Desolation, n. a state of complete emptiness or destruction.
Doesn’t it annoy you when people pick a word, maybe not even a particularly fitting word, to define an entire subject and then begin a discussion with a dictionarial definition of that word? Doesn’t it seem pedantic? Doesn’t it seem… almost sm[a]ug?
It’s been a while since I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And it’s been even longer since I read the book. So I have no right to be smaug, or even just plain smug, about anything to do with this movie, and I’m pretty sure some fans are going to take umbrage with my subject matter. In my defence, I mentioned last time how difficult it was to write reviews for epic-length movies, and I still stand by that statement. There’s just so much action, so many characters, and so much plot development to keep track of that it all boggles the mind a bit. But let’s try to dive into that, shall we?
Look at Bilbo. Just look at that little guy. So bright-eyed and hopeful as he left the Shire forty minutes into An Unexpected Journey. All that’s gone, though, because now he’s got the Ring. He’s lying to Gandalf, keeping it a secret, and generally keeping something fairly important from the rest of the party—something that could’ve been helpful, oh, I don’t know, at literally every part of the movie where they end up in trouble.
Yes, he rescues them from the spiders. Yes, he then rescues them from the Mirkwood prison, which is a great comedic and character developmental opportunity. But the dwarves have no way of knowing that Bilbo’s going to save them, and if I were them, I’d get pretty pissed off if the burglar in our group—the single most important person apart from Thorin Oakenshield—kept disappearing when we needed him and only showed up in the nick of time. Although even that would be pretty damn emasculating, if I were a dude.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Bilbo in this. I thought he was adorable in the first movie, but he’s really getting into his stride in Desolation of Smaug. He broke the company out of Mirkwood (as previously mentioned), figured out the thing with the last light on Durin’s Day, and sweet-talked a motherf*cking dragon. Bilbo from the Shire never would’ve been able to do any of that. Is it the presence of the Ring? Maybe. Or maybe he was telling the truth when he told Gandalf that, while in the goblin caves, he found his courage.
Benedict Cumberbatch lends his best feature to the film: his smolderingly deep voice. The second Smaug opened his mouth, my jaw dropped. There were effects to make it a bit more reverb-y and powerful, but the sound people didn’t mess with it so much that I couldn’t hear the real voice. These days, almost all the effects in movies depend heavily on CGI. Smaug is no exception. I mean, to the best of my knowledge, we don’t have any live dragons running around (and if we did, it’d be a huge breach of the Statute of Secrecy to have them in a major motion picture). But Cumberbatch’s voice brought this character, which could have been a colossal failure given how awful some dragons have looked in the past, to life.
One of my big complaints about dragons, monsters, and all manner of mythical beasties is that they’re never big enough. I want them to be big beyond all possible reason, so big that it would take several minutes for their house-sized hearts to pump blood through their bodies. Smaug fulfilled this want. And despite how big he was, he was absolutely silent. He didn’t thunder around, or at least he didn’t feel the need to. At one point the dwarves look up, and boom, Smaug is standing right above them and prowling around the mines. Have you ever seen a dragon prowl?
He and Bilbo have some fantastic chemistry as well. There’s a giant chunk of the movie that’s just the two of them talking, but I didn’t get bored at all. In fact, the tension and the excitement just kept ratcheting up as the scene went on. I already knew that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have worked well together in the past, but it’s very cool seeing them this way and seeing the contrast between their characters.
Overall, I thought Smaug was just an excellent character with real desires, motivations, and fears. He balances a feral, ravaging nature with more human characteristics like pride and greed. There’s really no other way to say it: Smaug is just what every dragon should be.
There are other characters, however, who haven’t lived up to people’s expectations at all. Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel has faced a lot of criticism from those who see her as a pandering love interest in a relationship that’s (SPOILER) going to end in heartbreak. Others see her as a pointless and unnecessary addition to a franchise that already had plenty going for it, because really, who needs another lady when we had a whole three of them in the Lord of the Rings trilogy?
Well, guess what. You’re not going to find any of that criticism here. Because I loved Tauriel and I thought she was a brilliant addition. When Tolkien first wrote The Hobbit, it was a different time. With the exception of Queen Elizabeth (and even she acted through the prime minister, to the best of my knowledge), women didn’t play a large part in the affairs of the world. So it stands to reason that this would be as foreign a concept to Tolkien as another colour on the light spectrum: something he just isn’t equipped to visualize.
Tauriel is a very natural addition to the story. She’s not one of those ethereal elf-women in the floaty dresses who talk in that weird breathy way and either A) scare the crap out of Frodo (Galadriel) or B) get all up in Aragorn’s business with naughty dreams (Arwen). She’s more along the lines of Eowyn from The Two Towers and Return of the King, who had a sword and knew how to use it. Even though Eowyn fell hard for Aragorn, she didn’t let that define her. Instead she’s defined by “I am no man” and stabbing the Witch King of Angmar in the face like a baller.
So what’s Tauriel defined by? If you ask the purists, they’ll say she’s defined by her relationship with the dwarf Kili, which is a bond between two young people who are fascinated by each other’s lives and cultures. Yes, they love each other, or at least Kili loves her. And yes, she saves him on more than one occasion, which has prompted some comparisons of Kili as a damsel in distress. But that’s not her defining feature for me.
See, she’s not just watching over Kili (yes, I admit that’s a thing that she’s doing). She’s watching over the rest of the world, too, because unlike the rest of the elves—and many other species, too—she recognizes that there’s a world outside her home, threatened by an ancient and terrible evil. And she recognizes that if they are able, they have a responsibility to help. And that’s not a viewpoint you often see, whether from a female character or otherwise.
I’m not sure what people think of Bard, but this isn’t about their opinions. I actually thought he was Orlando Bloom at first, because he looks so much like Will Turner, until I realized that Orlando Bloom was already in this.
I don’t remember this character from the book, so either I have a worse memory than I thought or he’s a new addition. Either way, I think he’s great. He balances a life of crime and subversive activities with fatherhood, and his kids seem to think he’s just the greatest man in the world.
The king, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to think very highly of him at all. Neither does the looker with the unibrow. Obviously this is meant to endear us to Bard right away, along with the fact that he’s an attractive smuggler/father, which gives us ladies all the excitement and all the commitment at the same time. However, I don’t really see the point of the conflict between Bard (who’s outcast but honest) and the local government (who’s unpopular, corrupt, and all-seeing). It’s obviously going to end with Bard ousting the king and heading up a democracy, but I guess I enjoy watching him so much that I don’t really mind the transparent storyline.
As much as I liked a lot of things in this movie, there were several that didn’t work for me. For one thing, there was even more walking than in all the other movies combined. I think Peter Jackson is veering off into fanboy territory, going, “Hey, guys, look at Middle Earth! Look at it. LOOK AT IIIITTTTT.” Yes, I get it, you’re very proud of this world that you and Tolkien created. But there are only so many shots of sweeping landscapes that I can take before I start bashing my head against the back of my seat and hope to God I pass out long enough to skip this whole sequence.
Then there’s Gandalf. Seriously, why the f*ck did he feel it was necessary to drop everything and run out to the crypts and then the castle ruins? The group is about to enter Mirkwood, and all of a sudden he’s like, “Nope, wait, changed my mind, I’ve got this thing to do. You’ve got this, right? Just don’t breathe too much or you’ll go crazy and be lost forever. Kthxbai.” I’m under the impression that this storyline was another addition by Jackson in order to better illustrate the whole “Sauron is back” thing, because Gandalf’s actions and motivations made no sense.
Speaking of “Sauron is back,” Azog the Defiler isn’t the big bad anymore. He’s taken a major backseat to the floating shadow-form of the Necromancer. While he had all this initiative in the first movie and was all about bringing down the pain on the dwarves, he literally has them surrounded in a hut when he’s told to return to his master. And he does. He just leaves them there. As though he wasn’t just trying to kill them not one movie earlier. I’ve lost any fear I once had for Azog, because he’s basically a trained Doberman that won’t do anything without his master’s say-so. He’s not the cruel, no-holds-barred villain he was in An Unexpected Journey anymore, and so I have no interest.
The hut was owned by the shapeshifter Beorn, and I fail to see the point of him. He basically exists so Peter Jackson could be like, “Hey, there are giant people in Middle Earth and also they can turn into bears. HOW COOL IS THAT, YOU GUYS.” Seriously, the only other reason Beorn is there is to give the dwarves ponies. And for all he professes to hate dwarves—hell, Gandalf even said that when they first broke into his house like all good houseguests do—he hands over a dozen ponies without so much as a “try not to lose them.”
Finally, there’s the super convoluted plot to trap Smaug at the end. I didn’t understand what was happening or why, and even at the end of that sequence when Smaug was staring face-to-face with a giant golden dwarf like it was Chris Hemsworth’s shirtless chest, I didn’t understand how we got to that point. There were bellows. There was a channel that Thorin surfed. They lured Smaug into the Great Hall area for some reason. And then there was a giant golden dwarf statue and they tried to drown Smaug, even though there was patently not enough gold to drown a goddamn dragon. So of course it was a colossal failure.
But in spite of that final shortcoming, it led to the greatest moment in the entire film, which just happens to be the last. Smaug emerged from the molten gold pissed off beyond belief, and he takes off for the nearby Laketown to wreak some desolation on it once again. And Bilbo can do nothing but watch in horror as the dragon bears down on an unsuspecting city, asking himself the question he knows the answer to only too well: “What have we done?”
Desolation, n. a state of complete emptiness or destruction. This doesn’t just refer to the chaos Smaug wrought upon Laketown years before. To me, it refers to the feeling in Bilbo’s stomach at that very moment, the knowledge that he’s been instrumental in the horror that’s about to fall on so many people. For the first time, his actions, no matter how well they were meant, have real ramifications for people he actually cares about. So I’ll be very interested in how all that plays out when I see There and Back Again in a year, and oh God how am I going to wait that long.
Final Grade: A
- I discovered this super article that explains the need for story changes, if you feel like having a look.
- They never explained how the group got down from that super high place where the eagles dropped them at the end of An Unexpected Journey. How did they get down from that super high place where the eagles dropped them at the end of An Unexpected Journey.
- Yes, I’m aware that most of my links above have to do with Benedict Cumberbatch, because I’ll take any excuse to look up videos of Benedict saying things.
- Tauriel called Legolas mellon and I knew what that meant! I must be fluent in Elvish now.
- I love that, even though Tauriel is flattered by Legolas’s feelings for her, she’s still not into him. And I love that she’s a common sylvan elf and not another one of those ladies in dresses. Damn, I just love that lady.
- LEE PACE AS THRANDUIL.
- The dwarves crawling up the toilet shaft was supposed to be super gross, but given the fact that it all dumps right into the canals, I’d think only their hands and knees would get a bit messy from the climb. It’s not as though the kids were actively sh*tting while the dwarves were climbing, right?
- How in the hell did Radagast know to meet Gandalf in those crypts? It’s not exactly a tourist destination. I mean, I’d have a better chance of meeting all five members of One Direction AND Alan Tudyk on the teacup ride at Disneyland than Gandalf does of meeting Radagast completely by chance in a mountain crypt. And I’ve never even been to Disneyland, so I have no idea where the teacup ride even is. THAT’S how unlikely it is.
- What the actual f*ck was with that recursive shadow-Sauron thing near the end, when Gandalf is being held prisoner? Is he on mushrooms? That Radagast is a bad influence.
- Thorin had a moment when he got weird. Like, Boromir-and-the-Ring weird. That kinda ties in with the Arkenstone, which seems to be a stand-in for the Ring in this series as an object that everyone wants. Only thing is… we already have a ring. That’s kind of the point. And we’ve done this before. So we don’t need it again. That is all.