Sunday, December 15, 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Poor Bilbo. Here the dwarves think he is a burglar, while he has never considered himself more than a respectable Baggins of Bag End.  This misunderstanding has gotten him in serious trouble already. For instance, he has already been nearly eaten by trolls, not to mention that encounter with that nasty little creature in the goblin tunnels. Luckily, he has come through all these scrapes in one piece, and we hear him say at the end of An Unexpected Journey: “I do believe the worst is behind us.”

He is wrong. You see, the thirteen dwarves he travels with seem to blunder into trouble quicker than you can pull their beards. They have escaped trolls, stone giants, and goblins, true, but ahead lies giant spiders, troublesome elves, and even more troublesome men. What’s worse, they are still hunted by a pack of orcs who won’t be satisfied till they see Thorin Oakenshield’s head lifted from his shoulders.  
Thorin and comapny do have a few allies on their side, however. The wizard Gandalf has always been a constant support, though he does have a tendency to wander off right when the dwarves need him most. Beorn, a fierce man who rambles around as a bear at night, also helps the dwarves, for though he does not particularly care for dwarves, he cares even less for the orcs that pursue them. This also seems to be the attitude of a couple of elves, Legolas and Tauriel by name. Though they do not care for dwarves either (yep, Legolas especially) and even imprison them in their elven king Thranduil’s fortress, they do help to defend Thorin and company multiple times from hordes of orcs.

Then there is the mysterious man named Bard. He is a grim character, to be sure, but he too is willing to help the dwarves (for a considerable sum of money). We see courage in this man, along with a healthy dose of wisdom and a sharp wit. In Bard we may just have the makings of a hero. But I digress.
Even with all this help, the dwarves’ chances to reach their destination still seem pretty slim. Thorin Oakenshield and company began their epic journey to reclaim a homeland and slay a dragon, but now it seems they will be lucky enough to even reach their homeland, the Lonely Mountain, let alone retake it. And what of the dragon? Say they do manage to get through everything listed above and reach the mountain. Maybe they do manage to escape the webs of their arachnid enemies; maybe they do find a way out of king Thranduil’s dungeons; and maybe they do get past the devious Master of Lake Town (who doesn’t take kindly to strangers) with Bard’s help. Even after all this, there is still one question to be answered: Just how do you go about slaying a dragon?

It would seem that our hobbit is in for far more than he bargained for.

Family Friendliness: 4 out of 10 (as the  PG-13 rating suggests)
Language/Dialog: slight concern

We hear Thorin boast about some crude thing or another he said to the elven king Thranduil. Luckily, the boast is partially spoken in the voice of the dwarves and we do not get a translation, which leaves us with only a vague sense that it was indeed something crude.
Of more concern is when Kili asks the female elf Tauriel, “Aren’t you going to search me? I could have anything down my trousers.” To which Tauriel replies, “Or nothing.”

Violence: Big concern
Simply put, there is too much violence to detail, so I will just write in general terms. The violence comes almost solely at the expense of orcs, but that still doesn’t mean it can’t be disturbing. Orcs lose their heads at a dime-a-dozen rate, and if they do manage to keep their heads on their shoulders, they merely are good targets for the arrows of elves. And elves are good shots. Many an arrow finds a home in orc heads or bodies, sometimes passing all the way through. Orcs are slashed, smashed, and shot basically from the get go to the end of The Desolation of Smaug (TDOS). However, we are not bathed in too much orc blood, as for some reason orcs don’t seem to bleed as much as humans when they get slashed open (or maybe its just that the camera finds opportune times to switch scenes). The conflicts are mainly bloodless.

We also see a handful of giant spiders slashed and smashed. These spiders often meet pretty nasty deaths. For instance, one gets all its legs pulled off by the dwarves. We do see quite a bit of spider goo when these arachnids are killed, but the scenes are more gross (like when you squash a spider in this world) then disturbing.
Some more tidbits include a main character getting shot in the leg with an arrow, and later the arrow being painfully broken off. We see the wound this arrow caused a couple of times, along with a bunch of decaying dwarven carcasses in one scene. We see Thranduil’s face gruesomely degenerate for a brief second. Gandalf is thrown around quite a bit in one sequence of scenes. Orcs enter a house and try to kill several adolescent children and a couple of our un-armed main characters. (spoiler alert) There are plenty of scenes where our main characters are nearly fried by dragon fire.

The one scene that stands out above them all is when the elven king Thranduil cuts off an orc’s head suddenly and unexpectedly. We see the decapitated corpse convulsing on the ground till the elven king steps on it to stop it.
Sexual Content: Slight concern

What does Hollywood do when there is no romance to be had in a book they are adapting to film? Quite simply, they create a fiery female character and then put her in the middle of the interests of both an elf and a dwarf!
Thankfully, Hollywood keeps their perverted sense of romance mostly behind bars here. If it wasn’t for the crude jab I have detailed between Kili and Tauriel in the language section, this film would be free of anything of sexual concern. If it wasn’t for that one jab, in fact, I might have been okay with the producers adding this extra element to the movie.

Spiritual content: a concern
Yep, I had to add this section, unfortunately. Peter Jackson (the director of TDOS) couldn’t help but give his take on what Gandalf could be doing when he left the dwarves because of “pressing matters” in the book. Unfortunately, Jackson’s interpretation includes a wizardly battle between Gandalf and a dark force known as the Necromancer. Gandalf chants in an unintelligible language and slams his staff into the ground to try and break a “spell of concealment” that hides his enemies. A pack of orcs are revealed and he uses an unseen force to hold them back and then later to crumble a stone tower.  In his face-off with the Necromancer, Gandalf uses a bubble of light to fight back the dark force trying to get at him.

In a moment that made my jaw drop, we see Azog, a leader of orcs, say (translated in subtitles) “I am Legion.” The camera then pans out to reveal a wide array of orcs surrounding Azog. It is doubtful that this is a direct demonic reference to Mark chapter 5, but it was still a little unsettling that the producers chose that wording. We hear the Necromancer say (loosely quoting), “No light can defeat my darkness.”

Yeah, about that . . . I know one Light (capital L) that can defeat any darkness.

Other negatives
Nothing else of note.


“You will either love or hate Peter Jackson for what he does in The Desolation of Smaug.” That is what one reviewer had to say for the movie.

I have to disagree.

You see, I am torn over this film. The action scenes are epic and intense, and TDOS moves along much better than the first film in The Hobbit trilogy. However, we see a vast departure from the original book (one of my favorite novels) in this film. Peter Jackson kept a few of the iconic scenes from the book, but then reconstructed just about everything else to fit in a more action-packed sequence. This reconstructing was especially noticeable to me in how quickly the dwarves move through Mirkwood. It takes them all of forty-five minutes into the movie (a relatively short time in a two and a half hour film) before they are through the decaying forest of darkness and giant spiders.

So what on Middle Earth does Jackson fill in the remaining time with? After all, there is still one more movie that needs to be made in a trilogy of long movies of a pretty small book. Most parts of The Hobbit movies are stretched and inflated to make a small book into what will be about eight hours of film total. That Mirkwood would be all but sped through seemed uncharacteristic and made me wonder how Jackson was going to come up with enough content to give TDOS such a long run time. I got my answer. Smaug gets much more screen time in this movie than he should have if Jackson had stayed true to the book. I have a hard time finding fault with the added screen time for this magnificent (if terrifying) dragon, though. Smaug is awesome.
Of course, there are other “fillers” as well. As I mentioned above, the producers added the female elven character Tauriel completely out of the blue (she is not a Tolkien character) and brought Legolas back from LOTR for the sole purpose of killin’ boatloads of orcs  . . . and also for having feelings for this newly-created Tauriel.  But Legolas is not the only one to have interest in this appropriately red-headed female elf, for Kili the dwarf is clearly smitten with Tauriel from the moment he looks up at her. Yep, a romantic sub-plot develops between these three, but it is hard to find fault even with this rather surprising development. It might be a ploy to reach out to the female audience, but it adds (almost) nothing negative to the film.

There is also that scene I have detailed in the “spiritual content” section above where we see Gandalf using his wizardry for more than just creating fireworks. This scene was perhaps unnecessary, or at the very least a little darker than it needed to be. The worst plot twist in my mind, though, was that not all the dwarves even went up the Lonely Mountain as they did in the book! Again, Peter Jackson took the liberty to deviate from The Hobbit quite a bit.
There were some positive things about Jackson’s tinkering with the story, though. For instance, I absolutely applaud him for making Bard more of a central character. Bard pops up out of nowhere in the book, but in The Desolation of Smaug we actually get some character development. The characters of Thranduil and the Master of Lake Town were also very well-developed, even better than in the book.

I also remember that when I read The Hobbit for the first time, I was really disappointed that the dwarves were never given a shot to try and take out the dragon Smaug. I imagined that Tolkien would have Bilbo and the dwarves figure out some ingenious scheme to lure the fearsome dragon out of its lair and attempt to kill it. Well, in the movie version we do see the dwarves attempt just such an ingenious idea!

Tolkien purists will appreciate the exchange between Smaug and Bilbo, as that scene at least follows the book fairly closely. Just seeing Smaug in all his towering glory on the big screen is quite a treat. The producers did a great job of creating a fearsome dragon. Poor Bilbo is nearly overwhelmed at his enormity--along with almost everybody else in the theater.

My family (most of them) is going to go see this movie with our grandpa when he comes up for Christmas. Does The Desolation of Smaug capture my attention enough to tag along and see the film again? Yep. 

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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