Tuesday 17 December 2013

Book to Film: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Contains spoilers

This time last year, I was more excited about the first Hobbit film than I was about Christmas itself, and despite mixed reactions to the film, I was pretty satisfied. This satisfaction did not prevent me from being quite nervous about the second film of three based on a short book. Promotional material and internet rumours got me worried that Peter Jackson and his team might be getting carried away with their own storytelling, neglecting the book that they were adapting. Were my fears justified? Perhaps a little. The Desolation of Smaug is certainly the weakest installment of the series so far, and the bad bits were every bit as bad as I had feared. But these were fewer than they could have been, and did not affect my enjoyment of the film as a whole.

When you are adapting six chapters of a book into a film of nearly three hours, you'd expect each chapter to be fully fleshed out, but the scenes at Beorn's house are rushed through at top speed, which I found to be an incomprehensible decision. The most memorable part of this chapter was completely cut, which disappointed me, as was the fact that Beorn was not, nor did he resemble, BRIAN BLESSED.  I also thought, even taking into account that he is a huge man in the company of dwarves, the proportions were all wrong, and they looked strange and unreal on screen together. Still, the actor owned the part for the short time he was on the screen.

The story really got going in Mirkwood, the eerie forest that would gladly lead the company to their doom. This is where The Hobbit benefits from having been made after The Lord of the Rings: If one Shelob is horrid, then many are worse. I had wondered how the film would get around the problem of speaking animals, which we have not yet encountered on the screen. This was neatly shown by being a result of Bilbo's enhanced ring-senses. Martin Freeman is superb in this scene, and you really feel his horror when he realises what his desire for the ring can drive him to: a frenzy of spider-slaughter that may have saved their lives, but which was powered by the One Ring and not his own mind.

I missed the Elves' enchanted feast: in the film the enchantment of Mirkwood was stated to be because of the power of the "Necromancer." As predicted, the Elves' warrior aspect was played up, over their otherworldliness, though Elvenking Thranduil was deliciously, reassuringly creepy. I would have enjoyed seeing more of the Elvish feasting in the film. In a way, Noelle Stevenson's "Randy Thrandy: Racist Party Dad" is closer to how I picture the Elves of the book. The antagonistic Legolas was amusing to watch; a younger, hotter-headed Elf-prince than the one we've come to know.
Legolas: "What's this? Some goblin mutant?" Gloin: That's my son, Gimli.
Fans of Legolas' stunts from Lord of the Rings should be pleased with this film; they are as awe-inspiring and sometimes hilarious as ever.

And then there's Tauriel: a hot-headed young Elf-captain who kicks all kinds of buttock. If only that was all. My friends and readers probably know what I'm about to say, and I'd rather not even acknowledge this part of the film, but I feel I must.Frankly, I would prefer to have no female characters in the film at all than a two-dimensional one, and certainly I could do without one whose main role in the story is for the purposes of romance where no romance should be-o. I enjoyed the first scene between Tauriel and Kili, but it was better implied than overindulged, and it came across as overly sentimental, predictable and sloppily written. But my objection to the inter-species romance goes beyond "Ew, gross" or "It's not in the book and therefore did not happen." I felt that it made Arwen and Aragorn's romance in Lord of the Rings less remarkable and rare, as well as diminishing the power of Legolas and Gimli's friendship sixty years later. And that's all I shall say on the matter. Just no.

The scenes at Laketown were rounded out; I feel in the book of The Hobbit you don't get a lot of time to look around the settings or meet the characters. We get to know a bit more about the character of Bard who will prove important in the future, and also to see the poverty of the town in comparison to the master's lavish living. Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown was wonderfully disgusting, with a greasy ginger wig and moustache, and his servant/spy could probably have been related to Grima Wormtongue: slimy, sneaky, despicable. Yes, there was an additional subplot added in here, but it was along the lines of the Elves at Helm's Deep or Aragorn floating down the river and being kissed back to life by his horse, unnecessary but inoffensive. Although, come to think of it, that entire subplot was there only to advance the aforementioned dreadful romance. Hmph.

As before, the best parts of this film are those that come straight out of the book, and after the Elvish and Laketown diversions, the film got back on track when Bilbo went inside the mountain and came face to face with the dragon Smaug. The slow reveal of the dragon was magnificent. The gold moves over here to reveal a dragon's eye and head... then, as Bilbo tries to hide from Smaug, the gold moves over there and you, with Bilbo, come to realise just how huge this beast is. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug is gloriously hammy, but terrifying as well. You know that he could swallow any of the heroes with a single gulp, and his snout comes way, way too close for comfort.The telltale orange glow through his belly before each exhaled inferno gives his victim a few seconds to feel terror with the knowledge of inescapable death. I was very impressed by this addition to the dragon mythology. As with the last film, the most powerful and impressive scenes were those acted by Martin Freeman and an actor in a motion-capture suit.

I am still unconvinced that The Hobbit really needed to be made into three extra-long films. Though I didn't really lose concentration, a larger proportion of this film than others were, well, padding. Last time I called it character development, extrapolation, filling in the details, but this time I don't think any of those words are as accurate as padding. The film is not two and a half hours of story, but is filled out to match the others in length by extended battle scenes, stunt sequences and unnecessary subplots. There was one long sequence towards the end when I though to myself, "I have absolutely no idea what they are doing, but let's just go with it." Turns out they were trying to give Smaug a golden crown a la Viserys Targaryen; a very very stupid decision of the Dwarves. If they'd read A Game of Thrones properly, they'd know that "fire cannot kill a dragon." But it can make him very, very angry. And an angry dragon is not a good thing to have around.


  1. A post by the same Noelle who created the immortal Randy Thrandy challenged me to think about my reaction to Tauriel, and why I am blaming her for the romance story that I hated. After all, it takes 2 to tango, and Kili as pretty, wounded and lovesick Dwarf is every bit as much a fabrication from the book as one of the Elves having an identity. The verdict = Tauriel is cool, Kili is cool, but there is no place for this romance in my opinion.

  2. haha, i can't believe i've never seen that thranduil comic before. also, loved the game of thrones reference, it's perfect.


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