Film #114: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

smaugphotodirector: Peter Jackson
language: English, Sindarin, Black Speech
length: 161 minutes
watched on: 1 March 2014

Another epic offering from Peter Jackson, another film released three months later in Japan than anywhere else. This time it’s particularly infuriating because Part One was released on schedule, at the same time as it was released in America and Britain.

Like Part One, Part Two drags out the story to incredible lengths and fills a lot of the story with parts that were originally written for the Appendices and the Silmarillion. Jackson’s movies are interesting and to some extent fun, but it’s not the same as the book whose name is attached to its title. The main problem I’m seeing with the upcoming Part Three is that the corresponding section of the book was literally one chapter reading “and then Bilbo went home again”. I’m starting to think now that when Part Three comes out someone is going to have to pare the movies down to actually match the book and see what we could have had.

I am interested to see what happens as a prologue to The Lord of the Rings, such as in this book, Gandalf going to a dark tower and witnessing Sauron’s release from whatever prison he’s in – but in that case, why not make two films: one as a straight adaptation of The Hobbit, and one as a straight adaptation of The Silmarillion? You could even have scenes being cross-referenced between the two movies by filming them simultaneously.

The Silmarillion aside, it’s not the only stuff that’s been added to the book. The whole scene with the dragon was extended a lot, and includes the dwarves barging in while Bilbo is in there, which I’m fairly sure didn’t actually happen in the book. It becomes an epic battle scene with the characters running through great halls and floating on molten gold. It’s very possible that the original scene wasn’t cinematic enough, but is there really a need to drag out the scene so much that it literally ends the movie on a cliffhanger?

I can accept that scene, but it crosses the line into self-indulgence with the character of Tauriel, and Legolas’s whole appearance in the movie. I’ve seen complaints about them before, but Legolas just appears out of nowhere. It’s useful for him to appear because it shows how his character changes over the course of the Lord of the Rings movies, and shows a bit more continuity with those movies, but that just underlines the whole mentality of having the Hobbit movies being a prologue to the Lord of the Rings movies, rather than an adaptation of The Hobbit.

Tauriel is a different story: her character is a complete invention to try and make the movie’s world less male-dominated. It’s a sign of the times changing, perhaps, that we feel we need someone like her now, but that when Tolkien wrote the book in the 30s, it wasn’t seen as necessary. In theory, I support this, but I don’t support that Tauriel’s main storyline was a romance with the youngest and cutest dwarf. I could take this two ways: either it’s shoehorning heterosexual relationships where they don’t need to be, or it’s reducing female roles in a movie to that of love interest. And either way, it’s self-indulgent.

I’m also disappointed with a couple of the other changes with the movie, such as Bjorn’s role being reduced near the beginning, because I remember at least a whole chapter of the book being them staying with him. Or there’s the fact that there’s not as much comedic moments, and Bilbo never outsmarts anyone in the movie. But the movie does have its merits. The giant spider scene is suitably scary and basically what I remember from the book, and the dragon scene was good, even though it wasn’t the one from the book. Stephen Fry’s presence in Laketown was unexpected but very well-executed.

So taken on what Jackson wants it to be, an epic prologue to The Lord of the Rings, it arguably works well and serves its purpose. But as an adaptation of the book version of The Hobbit, it frankly falls flat and doesn’t deliver some of the key scenes, supplementing it with fight scenes and epic battles, which frankly get tiring to watch in 3D. I can’t imagine why they thought that was necessary.

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