January 20, 2014

The Desolation of Smaug Indeed:

The Hobbit Part 2 review time

Dwarves and Elves in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I did not come to steal from you, O Smaug the Unassessably Wealthy. I merely wanted to gaze upon your magnificence, to see if you were as great as the old tales say.
Starring Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug, Stephen Fry, Stephen Colbert (kind of) and Evangeline Lilly, plus the old familiars (Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett), what could go wrong?

Not much, to be fair. It exceeded most of the expectations in terms of pacing and following the books closely enough without adding too much unnecessary garbage. Remember, as soon as Peter Jackson announced that The Hobbit would be broken into THREE freaking parts, we all jumped in with the criticism that they would be three dragging, slow movies bogged down by excess material. Instead, the length of the series let Jackson (and screenplay writers Guillermo Del Toro et al) keep just about every scene from the book, while adding Legolas in (what would a LOTR movie be without his ridiculous facial expressions?) and keeping things from feeling too rushed.
Orlando Bloom as Legolas and Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
In fact, I didn’t feel that there was too much Legolas and Tauriel. Maybe it all comes down to whether you love Evangeline Lilly and want as much screen time as possible devoted to close-ups of her face, or whether you don’t know who she is (which is the only reasonable explanation for not loving her. Just saying.) I’ve said many times that I fall asleep during your average fight scene (or car chase, great battle, anything with action really) but who could fall asleep watching Legolas play hop scotch over dwarves floating down river in barrels while shooting orcs (without missing)? Not me.

And despite the backlash, I stand by my tweet that Tauriel's hair color is an ugly shade of orange unworthy of framing Evangeline Lilly's luminous visage.

We couldn't have asked for a better Bard. Luke Evans stood up to the role of Middle Earth man-hero, upholding Boromir's glower, the harshness of Eomer, and the compassion of Faramir (sometimes), without Denethor’s anything. A job well done, sir.
Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
You have no right to enter that mountain!
Meanwhile, Stephen Fry was hardly recognizable, which is awesome. I mean, it’s not awesome if you didn’t realize it was him, in which case you need to watch again, but it’s awesome that he transformed so fully into such a dislikable character. For me, Fry will always be Deitrich, that gay comedian and talk show host in V for Vendetta. But there’s none of Deitrich’s graceful dignity in the Master of Lake-town. Instead there’s a revolting, greedy, brutish little man.

What did go wrong was the handling of source material. I’m not complaining here about the inclusion of scenes that didn’t occur in The Hobbit; I said I’m happy with Tauriel (and no one complained when Liv Tyler got oh so much more screen time proportional to the all of 60 words devoted to Arwen in the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy.) The length of the three installments ensures that nothing important need get cut, which keeps us devotees sated, so that’s not the problem either. But what made Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series utterly flawless wasn’t the choices of what to include and what to remove, (Team Bombidil forevs!!) it was how heavily it relied on the foundation of Tolkien’s powerful writing, particularly the use of his exact wording. The deviation from that established standard is the only reason I can point to as to why Bilbo’s conversations with the dragon, Smaug the Magnificent, fell flat, despite the opportunity there for the chemistry and mastery of actors Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug the Magnificent in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
"You have nice manners for a thief and a liar."
Other than Smaug’s opening lines, “Well, thief, I smell you. I hear your breath. I feel your air,” and the odd “barrel rider” epithet, the screenplay writers free styled this one, and worse yet, they did that thing that makes this particular member of the audience take a little doze: they turned the encounter from a “conversation” with the great dragon into a damn action scene. And a boring, slow paced one at that. We’re long past being impressed by CGI dragons skating across millions of coins, I don’t care how detailed and individual each gold coin is. Because I’m sleeping.

The dialogue between them is closest to its source material when they are actually interacting, but in between the snippets of conversation, Smaug just chases Bilbo around the mounds of treasure blowing fire at him. Snore. Only about a third of the dialogue is verbatim from Tolkien, which might not sound so bad, but when I go back and re-read Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, almost all of the spoken passages are familiar, because they appeared in the movies word for word (which, as I’ve mentioned, makes a re-read a much bigger treat than you think).

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Ponies take some catching, I believe, after a long start. And so do burglars!
The wording might even be close enough, but the pacing is entirely off. Reading the chapter “Inside Information,” there’s nothing but movement in the talk between Bilbo and Smaug, and the plot as it unfolds, due to Bilbo seeing the Arkenstone and Smaug deducing (Sherlock!) that Bilbo is working with the dwarves and has been to Lake-town, where he may have allies.
By my count, the scene of just talk with Bilbo and Smaug is about 12 minutes total of screen time, which is kind of a lot, but maybe it should have been longer and had more of the tangents and side conversations that made it so compelling in the first place. And for sure the scene deserves that much time, except that it was ever so much less clever and intriguing than the ten minutes it takes to read the brilliantly composed chapter. The scene that I most looked forward to, given its perfection in the original composition and the casting of Sherlock and Watson (yep), was one of the weakest in the film, and the series thus far.
And after that we get little mess there’s the snooze-inducing battle in Lake-town, the visually stunning yet dreadfully boring molten gold attack on the dragon, and all that nonsense with Tauriel and the kingsfoil. Haven’t we done that routine twice before, Tolkien? Oh wait, eagles. Right. The rule of LOTR is that everything happens twice. See Arwen (and Aragorn) saving Frodo with kingsfoil. Hobbit, dwarf, same thing.

“She is far, far away from here, and she walks in starlight in another world.” And what was up with Kili and his “Do you think she could have loved me?”

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel the Magnificent (hah) in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
He's quite tall for a Dwarf. Do you not think?
Sorry if that was a harsh review. Keep in mind, I did start with lots of nice things to say. Plus, the voice acting really was quite masterful. Any disagreements? Feel free to air your grievances; that’s what the comment board is for.


  1. Personally I love Peters versions of Tolkien's stories but I feel that people who haven't read the books would enjoy them more. I don't mind a fee additions, subtractions or alterations but I find that the Hobbit films so fsr and especially the 2nd installment should come with the warning 'based loosly on the book'. Very disappointed :(

    1. That's a really good point, and it's actually EXACTLY how I feel about the Harry Potter films, except it's worse in that case, because important details are glossed over so effectively that the story barely even makes sense to someone who hasn't read the books. I guess they don't care, cuz they figure we've all read it.

      With The Hobbit, it's sad that so many fans were disappointed, because with the LOTR films we came to expect a certain standard of quality; we expected the films to beautifully reflect the books and we felt that Jackson was a good judge of what could make the cut (Tom Bombadil, may you rest in peace.)

  2. Good review, I can agree with just about everything... except where you said they were able to keep every scene from the book. One of my main problems with Desolation was that so many of my favorite scenes from the book were left out entirely -- the dwarves approaching 2 by 2 at Beorn's Cottage, the Black River in Mirkwood, Bombur's amnesia, the long months of starvation and darkness in Mirkwood, the White Stag and the Hunt, the Elven feasts and illusions... like the Bilbo/Smaug scene, it seemed that everything was cut or stunted for the sake of the bloated dwarves vs dragon fight/chase scene.

    1. I did miss the elven feasts, and I believe a similar scene was cut from Fellowship where Sam sees an elf for the first time (and it like makes his life). And yeah, you're right, a lot of potentially good and VERY nostalgic pieces were missing to give more screen time to chasing the dragon around and throwing gold at him.

      But the long months of starvation and darkness! Okay, I know that stuff isn't as long-winded as it is in LOTR, and The Hobbit is a short and fast paced enough for a bit of starvation and darkness, but I first read it at age ten, and my attention ain't ever been so great, so for me, I will always have memories of wading through those parts and then racing through the dialogue and action. I guess it couldn't have hurt to remind us of the hunger and the long walk; I could do with some new memories.

  3. When myself,dad,sister and her boyfriend went to see the film, it was absolutely brilliant. We really enjoyed watching it.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I enjoyed it too!

  4. Okay, so first of all, don't make fun of the hair color. I cosplayed as Tauriel at opening night because she has the same color of hair as me. I was originally going to cosplay as Galadriel, but can you blame me for picking the elf that looks just like me? (I'm not that actress by the way, just a fan of Tolkein books.)

    That said, I like your review. I thought the dragon scene was kind of messed up. I don't remember Bilbo being half as scared in the books as they showed him in the movie (maybe I'm basing it off of the animated movie, though, as I haven't read the book in a year or so.) I feel they could have done more with the dialogue from the book, rather than what they did in the movie.

    So, this is kind of out of order. But another scene that seemed a lot different than the book was the barrel-riding scene. The first time I watched it I honestly hated it and wished it was more like the book. The second time, though, I was okay with it. (I'm kind of action-oriented; I joke with people that there has to be action every five seconds in a movie for me to like it.)

    I liked that they put in a scene with Beorn. It could have been different, but I'm glad they didn't leave him out the way they left out Tom Bombadil in "The Lord of the Rings". My two favorite characters in the Tolkein world are Bombadil and Beorn. (Actually, my two favorite characters are in "The Silmarillion", but that's a different story.)

    One scene I thought was somewhat well done was the Laketown scene. I liked how it was "short and sweet". In the book when I read it, it tends to drag on, so I was happy that it went fast. But what was the deal with leaving Kili behind? That definitely didn't happen in the book. Oh, and why was Bard looked down on? I don't remember it being that way in the book.

    Another point about Tauriel. At first I didn't like the thought of putting her in. I'm still slightly skeptical, but I liked the part she played as captain of the guard, or whatever she is. She is an impressive fighter and fun to watch on screen. The love triangle between her and Legolas and Kili was weird. (Probably what I liked most about her was her, I call it "flaming red hair".)

    All in all, I loved "The Desolation of Smaug". I actually liked it better than the first one, due to it being action-packed.

    Anyways, thanks for your input. It's always fun to read what others think of the hobbit movies.

    1. Damn, here I go insulting real people's hair colour; apologies, I meant only to refer to the fictional hair colour of a fictional character, and I'm sure you as a real person with real hair have a beautiful natural hair colour. Maybe the hue just doesn't happen to go well with the actress' skin tone? I hope I'm not digging myself deeper and you'll accept my sincere apology. I'm just an insufferable a pot-stirrer.

      That's a good point that in the book, Bilbo wasn't very afraid of Smaug. I did just take a peek at that chapter (haven't done a FULL re-read by any means yet) and he seems confident in his invisibility, witty and fairly courageous.

      We're total opposites when it comes to action! That's curious :) Glad that the barrels grew on you, but you're probably right that it's more enjoyable in the book even so.

      I also thought the Kili thing was super out of place, and I felt like they only added that so that he could see Tauriel again, which was, as you put it, weird. She did bring the action, though, as you say. And all in all, I definitely liked it, it's definitely net positive in my books and worth a watch, but I think I just had less to nitpick in the first one, so it comes out on top for me. But only by a hair. I did love Lake-town, and Bard, and Smaug's voice-acting if not the Smaug scenes by their own right.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

    2. Enjoyed the review and I agree with your points! Jackson clearly felt he had to pump the action to keep the film in pace and enjoyable... but the barrel scene, the extended smaug chase and battle scene.. too long. The Smaug "battle" was just ridiculous. When I own the DVD later... I will gladly skip that scene, every time.

    3. Haha! Yea, that's what DVDs are good for :D Worth watching once on the big screen, where it's pretty, but at home, I'm gonna skip the fluff too.

      Thanks for joining in the conversation!

  5. Glad i missed it in theatres, I will watch it as a free rental from the library when the thrill of the fact it's out on dvd wears off. I was afraid this was what would happen to the movie, that it would take off and be a cutesy CG film yet again. Maybe I'm old school though fr from old but I agree harry potter went south of the boarder to never never land and it appears this is too. when they popped in and said three movies I thought oh no, I will watch it just glad I didn't do so in the theatre. good review after I watch it I'll let ya know :)

    1. Yes, please, let me know what you think when you do get around to see it. If CG doesn't impress you (just like it doesn't impress me) then there's no sense paying for a movie ticket. The good things about it will still be there when it gets to rental.

      Thank you very much for the comment.

    2. CG is good in doses. I was disappointed when star wars went CG happy with 1, 2, and 3, after the fact that 4,5, and 6 didn't have the super wow whizz bang effects it kinda made them look like they were filmed in slow motion, also the story got lost in those, when they did 1,2, and 3. Anyways, when it comes out on dvd I am sure I'll be seeing it like you and saying gee a million dollars for shiny gold?