Lord of the Rings universe and its details, this movie merits a 2/10 as corresponds to a film adaptation of a beloved book.
My Year at the Movies (ranks in order of best to worst of movies I have seen that have been released this year)
2. Star Trek Into Darkness
3. Man of Steel
4. Catching Fire
5. Pacific Rim
6. This Is The End
7. Despicable Me 2
8. Monsters University
9. The Great Gatsby
12. World War Z
13. The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug
14. Oz the Great and Powerful
15. Fast and Furious 6
16. Iron Man 3
17. Hangover Part 3
18. Thor : The Dark World
19. A Good Day To Die Hard