Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Road Diverged In A Wood: A Dichotomy of Feelings on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

[Edited 2013-12-18 due to some reader feedback] A great essay from TheOneRing.Net was also brought to my attention. Christopher Tolkien has blocked PJ from using any of Tolkien's other works. This could explain why so many new elements have been added whereas others would have made more sense.

Like any good Tolkien fanatic, I queued up to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this past weekend. And by queued I mean I went online and bought AVX tickets wherein I could show up five minutes before the movie started. Long gone are the days of actual queuing with fellow fans, decked out in fandom gear, discussing what scenes you were looking forward to and how PJ (Peter Jackson, for the uninitated) would execute them.

I was so excited to see this film that I even stooped to making a pun when I posted my impending viewing on my facebook feed: "Beorn ready." Alas, only a handful of friends understood my joke. Many others thought I had fallen prey once again to autocorrect. Even though I was "Beorn ready," there were things I loved and things I didn't love about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Beware: Spoilers Ahead

Love: The Journey
The Hobbit or There and Back Again as it is sometimes called, is a journey narrative at it's core. This could also be said for The Lord of the Rings. The film version does a pretty good job of keeping the journey aspect going, the dwarven company is constantly striving for Erebor. Where we may lose this forward momentum will be in the third installment, The Hobbit: There and Back Again. We get to see the set pieces of Mirkwood Forest, Dol Goldur, Beorn's homestead, Laketown, and The Lonely Mountain. Theoretically, the third movie will be predominantly set in Laketown and the plains surrounding the Long Lake.

Didn't Love: Beorn
The last visual of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey proper is our company making it's way up a bear-shaped mountain. Therefore I knew that we were going to meet Beorn and he would not be sacrificed in Lord of The Rings Tom Bombadil fashion. PJ has stated that he wanted to get rid of anything that didn't help move the film and plot forward and Beorn kind of falls into this category, so I wanted to see how Beorn would appear. Long story short, Beorn could have been cut. He literally only served to get them some horses and provide another chase scene.

Love: The Elves
I was excited to see Legolas again, and see how PJ would bring in Thranduil the Elvenking of Mirkwood Forest. I was a bit more hesitant in regards to the new character of Tauriel. I was pleasantly surprised and actually ended up really liking Tauriel. The interactions between Legolas, Thranduil, and Tauriel added a lot to the film and furthered the discussion between being a part of versus apart from Middle Earth, a theme we see in The Lord of the Rings. I left the theatre basically going "Elves are BADASS."

Didn't Love: The Love Triangle
This love triangle was literally shoe-horned in. Evangeline Lily (Tauriel) has said that she originally signed on and filmed her scenes sans love triangle. When she was called back for re-shoots there was suddenly a love triangle. Now they may have added in this love triangle for REASONS for the third installment (avoiding spoilers for the third film), but it really doesn't need to be there. However, there was a reason that the story of Arwen and Aragon was in the Appendices and not in The Lord of the Rings proper. It felt forced (though the acting was fairly organic), but seemed to draw a lot of parallels with Arwen (hello there elven glow and kingsfoil).

Love: The Dwarves
In the novel, the dwarves are greedy, stupid, and clumsy. The dwarves of the film universe are much more, thanks to the direction of PJ and the individual talents of Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin) and Aidan Turner (Kili) (the other dwarves are given considerably less screen time).

Don't Love: Azog and Thorin's backstory
Azog literally appears in one line in the whole of The Hobbit. Thror (the grandfather of Thorin) was slain by Azog in the mines of Moria. So far, it hasn't really been made clear that Bolg is the son of Azog. I can see how they maybe thought that Thorin needed even more motivation, but isn't it enough to want to reclaim his throne and dwarven homeland? We know that the Orcs follow our protagonists throughout the movie and I found it a bit unnecessary to have them continue to show up again and again.
The orcs presence is Dol Goldur ties The Hobbit together with The Lord of the Rings and we could have made due with just their scenes with the Necromancer. In the novel The Hobbit we know that the orcs and goblins are on the trail of Bilbo and the dwarves. PJ makes the decision to have them follow right to the gates of Thranduil's domain and into Laketown. The chase really sets the stakes and adds a sense of haste -- as if making it to Erebor before Durin's Day wasn't enough motivation to proceed quickly -- but also detracts in that there is just too much going on.

Love: The Necromancer
I did like how they brought in The Necromancer and revealed him to be Sauron. This is alluded to in The Hobbit, but is made more clear in the less widely read The Silmarillion. I did think that the encounter between Sauron and Gandalf in the ruins of Dol Goldur was a bit heavy handed, but overall, I liked it. What would have been a really cool touch is a side plot line that never made it into The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit but is present in the chapter "The Quest for Erebor" in The Unfinished Tales. Thrain (Thorin's father) was in possession of the One Ring and lost it. Thrain was imprisoned in Dol Goldur and Gandalf sees him imprisoned there before Thrain passes away. This is some ninety years before the timeline present in The Hobbit. This is when Gandalf came into possession of the map to Erebor and the key to the mountain.

Didn't Love: Bilbo
This is more of a love/don't love. Martin Freeman practically is Bilbo Baggins. My concern with Bilbo in The Desolation of Smaug is that he was more reactionary than the borderline hero he will grow to be by the end of the trilogy. Bilbo is our window into Middle Earth, but I almost felt inundated by shots of his facial expressions. Freeman is adept at conveying the complexity of a hobbit with a bit of Baggins and a dash of Took, but it felt almost as if Bilbo was lost in such a sea of supporting characters. The most compelling moments are those Bilbo shares with Thorin, but Richard Armitage is quite a scene stealer.

Love: Smaug
Loved him. Period. Only complaint: The dwarves lock themselves in the mountain. They don't battle Smaug. That being said, Smaug versus the dwarves was the most prolonged action sequence besides the barrel ride out of Mirkwood.

Didn't Love: Bard and Laketown
Luke Evans is extremely likeable as Bard. PJ has gone to lengths to give Bard a backstory whereas in the novel Bard is a more mysterious figure. Single Dad Bard is a more compelling character but at the same time I found that the time spent dragging out the powerplays between The Master of Laketown and Bard could have been better spent. Stephen Fry turns in a memorable glorified cameo as the Master and there's a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance by Stephen Colbert. I'm also going to group the fracture of the dwarven company into this category. Hopefully both Bard's inflated backstory and the presence of the dwarves in Laketown will be furthered explained in the third film.

Love and Hate: Spiders
I hate spiders. These are obviously relatives of Ungoliant (as mentioned by Radagast in An Unexpected Journey and/or Shelob (from The Two Towers). They were less sinister than Shelob but still frightening to our diminutive dwarves and Bilbo. I like the nice touch in that they sounded very much like Gollum and that Bilbo could understand their speech while wearing the Ring. Bilbo saves the dwarves from the giant spiders and Sting finally becomes a named sword. Tauriel makes her first badass appearance. Still, I hate spiders.

Love: Miscellaneous
-Gandalf: as always
-lines tying together The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
-mention of Gimli. I LOL'd
-Bombur's Barrel Ride
-Radagast



Overall Rating: A-
I loved The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug but as more of a Tolkien purist, I was a bit disappointed. The film seemed to have sacrificed some elements in order to add others in. PJ has strayed from the Elven path. Hopefully, unlike in Mirkwood Forest, PJ will be able to find his way back and walk the higher road of forward momentum and fan service in The Hobbit: There and Back Again.

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