Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013; dir. Peter Jackson) marks a lot of time.  In the first film, we had exposition—Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves set out towards the Lonely Mountain to retrieve the dwarf kingdom and treasure.  We expect setbacks and challenges along the way, and The Desolation of Smaug provides them: a thickly wooded forest in which it is easy to become lost, monstrous oversized spiders that tie the group up in webs, elves that imprison them, goblins that chase them, and so on.  There are fights and pursuits and escapes.  There is a reasonable amount of intrigue, though more of the film than one would expect takes place indoors, especially in the hidden elf settlement in the forest and in Bardstown.  Those who know the novel will note significant differences.  The basic plot is here, but there are characters who didn’t appear in the novel, including Sauron and Legolas and Galadriel.  There is a love plot between one of the members of Bilbo’s group, Kíli, and a young elf named Tauriel—this wasn’t in the novel.  (Without Galadriel and Tauriel, the film would have no significant women characters). Just as the wandering dwarves get lost in the murky wood, so too does this film lose itself.  Where it really takes flight is in the scenes at the Lonely Mountain, where Bilbo encounters Smaug and steals the Arkenstone.

In the novel, as I recall, the Battle of the Five Armies was an aftermath to the killing of Smaug.  Obviously, the battle is a primary focus of the third film.  Moreover, it’s clear that Jackson has set out to interweave the three Hobbit films more tightly with his Lord of the Rings films than Tolkien ever meant to link his novel The Hobbit to the later trilogy.  His first novel was a loose prequel. 
The Desolation of Smaug is entertaining but it lacks the charm of the Lord of the Rings films. It is more loosely and carelessly put together, and there is a strong sense of one’s having gone through the motions.  There’s no discovery or delight, except in rare moments, as when Tauriel heals Kíli’s infected leg, and when Bilbo Baggins has his encounter with Smaug.  For the most part, the film gives up the quaint, fairy-tale-like story in Tolkien’s novel for a blundering, overwrought Hollywood juggernaut.  

No comments: