The Hobbit: The Desolation of Six Chapters

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Six Chapters
            Christmas Eve day we saw a 10:00am showing of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”. The theater was full but not packed – with plenty of spare seats for our coats and colas – and but for a dweeb constantly texting in the row in front of us, it was a pleasant experience.
            Don’t worry; he finally stopped after I someone hit the top of his head with a kernel of popcorn.
            I liked the movie. I didn’t like it as much as the first Hobbit movie – “An Unexpected Journey” – for two reasons: the darker tone made it less likeable (although not necessarily less enjoyable) and the cliffhanger ending.
            The latter first: This would be a no-spoiler review, but there is nothing to spoil. It ended abruptly with no resolution. Some of the audience gasped and groaned. Really, folks? In this day and age in our State of Moviedom you are still surprised when the second film of a trilogy ends with a cliffhanger? The second “Matrix” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” ended the same way: lots of characters and plot points with nothing resolved. Bad move, I think. Although there may well be people who will see the third movie without first seeing the first two, they will be lost. Lost. “They started the movie with the final reel,” we would have said in the pre-digital age.
            And in a sense the makers of the third film will have…
            It is a darker movie than its predecessor. While this is not a bad thing, it does take away the fun that underlay the first movie. In “…Unexpected Journey” we got to return to Middle Earth and meet friends we thought we never would again – Bilbo, Gandalf, even Elrond. Plus we were introduced to more dwarves – eating, drinking, singing, belching and full of life. They were on a quest to reclaim their kingdom and we went along happily.
            But in “…Desolation…” the reality of the likelihood of succeeding sank in. Previously Thorin told Bilbo (and us) about the Dwarf race being scattered throughout middle earth and a return to their former glory as a united peoples by getting revenge against the forces that scattered them. This theme was echoed by Malekith in “Thor: The Dark World” to give him a bit of dimension unsuccessfully. He was going to destroy the universe to avenge his people? I’m not buying it. I’ll buy Thorin (since the names of the dwarves were taken from Germanic and Norse myths by Tolkien, the coincidence in Thor and Thorin’s names is canny) wanting to avenge his people. They were greedy, yes. Did they deserve what they got? Maybe. Are we rooting for them to get their kingdom back? By the third movie I’ll have spent about $300.00 bucks in tickets, popcorn, gas, after-movie dining and shopping. What do youthink? 😉
            Aside, but not a spoiler: Tolkien mentioned in his notes and other references that Thror, King Under the Mountain (Thorin’s grandfather) owned one of the seven Dwarven Rings of Power that gave him his uncontrollable lust for riches, which thus led to the downfall of the race. I have been waiting for a reference to that in the movie. If it is revealed in the third film, slated for July 2014 and tentatively called “There and Back Again”; you heard it here first.
            The movie is dark because the theme throughout is desperation.
            It begins with the dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf being pursued by the orcs from the end of the first film. While they trudged through the tundra I wished someone would have said, “You know, we could have asked the eagles to fly us to the Lonely Mountain …” “Still your tongue,” says Gandalf. It would have gotten a laugh from the audience and resolved a big plot hole from both Hobbit and Lord of the Rings…
            They get refuge from the orcs at the home of Beorn, a skin changer. We despair for him as he is the last of his race. We care for this new and powerful ally.
            Gandalf leaves the party as they enter Mirkwood. In the book we learn he leaves to fight the Necromancer; in the movie we see the first part of that battle. Gandalf and Radagast go to the prison/tomb of the Nazgul/Ring Wraiths. They have escaped – more likely they have been released. Gandalf goes alone to Don Guldur to battle the Necromancer, whose identity is revealed. It ends with Gandalf pinned to a wall surrounded by an orc army and the Necromancer.
            The dwarves are caught by the Mirkwood spiders in a scene very much like the novel, a unique thing so far in the movie adaptations. Then on to the elven kingdom in Mirkwood (I can’t find its name on the internet) where we meet its king, Thranduil. He is desperately protecting his kingdom from the approaching murk – the spiders are but a sign of greater evil to come and he eventually closes his kingdom to outsiders. Thorin’s quest is folly, he believes, and will bring only additional woe to the world.
            The dwarves escape in barrels as per the novel and after another run-in with the orcs make their way to Laketown with the help of Bard. The people of Laketown despair under an autocratic regime; the Master of Laketown (played with oily glee by the wonderful Stephen Fry) is desperately trying to keep control of Laketown despite rumors of … elections?! And Bard despairs over his life and family – he is on the Master’s naughty list and has the stigma of being descended from the man who should have destroyed Smaug but could not.
            The dwarves make it to the secret passageway into the Lonely Mountain and despair that they cannot find the opening before their time expires. You feel their sadness and desperation as they realize their quest has sunk along with the setting sun.
            Once Smaug is revealed, we despair with Bilbo – how will he make it out of Erebor alive? We cheer the dwarves’ battle with Smaug, but do we honestly think they even have a chance?
            Hence a movie much darker than its predecessor.
            The film covers six chapters and (in my edition) one hundred and eleven pages of the novel. The movie clocks in at one hundred and sixty minutes. That’s about as long as it would take to read one hundred and eleven pages. As with the previous movie, there are plentyof scenes not from the book.
            As I mentioned in my review of “…Unexpected Journey”, I don’t mind that. Two reasons: 1) anyone who goes to movies nowadays expecting a word-for-word re-enactment of a novel might as well stay home – why do people like that go to movies anyway? Stay home and yell at the clouds. It will have the same effect and results; and 2) I enjoy any excuse to stay in Middle Earth. Peter Jackson keeps the feel and flair of Tolkien’s invented world in his new material. Fear not – we are in good hands.
            The biggest news before the movie release was the introduction of Tauriel – the head of the Elven guard of Mirkwood. She and Legolas are … kind of … romantically linked.
            Much was also made of Legolas appearing in the film. Of all the characters from “Lord of the Rings” to appear in The Hobbit trilogy, he is the most canny – this is where he lived, his father is the king, he would have been alive during the events of the Hobbit, so why not? Orlando Bloom is obviously older and a little thicker in the face here, but that is a minor quibble. His character is also darker and more cynical – in keeping with his father and his kingdom’s mood. Perhaps his time with the Fellowship revived (or created) a confidence for and loyalty with other races.
            The orcs continue to torment Bilbo and the dwarves even in Laketown. In the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy we had the “Elf Break”. Anytime there were scenes with Arwen or other elves it was a fine time to go to the bathroom, get a refill of popcorn and drink, go smoke, make a phone call, and so on. In the Hobbit movies we have the “Chase Break” – anytime there is a chase scene one can find time to do the same. The chase scenes are overlong – those criticisms are correct.  Thrilling? Yes! Can be done in half the time? Yes. Oh, I miss some fine special effects and CGI acrobatics, but if ya gotta go ya gotta go! And I don’t miss much of the plot. “What happened?” I asked my wife when I got back from the potty during the orc battle/barrel scene. “This,” she gestured to the screen during the final moments of the orc battle/barrel scene.
            Much is made of Bard’s sneaking around Laketown with the dwarves. Spies were everywhere and the Master and his lackey showed themselves as self-preserving minor villains. Funny how the dark aspects of the movie truly reared their heads when humans entered the movie. Not so funny, really.
            And the battle with Smaug in Erebor was thrilling. The dwarves fought valiantly and Thorin’s idea as to how to defeat Smaug is obvious but done well. If you read the book, you know how successful they will be in defeating Smaug, but you will cheer them on and catch yourself hoping they succeed – which is the point.
            The dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug is overlong and overwrought. But it was that way in the book, too. You don’t think Peter Jackson would miss not filming the only unnecessary lengthy part of the novel, do you?
            Fili received a near-fatal wound and had to stay in Laketown with his brother and Tauriel. There is the beginning of a romance between them in the best Florence Nightingale syndrome.  Legolas, you can imagine, seethes at the budding affection between elf and dwarf.
            Speaking of Legolas, he is last seen following the orc band out of Laketown. How much of the third movie will be dedicated to his plot thread?
            There were a few bits that bugged me, honest critiques of an otherwise great film:
1)      the special effects are nearly perfect. Nearly. One of the biggest goofs in “The Two Towers” was Legolas jumping on a galloping horse. His arm extended longer than was natural and the CGI was obvious.  There were more than a few times this happened in “… Desolation…” especially during the fight and chase scenes. Also, at times the forced perspective looks forced. You can tell the actor playing Beorn is speaking to air while the actor playing Thorin sits further back on the stage pretending to listen – as though they are face to face. This allows the actor playing Thorin to look smaller – dwarf-size – than his probably-same-size fellow actor. Things like this remind me I am in a theater watching a movie rather than being immersed elsewhere…
2)      The obvious foreshadowing of what will happen in the third movie. When Smaug first attacked, the only things that could pierce his hide were Black Arrows (harpoons) shot from special harpoon guns. The rumor is that one Arrow managed to flick off a piece of Smaug’s armor. But the person in charge of shooting the arrows, Bard’s ancestor, failed to kill Smaug. The citizenry of Laketown still blame Bard. One harpoon gun remains and it is revealed Bard still keeps one last Black Arrow. Gee, do you think he will ever find the opportunity to use it? Against … Smaug perhaps? Will he be able to find that one sweet spot and redeem himself and his ancestor? If this were marching down Main Street would the answer be more obvious?
            Minor quibbles really, in the face of a masterful movie. Go see it and enjoy it!
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry

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One thought on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Six Chapters

  1. Pingback: A late review of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies | Currytakeaways

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