Prepare yourself. You’re about to read my completely biased review of The Desolation of Smaug. Click here to see last year’s equally biased review of The Unexpected Journey. I recommend reading it, before reading further, as it addresses some of my high level thoughts on the decision to turn The Hobbit into three movies, and some of the choices made in doing so.
As with last year, I attended opening day, and then saw the movie a second time, in short order. Though I plan to see it a few more times before it leaves theater, two viewings feel sufficient to organize my thoughts.
First, a blanket statement to address the changes from the book. I’m a canon purist. Everyone knows this about me. However I understand the difference between smacking canon in the face, and filling in logical details where canon isn’t complete. Because of this, I wasn’t as offended as others when Legolas showed up. He’s the son of King Thranduil! Of course he would have been there when the dwarves came through. I also don’t think adding other non-canon characters, like Tauriel (whom I’ll mention again later), is problematic. It was a children’s book, with minimal detail, written long before Tolkien’s entire world took formation (which is why its a damn good thing Jackson can pull from LotR at least, or The Hobbit would feel very disjointed from the central canon). Anyone who has spent even five minutes researching Peter Jackson will know he is also a lover of Tolkien lore. It’s why he took on these projects to begin with. His goal has always been to deliver the best adaptation. It’s a tall order.
If you’re letting yourself get your panties in a twist over a logical filling of gaps, then you need to march yourself over to the drawer and find a pair that fit.
So, in sum, as long as a change does not directly conflict, or fly in the face of, canon, or canon consistency, then I’m happy to embrace it, so long as it works, and makes sense. And most of the changes did.
On to the bullets.
Things I Loved:
- Visually, Lake-town takes the cake. For once, something is even better than I envisioned. It had a very Steampunk/Tim Burton feel to it, while still maintaining the same magical allure of the rest of Middle Earth. Seeing it side-by-side with decimated Dale has the added effect of making you even more invested in seeing them thrive.
- I’m loving the subtle changes in Thorin. While even I will admit to tearing up during the Bilbo Bro Hug of Journey, the Thorin we are seeing now is far more true to book Thorin. Truth is, Thorin was not much of a nice guy. Or even a likable one. I understand the decision to give him some redeemable qualities for the movie (it’s not very fun if you can’t root for the protagonist), but I’m glad we’re seeing a more loyalist approach as we near the end.
- The humor, as always, was on point and well placed.
- Casting was perfect (excepting possibly Stephen Fry). Martin Freeman plays Bilbo with the right amount of charm, and subtlety, to an art form. Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Armitage, all the dwarves…perfection. If my books ever get made into movies, I want Jackson’s casting director.
- Thranduil has to be one of my favorite character-to-screen adaptations of the series. I would watch an entire movie with Lee Pace’s smoldering Thranduil glances.
- Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely flaw-free, as was the sequence with Smaug. Scenes like these are where Jackson shines as a director. From “Riddles in the Dark” in Journey, to Bilbo’s dance of words with Smaug, in Desolation, its the subtleties of these scenes that grab you. “Oh, Smaug, the Stupendous. Smaug, the Great Calamitous.” Perfect delivery. Chills, that entire scene. It felt like watching delicate choreography. Can’t wait to see what the equivalent will be in the third movie. Maybe the exchange with the Arkenstone?
- I stopped breathing entirely during the whole Sauron/Necromancer flashing sequence. Heart-dropping perfection. So glad I didn’t have to pee, because…alright, no need to finish that sentence.
- I happen to like that we got the opportunity to see Gandalf’s travels on the screen. We know from LotR what he uncovered, but we don’t get to see it in The Hobbit (probably because Tolkien didn’t really have a grand scheme in mind when he wrote it). Smart use of resources.
- I also liked seeing Radagast use his head. He’s a MAIAR for gosh sakes. He’s not supposed to be a bumbling idiot. He’s one of the most powerful beings in Middle Earth, and it was nice to see him act rationally, and be a part of something important.
- Enjoyed the nod to the Thorin/Gandalf meeting in Bree, which appeared in the LotR appendices.
- Thoroughly enjoyed Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel. I went in prepared to hate her. I was worried we would get Arwen 2.0 (i.e. useless, and distracting). But her character was dimensional, and a complete badass. I’m invested. Having said that, her future is fuzzy. Non-canonical characters are, sadly, expendable.
- I know, I know, the romance story line isn’t in the book, and was probably unnecessary. And maybe I’m getting soft in my old age. But I didn’t think it took away anything from the story, and, if anything, it added more ‘stakes,’ given what we know is coming up. One thing Jackson has done well is humanize these dwarves, giving them each an identity. I happen to like Kili’s reckless romantic side. And, “she walks in starlight, in another world,” might be the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.
- I just want to reiterate it: one of the best changes from the book was giving each of the dwarves a unique, whole personality. I feel invested in each of them, and I want to see them succeed, where I really couldn’t have cared less in the book.
- I hope you guys all saw the awesome Colbert cameo!
- Bard wasn’t a very likable character in the book (much like Thorin). I enjoyed what they did with his character in the film; still true to him, while giving him enough dimension to make him interesting. I equally enjoyed seeing his family. He feels like a fully fleshed character, and not just some literary deus ex machina when crap hits the fan.
- Tempted to put this in the “things that could have bee
- n better section,” but that would be my phobia speaking. The spiders of Mirkwood were off the freaking chain. Crazy, vivid, terrifying. Exactly as they should hav
- Ovary Alert: It’s really distracting when you go into a movie for the epic story,
and come out wanting to have a fivesome with two dwarves, an elven-king, and a bowman. That is all.
Things That Could Have Been Better:
- I suppose I understand the need to add an antagonist leading up to Smaug, in order to keep the action moving forward. But grandfathering orcs into places where there wasn’t any in the book made for some awkward transitions, such as when they’re entering through the Elven Gate in Mirkwood, and they’re having their exchanges. In the book, the slow goodbye is fine. In the movie, all you can think is HELLO ORCS ARE COMING. It was also problematic with orcs traveling in broad daylight.
- On that note, the CGI is still distracting. I’m worried for the Battle of Five Armies. At least with Helm’s Deep, there were enough of them in costume to focus on in the front lines.
- I was completely on board with giving Legolas a cameo. It makes sense, for the reasons I explained above, and was a fun nod to fans (especially the cute moment where Gloin shows side-eyeing Legolas a pic of Gimli). However: I feel like this suffered from what I’m going to call Arwen Syndrome. They gave him a larger role than was necessary, and then made him a centerpiece in all the marketing. I guarantee he will be on all the Blu Ray covers, posters, etc. And that overshadows the great work and contributions of characters who DID play an active role in The Hobbit, and are the real stars of the ensemble.
- On the subject of Legolas: did they have a mortuary do his makeup? I understand they needed to cover up 15 years of aging, but the result was creepy and cadaverous. Not in a good way (if there is such a thing).
- I found it funny that while they expanded scenes that were short in the book, to make the movies longer, they took a longer scene, like that with Beorn, and made it almost an afterthought.
- The barrel escape scene in normal FR looked amazing. in HFR, it looked absolutely ridiculous.
- The jury is still out on whether Stephen Fry was a good choice, or just distracting.
Theories For Third Movie (SPOILERS ABOUND! PROCEED WITH CAUTION!):
- Ever since the first movie, where they cast two hotties to play Kili and Fili and then proceeded to make everyone under the age of 90 fall in love with them, I wondered how they were going to deal with their deaths at the end. And then the second movie further confused me when they 1) gave Kili a potential love interest in Tauriel, and 2) left Kili and Fili behind in Lake-town, which did NOT happen in the book. None of these things make a lot of sense, if Jackson is going to turn around and kill them in the end. Because, really, they HAVE to die, right? Because the whole line of Durin has to fall, so Balin can take over (and then fall to ruin in Moria, later). Well, now I’m not quite so sure…First off, this is a children’s movie. Yes, they slapped a PG-13 label on it, but this is a movie most parents will happily take their children to. And one major death (Thorin) will be enough to traumatize some little ones. But then, add to that, the deaths of the young ones? Characters the producers have gone well out of their way to make sure all fans love? (Not to mention the other dwarves who fall). It almost seems to me like they are trying to write in a way out for them.So how do you find a way around having the line of Durin not wiped out? Easy: get Kili and Fili away from Erebor, and take them out of the picture. I don’t know if they will be believed dead, or if they simply go off and start another life somewhere, with Tauriel, but there was some massive symbolism in BOTH of them staying behind in Lake-town, especially after Thorin makes the pointed statement about Fili being King one day. I felt like this was the start of an alternate story line, where they get away. Am I 100% convinced? No…but I can’t imagine them going through all these extra hoops (Kili’s non-canon injury, leaving them behind in Lake-town, the love story with Tauriel) if the end result was the same. It’s unnecessarily cruel to the younger fans. One final thought: Bofur is the other fan favorite, and he was also left behind in Lake-town. More evidence this set might survive (though, he did survive in the book as well).
- Thorin will still die. While they might be able to get out of others dying, Thorin dying is one of the major points of the story. He has a complete, interesting story arc that culminates with him restoring his people’s home, but at the cost of his own life. The ultimate kingly sacrifice. If they change this, I am probably going to revolt, and, well, it won’t be pretty.
- Does anyone else think Bard’s son might fire the shot that kills Smaug, not Bard himself? The kid got a lot more screen time than expected.
- Not clear on what Legolas’ role will be. Obviously he will fight with the elves in the Bo5A. But I’ll be curious if they give him anything specifically interesting to do. Also wondering if we will see more Thranduil being a BAMF in the Bo5A. We know he won’t stay mad at Leggy for long, because sixty years from now he will send his son to join the Fellowship.
- Will we get more Saruman screen time, or is Christopher Lee to busy making heavy metal albums across the pond? Guessing it will be harder to splice him into the film remotely when they’re in battle. I am, however, expecting more Galadriel. They wouldn’t have had so much heavy-handed references to her ‘coming to help’ if she wasn’t making another appearance.
- Will the Battle of Five Armies be as awesome as Helm’s Deep? This one, I’m reserving speculation on. Can’t wait to see the Great Eagles regulate, though.
Overall, a solid A. Better than An Unexpected Journey, and better than I expected from the adaptation. Fantastic casting, scenery, writing, and direction. Near perfection.
I did warn you it was going to be biased.