As a huge fan of the Peter Jackson et al movies set in Middle Earth, I once again rocked up to the latest installment of The Hobbit hoping it would be wonderful.
Once again I enjoyed the movie — the lavish and dedicated depiction of Tolkien’s fantastical world, the rousing adventure, the eye candy in the form of Legolas and Kili… But once again I can’t help comparing it with the Lord of the Rings movies and came away wishing it had managed to be more.
And in this case I think less would have yielded more. (Mild spoilers follow…)
The Desolation of Smaug picks up more or less where An Unexpected Journey left off. Like the first movie, the second also follows the book reasonably faithfully in terms of major events — the meeting with Beorn, the giant spiders of Mirkwood, capture by the elves of Mirkwood, escape via the barrels down the river to Laketown, arrival at the Lonely Mountain… However, after mining as much of the book as possible for kernels from which to seed subplots, the writers did invent a fair bit of content to bulk out the movie.
Legolas! As soon as I heard they were filming The Hobbit years ago, I hoped they would bring Legolas (Orlando Bloom) into it. In LOTR Legolas was always the son of Thranduil, King of the Elves in Mirkwood (his father having sent him to the Council of Elrond), and it made perfect sense to me that if Thorin’s party of dwarves encountered the elves of Mirkwood then Legolas would be there. It doesn’t matter to me that his character isn’t mentioned in the book. Since they’re embellishing the story, they might as well centre it on Legolas – yes!
The Legolas scenes are lots of fun — especially when he gets to kill orcs with those fabulous acrobatic-athletic moves. The dwarves-in-barrels escape scene is a great action scene. In the book it’s all rather mundane, but in the movie there are elves chasing dwarves, then orcs chasing dwarves, then elves chasing orcs… (Legolas balancing on dwarves’ heads as they float in barrels…) Arrows and axes flying everywhere. Awesome stuff.
Interestingly, the portrayal of Legolas in this film is much more hard-edged and flinty than in LOTR. He’s suspicious and rather more ruthless. I’m wondering what’s going to happen to soften him before his appearance in Fellowship…
I love Legolas.
If you’ve seen the movie trailers, you’ll know they’ve added a token ‘she-elf’ (urgh) too. I guess the sentiment is good, because there are few other women in the film anywhere. Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is a captain in the Elf King’s guard, and is also a fearsome warrior. She develops a connection with Kili (Aidan Turner aka the hot dwarf), and already has the eye of Legolas, so there’s a little bit of a love triangle happening. Will be interesting to see where that goes.
The other major character introduced is a barge man from Laketown called Bard (Luke Evans). He helps smuggle the dwarves into Laketown (for a price), but has his own history and agenda. He’s presented as a fairly significant character in the film, and we sense he’s going to have a role to play — as are Legolas and Tauriel. (Turns out he comes into the book later on…)
However, ALL these additional plot lines jangle a bit awkwardly together and slow the pace of the movie down. To me it seemed a fairly clumsy attempt to pad out the movie to nearly three hours — all part of the artificial stretch of a simple children’s book into three long films.
After all, normally when books are made into films, the writers have to decide what to leave out, and come up with creative ways of incorporating as much as possible. The Hobbit movies have the reverse problem, with every nugget of book squeezed out until it’s completely dry — and then they make extra stuff up. (One aspect of the plot that is tightened is the time over which everything happens. Tolkien’s characters are notorious for hanging about for days and weeks in the one place, whether relaxing or hiding. There’s none of that happening here!)
On the other hand, I did rather like Gandalf’s (fabricated for the film) side journey to the abandoned tombs of the nine ring wraiths, and subsequent visit to the ruined citadel of the necromancer, where he learns of Sauron’s return. Although this is a blatant attempt to link The Hobbit more strongly to events in LOTR, I felt it worked — even if it renders Gandalf’s ignorance at the beginning of Fellowship a little odd.
I also really liked the way Bilbo is a lot more hesitant to use the ring in the movie than in the book. One suspects Tolkien had no notion of how evil the ring was when he wrote The Hobbit… Bilbo slips it on and off at will, with no repercussions. Not so in the movie, where he definitely feels a sense of foreboding just holding it.
Martin Freeman is once again a highlight as Bilbo. He really is perfectly cast. The film remains loosely centred around him, although less than the first film, I think. Nonetheless, he gets his big chance to shine when he sneaks into the dragon’s lair and confronts Smaug the dragon. This is a great scene, although I confess I couldn’t sense much of Benedict Cumberbatch in Smaug.
Interestingly, I noticed several direct reflections of the LOTR movies in The Desolation of Smaug:
- When Kili is suffering from a wound from a morgul shaft, those tending him call for the athelas plant (kingsfoil) only to be told it’s a weed. (Same thing happens in Fellowship when Frodo gets stabbed.)
- Gandalf spends time imprisoned high up in an enemy fortress watching the enemy prepare for war. (Same thing happens in Fellowship when he’s imprisoned by Saruman.)
- The journey through Mirkwood seemed very similar to the journey through Moria, with gnarly trees replacing caves.
- Thorin’s lust for the arkenstone was starting to affect him something like the one ring affects its bearers.
I’m sure there are more parallels, and I’m not sure whether I liked them or not. The Hobbit is a different story, and I don’t think there’s a need for all the clumsy tie-ins.
Overall I think I liked The Desolation of Smaug about the same amount as An Unexpected Journey. Both are enjoyable returns to Middle Earth, but simply can’t live up to the LOTR movies. As I said in my post on An Unexpected Journey a year ago, the source material just isn’t there.
On second thoughts, maybe I liked The Desolation of Smaug a bit better… you know, Legolas. Heh.
If you’ve seen The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug, I’d love you to share your thoughts here in the comments.