Movie Review of "The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug"
Like the first installment, I enjoyed the movie. This is also the point at which I will make my requisite preface that I treat PJ's Tolkien-based movies much as I would a work of fanfiction, i.e., I need to try to enjoy someone else's vision of Middle-earth rather than to expect that PJ will have magically created mine. So I will not argue about breaking canon so much as I will analyze how his decisions worked on their own merit.
My two chief overall impressions are that PJ has created a lot of loose ends for himself to tie up and often at the expense of content from the books that would have done quite nicely. How many conflicts are there now? How many enemies? Well, we have Smaug, of course, and Sauron. And the Nazgûl are apparently afoot again, although we don't actually see them. Then there's the whole Azog and Bolg thing. And the Master of Laketown and
Unfortunately, from my perspective, this busyness comes at the expense of scenes from the book that PJ didn't include or spent very little time on. Honestly, on my first viewing, Bilbo was going for the keys to the Dwarves' prison so quickly that I thought there must be some twist that would prolong their stay; that they could not be out of the Woodland Realm that quickly. Beorn likewise seemed rushed over. The scene in Mirkwood is one that made an impression on me when I first read The Hobbit in the fifth grade (age 10); when I thought of The Hobbit, memory of the dark forest and the spiders and the disappearing Elves came to mind. I was disappointed that more time was not spent on these scenes from the book, especially when they seemed sacrificed for plots that continue to feel superfluous to me.
(In the many discussions surrounding the new movie at Mythmoot, someone mentioned that the Feast of Starlight is pretty much treated only as Kili saying, "Sounds like there's a party going on upstairs!" which seems a regretful gloss of a major scene from the book.)
I do wonder at the structure of the final movie. Will we have the death of Smaug at the beginning and the Battle of the Five Armies at the end? What of the whole plot with Sauron? Azog and Bolg? The political plot in Laketown? I would have thought there would have been some move toward resolution of some of these plots in this movie--e.g., Smaug would have died at the end or Azog would have been killed, fueling Bolg's revenge at the Battle of the Five Armies--but it seems that PJ only created more loose ends to tie up. We have Bard to get out of jail, the open graves at the High Fells, Gandalf imprisoned in a gibbet, and the Tauriel/Kili romance in addition to the plots opened up in the first movie.
Speaking of. I would probably be remiss if I did not discuss the Tauriel subplot, since all the cool kids are talking about it, although I feel like I do so at my peril. I have mixed feelings. I like the introduction of Tauriel both to mitigate what is otherwise a sausagefest and also (discussed more below) to add some complexity to the Wood Elf perception of other peoples of Middle-earth. At the same time, I regret that Tauriel had to at once embody two irksome tropes for woman characters: the badass!superhero and the love interest. The latter is traditional, while the former has always felt to me an overcompensation for women typically serving as a love interest for male characters and often in need of rescuing. I do wish we could find some middle ground.
But I will accept a woman captain of the guard because it does fit the plot. What bugs me most about her subplot is how ... unprofessional ... she seems at times. She is the captain of the guard! She is a badass and obviously exceedingly competent at what she does! And yet she seems so quickly smitten with Kili to defy belief, i.e. her sheepish remark about his being tall for a Dwarf and how easily she is drawn into friendship with him. He is a prisoner in her charge. I don't imagine she would be so easily charmed. I honestly find her decision to go to Laketown to be much more believable, as her willingness to see beyond the borders of her realm is a well-developed trait of her character that also sets her as a welcome foil to Thranduil, than the ease with which she is drawn into romantic situations early in the movie. This includes her discussion of marriage to Legolas with Thranduil, which again seemed out-of-place and excessive, their devotion to each other as friends and comrades being more than adequately communicated.
That said, what I do like about her character is the complexity she adds to the Wood Elf point of view. She shows them as more complex than merely greedy isolationists; likewise, the association of the Dwarves who were left behind with the people of Laketown seems to function similarly. I like the potential for complexity that PJ has added here, where he has expanded out the various peoples beyond a few stereotyped qualities that are all that we see of them.
Okay, a few final points before I wrap up this rather longish review. When I first watched the movie, I felt like there was way too much action, but this didn't bother me as much on the second viewing. I did like the continuing Dwarf humor--so much of it involving poor Bombur!--that recalls the whimsical tone of the book. In particular, Bombur bowling Orcs in his barrel made me laugh heartily at both viewings. I noted in my review last year that I felt the villains were rather too cartoonish, which did not strike me in this movie at all: Smaug is formidable, and even though I agree with much of what I've read concerning smoke!Sauron, I have at least the impression of something significant happening in Dol Goldur. Also, the tensions between the various peoples lend a sense of conflict that is not easily resolved and seems to raise the stakes in a way that I didn't feel the first movie really did.
Several of the actors' performances were truly noteworthy. Martin Freeman continues to be incredible as Bilbo. At Mythmoot, it was discussed how much is communicated in his performance that doesn't involve speaking a single word. Ian McKellan continues to be Gandalf, and Sylvester McCoy does a delightful Radagast. One of the things that continues to impress me about this trilogy--I noted this in my review of the first movie and can only continue to say it for the second--is how the personalities of so many Dwarven characters are artfully managed so that so many of them come to the fore as truly developed characters rather than mere backdrop. (Gloin seemed to really come to the fore in this one, and his comment about "my wee lad Gimli" evoked squees at the Mythmoot screening.) And Lee Pace did an excellent job as Thranduil.
Which is where I want to leave off. What is up with his mysteriously appearing/disappearing scars? And the reference to the "serpents of the north"? Much has been said about how PJ cannot touch material from The Silmarillion, yet he seems to be hinting pretty hard here that Thranduil was involved--and possibly wounded--in the battles of the First Age. Am I missing something here?
In all, I enjoyed the movie, as I said at the outset. The very fact that I can write this much about it says that better than anything. Perhaps I should have more faith in PJ, since I think he improved upon the first movie, despite my misgivings after the first about how some of the plots would unfold. I am extremely curious to see how all of this is resolved in the final movie.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!