I went to go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last Thursday, largely because a bunch of my friends were going and tickets were cheap–as in, $10. Anyway, I came away from the movie the most annoyed that I’ve ever been with one of Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth movies after a first viewing. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Also, be forewarned, here there be spoilers. Lots of them.
First, the good. As a movie, Desolation of Smaug is pretty good. The acting’s good, the writing within the main plots–that is, Erebor and Dol Guldur–is good, and the characterization is pretty good as well. Also, the fight sequences are pretty spectacular, if slightly over the top at times.
Next, the bad. The subplots are cliched and feel shoehorned in, the primary added character–Tauriel: Warrior Elfess–is a walking, talking cliche, and…
But that’s getting into the nature of Desolation of Smaug as an adaptation, rather than as a movie.
And that is where it falls short.
As an adaptation, it lies somewhere between LOTR: the Two Towers and Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian on the awfulness list.
As to why, let’s take its from the top, shall we?
1. Beorn. I understand that there wasn’t run-time for this in the movie (more on that in a moment) but I liked the book’s exuberant Beorn, as opposed to ex-slave Beorn. There’s a certain magic to the former that is lacking with the latter, although the latter is very in keeping with the tone of Desolation, but more on that in a moment. This is, however, a minor quibble compared to…
2. Tauriel. This is the long one. To put it bluntly, she doesn’t fit, and she warps the entire plot around her the moment she is introduced. I know some people in the LOTR fanfiction community, and they call characters like her and their authors all kinds of names. Why doesn’t she fit, you ask? Well, start with the fact that there is precisely one named Elf in The Hobbit who actually shows up on screen: Thranduil. Putting Legolas in is bad enough, but putting in an entirely new character for no other reason than to throw a female into the story–well, this might be forgivable (much like putting in Legolas) except for the fact that she warps the characters and the plot. Here’s how: the character warping starts with Kili developing a thing for her after the spider incident, and her reciprocating.
Why is this weird? Because Elves and Dwarves hate each other’s guts–especially this group of Dwarves toward Elves. The whole Elf/Dwarf thing goes all the way back to the First Age of Middle-Earth in an incident with a really fancy necklace, while this particular bit of quarrel goes back to the coming of Smaug to Erebor, with Thranduil blaming the Dwarves for amassing a hoard of wealth that attracted the dragon, while the Dwarves blame Thranduil for not coming to help. The likelihood of the nephew of the grandson of the King of Erebor at that time falling for the Captain of the Guard of the king who failed to help them is–nil.
And then the plot. First, there’s the entirely unnecessary battle of the barrels, as Elves hunting Dwarves end up fighting Orcs with them all the way down the river until they reach the Elvish border. During this time, Kili gets hit with a poisoned arrow. So, when Tauriel learns of this, she abandons her duties and goes after the Dwarves, at which point Legolas follows her, because, it is implied, he has a thing for her too. Love triangle. Yay? Anyway, Legolas catches up with her and we get an opportunity for her to make the standard boilerplate speech about it being their war too, blahblahblah–words that no Elf is likely to say about a Dwarf-quest, ever.
Oh, meanwhile, because of this nonsense (and, let’s be real here, the only reason Kili has this problem is so Tauriel can actually do something), the Dwarves have split the party–Fili, Kili, Oin, and Bofur have stayed in Laketown, while the rest of the party goes to the Lonely Mountain. This is, of course, all so Tauriel and Legolas can swoop in and kill a bunch of Orcs who’ve come to kill the Dwarves, and then Tauriel can do the weird Elvish glowy-thing and chanting and heal Kili’s wound with athelas. This last bit, by the way, occurs while Legolas is hunting Orcs alone.
See what I mean?
3. The Laketown subplot. While in Laketown, we’re introduced to another conflict–namely, Bard the Bowman versus the Master of Laketown. In the book, the Master is a weak but amiable man with a certain weakness for flattery, while Bard is well-respected citizen of the town and a high-ranking member of the city guard. In the movie, the Master is a petty tyrant with a lickspittle toady and network of informants who interferes with everything in the town, while Bard is easily brought low by reminders of his ancestor’s failure to kill the dragon. This is also, by the way, a spot to further go after Thorin, who basically cuts down Bard in front of everyone.
4. Gandalf goes to Dol Gulder and gets in over his head. What, seriously? Oh, hi, I’m Gandalf the Grey, I’m going to go by myself to take on an entity that I’m pretty sure is actually Sauron. Why? ‘Cause I feel like it, and Peter Jackson needs another sequel hook.
Now, there is a larger point to all this, but I’m already hitting two pages here.
So, ’til next time,
Lowell Van Ness
EDIT: I was mistaken: Galion is the only named Elf in the book. My apologies.