Watson and I abandoned the children to my husband’s care Saturday night so that I could finally see The Desolation of Smaug.
Most of you have probably seen it already and/or read all the reviews, and/or just absorbed the unavoidable reactions to and opinions about it via sheer proximity to other human beings/Wi-Fi hotspots.
This has never stopped me from sharing my own reactions and opinions, and it won’t now. The blog must be fed, people.
But if you haven’t seen this movie and still want to,* you might want to watch out for mild spoilers below. I generally try to be careful about those, but unlike Unexpected Journey, which, with only a few exceptions, was taken from stories Mr. Tolkien actually wrote, Desolation, like the Dwarves in Mirkwood, ventures far enough off the source-material path that I can’t take the Librarian High Road and say with a sniff that my post can’t possibly spoil anything for anyone who’s read the book(s), which I’m sure you have, yes?**
So I’m going to lead off with something that I hope will earn me your forgiveness, if I do end up mentioning something you wish I hadn’t.
No matter what I say about this movie, any scene in which Smaug appears is worth the full price of admission and I cannot take that away from you, even with a frame-by-frame break down of those scenes.
Same goes for the Spiders.
There’s a lot of good stuff in this movie.
The Dwarves, who are outgunned (or at least out-Orc’ed) for most of the flick, remain impatient, endearing, infuriating, competent, clumsy, stubborn, and undeniably badass (I’m looking at you, Dwalin and, oddly, Bombur). Thorin continues to wallow gorgeously in brooding refusal to make sane, reasonable decisions about almost anything, because his head is apparently also made of solid oak—but at least it was carved to look like Richard Armitage, so thank you, movie. Bilbo is troubled, determined, smart, and irresistibly huggable in that special Martin Freeman way and Gandalf manages a couple of badass—if ill-advised—moments himself.
Beorn is played with great power and heartbreaking gentleness by Mikael Persbrandt, whose accent adds both beauty to his words and a certain weight of history to his character. Bard the Bowman is noble and angstridden—Luke Evans has the perfect face for this—as behooves a man who aches to Fix Things, but can’t get enough support from his downtrodden, complacent neighbors. And Stephen Fry’s Master of Lake Town is so sodden with privileged discontent and brandy that you can smell the rot, and so perfectly jealous of his power over a place he hates that it’s a joy to detest him.
It was nice—if technically unnecessary, for reasons I’ll explain later—to see Legolas again; he’s decades younger and far more arrogant here, but still as pretty as a sharpened stiletto. His childhood friend Tauriel—whose necessity is discussed a little further down—seemed natural in a way Arwen Evenstar never really managed. His father, King Thranduil of the Disturbing Eyebrows—who is necessary—is the ethereal and far more hygienic flip side of the Master of the Lake.
The Necromancer did a good job of scaring the holy crap out of the audience—or at least this member of the audience—and the Orcs were . . . plentiful.***
And Smaug . . . Oh, Smaug.^
In fact, there’s enough good stuff in here to make three movies . . . but only one of those movies is The Hobbit.
Look, I’m not a purist. I wouldn’t have minded if Mr. Jackson had kept the script strictly to what happened between the covers of The Hobbit—if nothing else, there would have been fewer parts and a shorter wait to see the whole thing—but since he already made LOTR, and a goodly percentage of the whole world watched it, I have to admit that it might be weird from a continuity standpoint if Legolas didn’t show up at the Wood Elves court or the Ring didn’t have at least an indication of the same terrifying effect on Bilbo as it did on Frodo.
I say “might,” because without the second of the three, merged minimovies, which is undeniably a prequel to Mr. Jackson’s hit trilogy, it probably wouldn’t have mattered as much.
Tolkien’s two or three sentence explanation about a necromancer hiding in the woods never quite did it for me, motivation-wise,^^ so it’s not that I don’t appreciate being offered a solid and beautifully filmed reason why Gandalf reluctantly abandons Thorin’s Gang of Thirteen at Mirkwood, just when a wizard would have come in handy—plus a more detailed account of what prevented him from returning until the penultimate chapter of the book.
And again, LOTR is a thing that exists—a fixed point in time, to jump franchises for a second—and cannot be ignored, lest the Goddess of Continuity be angered, even if Mr. Jackson was the one who evoked her in the first place.
It’s still not The Hobbit. But it works.^^^
So, really, the only minimovie in the amalgamation that gave me real problems was the third one, and here’s where I’m going to drop spoilers, because Tolkien didn’t write it and it messes with what he did write, and that annoyed me.
I’m talking about Kili in Love.
I have nothing but admiration for Evangeline Lilly, who takes what could have been a token love interest/catalytic part in The Rise of Sauron and makes it good. And heaven knows I’d happily watch Aidan Turner eat sandwiches for three hours, if there wasn’t a semi-decent script available. These two have undeniable interspecies chemistry—enough to make Legolas realistically jealous, which he is, which may even have been the point—and their scenes together are enjoyable and bittersweet.
But in my opinion, those scenes don’t belong in this particular flick.
I’ve been told that Tauriel’s existence isn’t Peter Jackson’s fault—according to rumor, the studio insisted on a female elf and a romantic subplot involving Legolas, either because without Galadriel, they were afraid of backlash from the gender imbalance, or they thought audiences wouldn’t go see a Middle Earth movie without the prospect of a possibly-doomed romance between two sentient bipeds.°
Fine. A little insulting to movie-lovers and Tolkien’s work, but the flirtation of Tauriel and Legolas doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, et cetera and so forth and fine.
I’m not sure whose fault it is that Kili became the unlikely third corner of an elf-majority love triangle or that his involvement ends up changing things about the plot of The Hobbit (remember The Hobbit? It was in here somewhere . . . ) in ways I can’t personally condone, especially when those changes were specifically made to promote the romance.
I’m guessing that whoever it was figured that Tauriel by herself wasn’t enough to get Legolas moving along the Path of Good Guydom in time to join the Fellowship, so they decided to add some hottie Dwarf incentive for Legolas to Impress the Girl, flipped a coin, and Dean O’Gorman lost won chose heads instead of tails.°°
And to be absolutely truthful, these scenes were brilliantly filmed. There’s a quiet, emotionally-wrought moment here that made my shriveled old heart melt. It was beautiful—really, really beautiful, see compliments to actors above—but it doesn’t belong in this flick.
The thing is, Desolation has three great parts, but it isn’t greater than the sum of them.
But Smaug is.
*I’m not sure why you’d be tuning into this blog if you’re the kind of person who didn’t and don’t, but you’re welcome anyway and feel free to explain in the comments, if you like, or not.
**To be honest, I don’t feel guilty spoiling things that are directly from The Hobbit, because it still shocks me that there are literate people out there who haven’t read it—I’ve been known to mail copies to people who claim they haven’t. Oddly, I also don’t mind spoiling the bits taken from The Simarillion, even though it still shocks me that there are literate people out there who read that thing for fun—but anyone who’s already read or seen LOTR knows the score anyway.
***Seriously—a band of thirty Orcs split up and the Dwarf-chasing half was killed right and left and never seemed to get smaller. They were like the fantasy equivalent of thirty continuous shots with a pair of six-shooters.
^There is, by the way, nothing like hearing the collective reaction of a hundred-plus fellow movie lovers the first time this dragon is called by name on screen:
It totally trumped the reaction to all the extra syllables the LOTR cast put into Mordor. I’d personally agree that UK audiences have a prior claim on the official pronunciation of Tolkein-produced vocabulary, but Americans really aren’t feeling the Sm-oww-gg. Sōrry.
^^Even after I started writing stories of my own and realized that sometimes there are perfectly legitimate plot- and page count-related reasons you wouldn’t want to bring a perfectly good wizard to a dragon fight.
^^^ And regardless of how one feels about Mr. Jackson shoehorning The Rise of Sauron into the movie he was supposed to be making, his retro-plotting still beats the hell out of the first three chapters of Star Wars. So there’s that.
° Rather than a doomed relationship between a brooding dwarf prince and a giant diamond—or a simple Hobbit and his precious golden ring.