The Hobbit: Part Deux

I saw The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug last Saturday, but I’ve been really busy with company and cooking Christmas dinner and in general having fun so I’m just getting around to writing up my thoughts.  Also, I just didn’t care that much.  The movie neither pleased me or pissed me off so I didn’t feel compelled to say something.  And that’s the problem — it just left me feeling… well, meh.  It wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t good.  It just wasn’t much of anything.  I did enjoy it a bit more than the first installment because there were elves and the elves have always been my favorites in the novels.  I know some purists are furious over the girl elf, but I’m a Hollywood writer.  I understand the need to not have an entire movie with nothing buy boy elves, and boy hobbits, and boy dwarves, and boy wizards, and boy humans.  I did like Thranduil.  He was a right bastard, and the actor portraying him looks really unearthly and inhuman.  Legolas clearly was pining for the hot girl elf between The Hobbit and the trilogy because he lost a lot of weight.  One can’t  blame Orlando Bloom.  He was 22 when he did the trilogy and now he’s a man of 37.  Bodies change with each decade (don’t I know it).

The writers wisely compressed the time that elapses so the dwarves and Bilbo aren’t lost in the Mirkwood and captured by Thranduil for weeks.  The escape from the elves and the attack of the orcs was another amusement park ride which for me make it more silly than tense.

I can’t say I blame the elf girl for falling for Kili, he’s really cute, but it felt sexist that Tauriel is just there to fall in love, and be loved by the unattainable prince.  She’s obviously a very fine warrior, but she is defined by the men around her from Thranduil to Legolas to Kili.

When I heard they were going to do The Hobbit I figured they would actually dramatize the attack on Dol Guldur, and the faked retreat of Sauron.  I would have made the same choice, but I don’t think it needed 3 movies.  I think 2 would have been just fine.  I did very much like the visual in the abandoned fortress where the figure of the man is encompassed in the eye, and it just keeps going.  That was nice.

The other great visual is, or course, Smaug.  I think this might be the best dragon ever seen on film, and Cumberbatch does an excellent job voicing the creature.  I also saw what they did making the Arkenstone echo the One Ring in it’s power to corrupt and lure, but it felt like they were undercutting the awesome and terrifying power of the One Ring by making a big jewel have the same effect.  The fight with Smaug beneath the mountain frankly bored the hell out of me.  It was another amusement park ride, and it again seemed to miss the point of the books.  Bilbo is clever.  He uses his wits and words to deal with Smaug, and ultimately it’s words that send Smaug to Laketown and Bilbo, realizing his mistake, suffers guilt for that slip.

As I look back over this scattered post I realize that it’s a rather perfect metaphor for this movie.  It felt like a whole lot of unrelated scenes and events strung together.  It was a lovely piece of fanfic, an homage to a world that has captivated and entranced generations of readers, but the movie doesn’t know what it’s about.  Just like the Lord of the Rings is about the powerless finding courage and strength, and accomplishing what cannot be accomplished by forced of arms, The Hobbit was also about an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.  Not because he’s a king or a great warrior or a powerful wizard but because he is ethical and decent and clever.  I sometimes feel that Jackson loses sight of that in his love of spectacle.  Bottom line — I could do with fewer CGI action sequences and would rather have more moments of interaction between characters.  Moments that tell me more about these characters in particular and the human condition and the human heart in particular.

10 Responses to The Hobbit: Part Deux

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I guess I should say that I liked this film better than the first one. I was looking at my watch a _lot_ in the first one. This one moved far better.

  • Seth Alcorn says:

    Other than a couple of additional minor points, you pretty much wrote what I’ve been saying, down to “meh”. I liked Tauriel, and I would have liked her more had her motivation, voiced or unvoiced, been something like “Hey, Thranduil, when in the history of Middle-Earth has isolation been an effective long-term strategy? Evil is on the move, we’re elves, let’s not ignore it!” rather than “All of the forgoing, plus Kili makes me feel funny.” And the golden statue was kinda goofy.

  • Chris Krohn says:

    I am in almost complete agreement with your sentiments, right down to what was enchanting about Jackon’s (and Tolkien’s) LotR. One of the most memorable parts of the Fellowship film is Gandalf’s heart-to-heart with Frodo when they’re lost in Moria. No CGI, just to good people talking about what is important in life–and I don’t think it was in the original book. (That, and Frodo’s tear-streaked face when he turns slowly to Aragorn–that alone is an Oscar moment.)

    My only difference of opinion is that I found Part 2 to be so “meh” that I preferred the first movie over the second.

  • Steve Lopata says:

    I think I’ll wait until all three are out and watch them marathon style. Thanks for the review. The previews definitely looked like a Disneyland ride.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Sorry it took so long to get your comments posted. For some reason my spam filter sent all of these to my junk file. Might be because I am getting so much spam at my website, but anyway, apologies.

    I think I liked the first one less because of the violence they did to Bilbo’s character. When he grabs a sword and starts beating on the white orc at the end I was just rolling my eyes. That isn’t Bilbo. He used his wits not brawn to succeed.

  • S.C. Butler says:

    I think we’d all like to see less CGI and more character interaction, but that would require writing, something that has all but disappeared from the big screen over the last 25 years. Bread and circuses are we deserve, I suppose.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I don’t completely agree, Sam. There is still wonderful writing being done for film. Most of it’s on television, but there are some very find films out there. 42, Dallas Buyers Club, Kill Your Darlings, to name a few from this year.

      In publishing we’d call what’s happened with Jackson as being “too big to edit”. All his worst tendencies were on display in these movies.

  • We saw The Desolation of Smaug with a friend on Christmas day. It seemed a little better than the first film of the trilogy; it had somewhat less dumb humor and much less grossness. But really, your amusement park comparison nails it. The whole conflict with Smaug in Erebor was so totally the Disney version of the fight! And I wish that Peter Jackson would think of some other peril to face his characters with than falling down.

    The one scene in the first film that I thought was really brilliantly done was Bilbo’s conversation with Gollum under the Misty Mountains. And this film had a perfect chance at equal brilliance, in Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug. But Jackson just didn’t carry it off.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      The one moment that rang true in the first film was the confrontation between Bilbo and Gollum, the rest is just a roller coaster and it wasn’t very interesting. My friend Eric had a different way of diagnosing the problem. He thinks the films have no idea who is the protagonist. It has certainly stopped being Bilbo. I’m hoping Eric will repost his thoughts here, they were very insightful.

  • Eric Senabre says:

    The #1 problem, I think, is the complete lack of focus on the main character. The Hobbit is supposed to be a coming-of-age story, but this aspect is completely diluted in the movie. Is Bilbo the main character ? Or is it Thorin ? Gandalf ? Bard ? Legolas ? At some point, we don’t know, and Tolkien can’t be blamed for that. For example, if I do remember, Bard’s intervention comes very late in the novel. I understand why the screenwriters wanted to develop the character a little bit : in the novel, he’s a “deus ex machina”. He happens to be there, to be a good archer, kills the dragon then bye-bye. Nevertheless, the movie gives him too much importance, as if Jackson wanted to have “another Aragorn”. Same thing for Gandalf : these added sequences are useless. He gives the other magician an appointment, and then tells hims to leave. Ok, was all this fuss worth it ? And what about Legolas : did we really need to have him back ? So poor Bilbo almost becomes a side-character. Or, at least, a character among the others. And that’s a shame.

    Aesthetically speaking, it’s mainly a matter of taste, I suppose. But it reminded me of these backlit/blinking “paintings” they hang in the chinese restaurants (maybe your chinese restaurants are more classy than ours ;) ). The problem being that Jackson aesthetic interpretation of Tolkien’s world is not straightforward ; it seems he adapted Alan Lee rather than Tolkien. The result is just too flashy (like when Bilbo climbs on the top of the canopy, and we have this awful photoshop-like orange tint).

    And what about these silly lines, like “you have such a good sight, Hobbit !”. Come on : he just spotted a two-kilometers high statue curved onto a mountain ! I first thought it was ironical, but it obviously was not.
    Still, I liked the dragon, but again, this sequence was far too long and as much as I love Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice, it was once again too cliché-ed. When he said “I am… fire !” I thought : “Oh no… he’s not gonna say ‘I am.. death’, is he ?”. Of course he did…

    I will go and see the last one, of course. But just because somehow, I can’t really avoid it. But I know it’s gonna as boring as this one. Why wouldn’t it be ? I don’t understand how such an exciting material could turn on to be so dull and hollow.

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