The Desolation of Smaug

Even though I found the first Hobbit movie pretty woeful, curiosity and a small hope that surely the second one couldn’t be as dire, got me out the door to see The Desolation of Smaug at the weekend.

My pocket review: I shouldn’t have bothered. While it’s a better movie than the first one, it’s even further removed from the tone and action of the book. If you love The Hobbit, you’re highly unlikely to love the movie. Wait for it to come out on DVD.

And my impressions as I watched along:

1) The trailers before the movie were terrible. More and bigger explosions. More, and more obvious computer graphics. Lots of running and shouting. Bugger all dialogue. My idea of a very bad day out. And of course, an indication of where the marketing people are pitching the Hobbit movies.

2) The movie itself begins with orcs on wargs racing in pursuit of running dwarves and Bilbo keeping watch from behind huge rocks, in scenes very reminiscent of the most unsuccessful elements of The Two Towers (which I think is the weakest of the LotR movies because it’s the one that deviates the most from the source material). And I thought, “Oh no. They’re not going to be running for the whole movie are they?” Alas, they were.

3) Beorn’s home is beautifully rendered but nothing happens there. Beorn delivers a huge info-dump and gives them horses. One of my favorite sections of the book reduced to an afterthought.

4) And then there are the wood elves in Mirkwood. A new character in Tauriel. Conflicts in the kingdom. An annoying love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel, and Kili. No, no, no, no, no! I didn’t mind the character of Tauriel in herself, but why why must the female character come with a totally unnecessary romantic plot? Why couldn’t she just stick to being a ninja elf performing improbable feats of derring do all round the place like Legolas? That’s still annoying but in a much less stereotypically girly way.

5) The barrel riding section sealed it for me though. It’s all thrills and spills with orcs shooting arrows from the banks and falling in the river, a barrel bouncing up onto the bank and squashing orcs aplenty, Legolas standing balanced on the heads of two dwarves shooting orcs as they all hurtle down the river, and so on and on. It wasn’t quite as horrendous as the cascading orcs (to borrow my friend Dinie’s great phrase) of the first movie, but it was pretty damn silly. I sat there feeling homesick for the altogether more subtle pleasures of the book. I missed the lightness of tone and of touch.

6) Laketown is gorgeous, all dripping decay and faded glory, and Stephen Fry makes a wonderfully unctuous Master. But it was too late by then. The imperatives of the chase narrative, of the action movie genre, kept the movie careering along with no time to appreciate anything else. We had Gandalf fighting orcs in Dol Guldur. Tauriel discovering that Kili had been poisoned by an orc’s arrow and defying her father to go in search of him and of the orcs who’d poisoned him, and squeezed in amongst all that, Bilbo set off to see the dragon. Three narrative strands, all to be rendered in exhaustive detail, and 2/3 of them focusing on a series of fights with various orcs. Peter Jackson obviously didn’t learn anything about narrative pacing, about what to elide and what to focus on, from Tolkien. There’s a reason why Gandalf’s adventures were given short shrift in the main text of The Hobbit – they were only tangential to the main story.

7) At this point, we still had an hour of the movie to go, and I thought, “I can’t do this. I’d rather be out in the real world with Petra and Travis drinking tea and browsing the shelves in Whitcoull’s.” So I left. I knew what was going to happen, and how, and I couldn’t bear any more bludgeoning. Gandalf, bad-arse wizard, whack. Legolas loves Tauriel, Tauriel has the hots for Kili, whack. Elves chase orcs, who are chasing dwarves, whack. Elves get to Kili just in time to fight off the orcs and save his life, whack. It’s plot by numbers, all surprise and pleasure removed in favour of the headlong rush. And the film-makers’ reliance on constant violence and peril shows a startling lack of faith in the actual story – the story of Bilbo’s journey – as well as a lack of faith in their own ability to convey it to their audience.

8) Disappointed, I’m very disappointed.

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3 Responses to The Desolation of Smaug

  1. iamroewan says:

    Oh, too bad. I’ve been debating with myself whether or not to trek down to Victoria just to see it on a big screen (maybe even 3-D) but now I think I’ll wait for the dvd. I have heard that Hobbit pt 1 is much better on dvd because the extra content improves the flow of the movie.

  2. iamroewan says:

    Oh and re the “cascading orcs.” I should actually have said cascading goblins and I’m still embarrassed about my mistake!

  3. janstra says:

    Yes, it’s such a shame because Jackson did such a good job with the LotR movies and could have done good things with The Hobbit as well. The movie probably works fine if you’re not a Tolkien reader and are looking for a fantasy/action film, but a reasonable adaptation of The Hobbit it ain’t.
    I have an embarrassment out for you. Cascading orcs are fine when you’re talking about the movies, because ‘orcs’ is the term all the characters use – as far as I can remember. And it’s such a memorable phrase, that I’m reluctant to give it up!

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