SPOILER ALERT: This is my review of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” Don’t read any farther if you haven’t seen Part 2 of the Hobbit trilogy and wish to remain surprised. The executive summary: I enjoyed it and would recommend it for its entertainment value, but Tolkien purists may be disappointed.
I went to see “The Desolation of Smaug” yesterday, and came away with a whole kaleidoscope of feelings.
First off, I want to give mad props to anyone and everyone who worked on this film. As we sat watching the credits, I was astonished at the number of people who had a hand in its creation, from Jackson himself, to the actors, artists and musicians, to whoever swept up the sound stages and emptied the trash cans at the rendering farms. It was truly a monumental effort, with stunning visual and acoustic effects.
That said, this installment of the trilogy surprised me. When I watched “Lord of the Rings,” I was ready to forgive Peter Jackson for taking some liberties with the text in order to make watchable and entertaining movies. I forgave him for leaving out Bombadil, an enigmatic character who didn’t even seem to have a real place in the Tolkienesque mythology; I forgave him for writing out “the Scouring of the Shire,” which might have necessitated another hour of film or another movie; and these simply because the trilogy was so well-done, and so close to the spirit of the original. Others have been less forgiving, but I found the movies only enhanced my enjoyment of the original books. This particular film? I’m not so sure.
At the end of the film, the credits declared “Based on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.” In this case, it would have been more honest to say “Inspired by…” the way they Alex Proyas did for “I, Robot.” This movie was a radical departure from the storyline of the book in too many ways to call it a faithful homage.
Would I recommend seeing the movie? Absolutely. The main Reasons are:
- Smaug, and
Benedict Cumberbatch and the team that created “the greatest of all calamities” absolutely stole the show, and the renderings of the interior of Erebor were stunning. There were other good points as well, and I did enjoy it, and I was entertained, but I’m going to list a few of my feelings about plot departures that left me less than satisfied with the movie as a dramatization of the book.
- Tauriel. Beautiful lady, but inserted into the film for Hollywood’s sake because eye candy and because love interest and because dramatic tension, none of which existed in the book. How could an actress of a part who doesn’t really exist dream of creating a character that stands out on her own merits in the shadow of Liv Tyler? It would have been phenomenally difficult, and Evangeline Lily did a good job with what they gave her, but I couldn’t help but feel she was channeling Arwen when she was healing Kili’s wound (which wasn’t supposed to be there). Putting her in the middle of Legolas and Kili as an item of interest for both was a cheap shot in my own view, and took away from the story.
- “Barrels out of Bond.” Watching Tauriel and Legolas dance around on the heads of dwarves rushing down the rapids in open barrels, jumping from place to place like Yoda on crack, fighting orcs who were not supposed to exist, was just an invitation to cue “Yackety Sax.” The scene was ludicrous – I enjoyed Legolas’ little exploit with the Mûmak in “Return of the King” because it was funny, and the “still only counts as one” line was a great capper, but someone went way overboard in trying to make the elves into some sort of comic superheroes.
- The Baddies. Part 1 of The Hobbit pulled off the Goblins well, but the above-mentioned scene on the river, seeing Gandalf hanging in a gibbet at Dol Guldur while Sauron’s orc armies march off, watching Azog and Bolg pursue the dwarves through the wilderness, and the orc invasion of Laketown… it all just seemed contrived and wanting.
- Beorn. My only complaint here was that there wasn’t enough of him. Mikael Persbrandt was lovely; he didn’t match my own vision of Beorn, but I gladly watched his, and was sorry that they gave him and his part in the tale such short shrift.
- Erebor. By the silken breast of Mogg’s mother – dwarvish furnaces lit by dragon fire (but fueled by what?), mining buckets from nowhere, channels of molten gold and a trip down one of them in a wheelbarrow that almost dethrones “nuking the fridge” for violating suspension of disbelief, a giant golden statue of Thror which promptly melts to inundate Smaug… while the technical execution of these scenes was brilliant (the molten gold excepted – it just didn’t quite get there), the whole thing came out of someone’s head and contributed nothing to the story. I would rather have seen them stick to the original storyline in Erebor and devoted the remaining time to “fifteen birds in five fir trees” and Beorn.
There were other little points that irked me as well, but these were the main ones. As I indicated, there was much to like about the film; the acting was consistently solid – it’s hard not to love Gandalf and Bilbo, and the dwarves bring a good mix of seriousness and comedy to the mix. I enjoyed watching Lee Pace do a masterful job bringing additional dimension to Thranduil’s character (I smiled wryly as I dredged up my memory of Otto Preminger’s rendition in the Rankin-Bass animated version, which had the Elvenking looking more like the Grinch)… but all in all I came out of the experience feeling exhilarated, confused, and somewhat let down all at once.
There’s no question that I will go see the final installment when it comes out next year, and will add them to my DVD collection when the extended editions are available, but I’ll just have to keep in mind that Jackson’s vision of The Hobbit is a separate dream than the one that Tolkien so lovingly recounted to his children.
The Old Wolf has spoken.