“The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug”… a review by Proudfoot.

“The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug” opened here in Australia on Boxing Day, 26th December, but saying that, I am one of the privileged few Australians who has seen the movie three times to date and I intend watching a few more times over the next month.

Reading blogs and reviews over the last week has made me aware that there are many Tolkien followers who dislike Peter Jackson’s retelling of the story immensely, while newer fans to the franchise love it with a passion.

This is a great adventure movie, but it is not “The Hobbit” book.

My first viewing of “Desolation of Smaug” was at the Roxy Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand, surrounded by more than a hundred diehard fans of Peter Jackson’s Movies. The majority of these fans were dressed in Tolkien themed costumes and their enthusiasm before and after the screening was intoxicating. Peter Jackson would certainly love them, maybe even Tolkien himself… Who really knows? To add to the fans’ enthusiasm, four of the actors who appear as dwarves in the movies were present in the audience.

After the movie, while those around me were singing the praises of what we had just seen, I was very guarded in my comments, because I was disappointed in some of the storylines depicted in the movie.

My initial disappointments included; too little time with Beorn, the splitting of the Company in Laketown, the whole thing about the Nazgul tombs, the defeat of Gandalf by Sauron and the entire final segment of the confrontation of the Dwarves with Smaug. I will enlarge on these later.

Also, a point people have overlooked, this movie shows little of New Zealand’s panorama which I believe was one of the outstanding hallmarks of the Lord of the Rings Movies.

After watching “An Unexpected Journey” last year, I soon came to realise that The Hobbit Movies would be somewhat removed from the my beloved book, which I first read in 1976 and as a teacher had read to many of my Primary School classes over a period of more than 30 years. 

But once again I was surprised at some of the changed story lines that are now even further removed from the book.

My second and third viewings of the movie have been far more rewarding experiences as I quickly adjusted to the fact that this is just based on “The Hobbit”. I embraced “the ride” and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The return to Bree at the beginning is a throwback to the “Fellowship of the Ring”, with familiar surroundings and is precluded by a very obvious PJ cameo. This back history scene is also reminiscent of Jackson’s prologues in the second and third Ring movies and it is a scene that develops the importance of the Arkenstone and The Burglar.

The scenes with Beorn in his house were excellent, but they are way too fleeting to get a real grasp of the character and his home. We the viewers needed to see more of him in his bear form to fully appreciate “The Look” created for his character. More development on the story of why the orcs avoided him, needed to be developed better. Maybe Beorn in bear form tearing up an orc or two?

Into Mirkwood, Gandalf leaves, and the Dwarves soon find themselves lost deep in the forest. Here we get to see scenes of Martin Freeman as Bilbo at his best. The exultation when he breaks through the canopy and sees the butterflies (one of my favourites), fighting the spiders, and his first wrestle with the influence of The Ring (Mine!). His facial expressions and mixed emotions are wonderful portrayals of the Bilbo we have come to love.

We now get to meet Legolas, in a scene reminiscent of Gimli’s first encounter with elves in Lothlorien, and Tauriel. You’ve got to love her… A wonderful addition to the cast of characters.

We now enter a part of the book where characters, the elves, are very sketchy and here the writers have brought alive the Elves of Thranduil’s realm, including Thranduil himself Also we get a great view of the Elven King’s halls..

Yes, the meeting of the elves is under very different circumstances to that in the book, but some changes you can live with.

It is here I would like to emphasise why I like the addition of Tauriel. Her view on the participation of the Mirkwood Elves in the affairs of Middle-earth is in complete opposition to Thranduil’s views. Legolas, meanwhile is in conflict with his loyalty to his father’s views and those of Tauriel’s.

Thranduil demands that the borders of his realm be closed to everyone, despite what is happening in the world outside. (To me this was a little nod to King Turgon and the Kingdom of Gondolin.)

 Whereas in opposition to Thranduil’s commands, Tauriel says “This is our fight,” we have a parallel to Treebeard’s “This is not our war” in the Lord of the Rings movies

The so called love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel, and Kili, I will reserve for the continuing story in the next movie. Because I believe she is flattered by all this attention, but not necessarily “in love” with either Legolas or Kili.

Her conversation with Kili about the “Feast of Starlight” is to me a good addition to the movie. It explains why the Elves in the book were having a feast tonight.

It is fair to say her reasons for leaving Mirkwood are ambiguous, because it is not clearly defined if it is for the young Kili, or the concern for the affairs of the outside world. Regardless, Legolas follows and joins her.

 

Bilbo’s releasing the Dwarves from the cells and the subsequent escape in barrels is so Bilbo. After the barrels are released and Bilbo is left behind we are privileged to see another brief magic Bilbo (Freeman) moment as he realises he hadn’t included his own means of escape in his plans.

The next scene of the Movie is nowhere reminiscent of the book. The” Dwarves escaping in barrels” is more like a Fun Park Ride. And what a ride! No dwarves shut into barrels here! As the dwarves, standing in their barrels cascade down a torrent of a river they are pursued by orcs. Enter Tauriel and Legolas to the rescue, who immediately do their best to distract the orcs from the water soaked dwarves.

Here we have a Legolas moment of extreme athletic proportions reminiscent of his shield skating, horse alighting, and Oliphaunt slaying feats in The Lord of the Rings movies.

 Even Bombur shows comedic devastating (to the orcs) skills. But, when he is finished slaying orcs, where did the new barrel for him to jump into appear from? Movie magic?

It is during this frenetic scene that Kili is wounded by an Orc arrow which is tipped by a Morgul blade. This single act sends some of the following scenes of the movie way off course from the book.

One thing that puzzled me in all of this sequence was, in the trailer for “Desolation of Smaug”we saw Azog jump onto the Elven wall just prior to the pursuit of the barrels, but in the movie he was somewhere else.

Bard, who has a major but fleeting role in the book, is a refreshing addition to the movie. His character is well developed as we get insights into his family and his overall position in the town of Laketown (Esgaroth). Although he is more “Bard the Bargeman” here rather than “Bard the Bowman”, I am sure that will be remedied in the next instalment.

Laketown is a marvellously crafted set. The rickety looking buildings, the canal streets, the walkways and the depiction of people at their everyday pursuits makes this one of the most impressive environments created for the movie.

The Master of Laketown and his sleazy adviser are reminiscent of Wormtongue from the previous triology and are portrayed superbly in a way that makes them characters of self-import opportunity and loathing.

Bard brings his cargo of Dwarves to the town in absurd but humorous circumstances, and hides them in his house while at all times attempting to outwit the spies of the master. There are a number of scenes in this sequence of events which bring up questions of how and why. E.g. Where did the Dwarves find the payment for their boat passage, after they had previously been searched for items on their person when captured by the Elves. And, what did power Bard’s boat?

It is hard to fathom why some of the Dwarves would remain in Laketown considering the great importance to each individual of reaching Erebor. Yes Kili is wounded and he needs medical attention, but why would the company leave without certain others is somewhat incomprehensible.

There are certainly some memorable events that happen in Laketown such as the attack of the Orcs, the arrival of Tauriel and Legolas and the healing of Kili by Tauriel… (a little touch of Arwen?), but there are developments that are bewildering and one only wonders, where is this all heading?

The Dwarves (minus four) with Bilbo cross the lake in an overcrowded small boat (The master was generous?) and then proceed to the mountain on foot. Here Bilbo’s sharp eyes find the obvious stairway, unseen by the Dwarves, that happen to be the correct way to the hidden door.

Here we have some wonderful emotions displayed by the characters, from Thorin’s sense of loss when they fail to find the door, and Balin’s emotional joy when it is finally discovered. Bilbo as usual is outstanding in his expressions. The Door is discovered differently to the book, but the portrayal of the event here is well developed and helps to add to the emotions  the characters are feeling. One of the most emotive parts of the movie.

Of course “The Burglar” is sent down to visit Smaug. The hope of Thorin is that he will find the Arkenstone and it is now we become more aware of the poisoned hold it has on him.

Bilbo’s meeting and consequent conversation with Smaug is truly fabulous. This friends is the portrayal of a stereotypical dragon that has no equal in cinematic history. Smaug the dragon is magnificent.

After this encounter, the movie then departs the book in every aspect. The next series of scenes are exciting, but they are all made up with no similarity to Tolkien’s story whatsoever. Some parts of this action sequence are, in my opinion quite absurd. But I guess it depends on your expectations and after all, this is a fantasy movie.

A special mention about Gandalf who left the company at the gates of Mirkwood. Gandalf and Radagast discover the tombs of “The Nine” have been opened and now they are released into the world once again. This is a complete departure from Tolkien’s canon and this storyline did not sit comfortably with me. Gandalf’s final confrontation with Sauron is again spectacular but here again we have what I thought was an absurd outcome. In Tolkien’s writings, Gandalf was Sauron’s equal and was his greatest enemy and no time was Gandalf bested by Sauron. But it is a movie.

I am bold enough here to make a prediction about Tauriel. I feel this character is being developed to be Legolas’s reason for his deep dislike towards Dwarves as displayed in The Fellowship of the Rings at the Council of Elrond. There is definitely a respectful friendship between the two characters, and Thranduil believes it may be deeper than that. With Tauriel’s new interest and affection towards, Kili this is creating a rift between the two elven friends. So, perhaps, if Tauriel perishes defending certain Dwarves at the Battle of the Five Armies, we have a catalyst for Legolas’s animosity towards and suspicion of dwarves.

Finally I must say that the Desolation of Smaug is a fun and exciting movie that will thrill any fan of fantasy and the Middle-earth theme, but if you are a true fan of Tolkien’s writings, as I am, then you will find a number of disappointments in the retelling of the story, “The Hobbit”.  The best way to accept the movie is “it is just based on the story” and go along and enjoy it, because it is one hell of a ride full of fun, excitement and the unbelievable.

It is quite possible I could have written a lot more about different aspects of the Movie, but one final point I wish to share is that I hope with all the action, CGI, and fabulous costumes and sets, (I am sure Smaug the Dragon will receive accolades)…. that Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo is not overlooked, because his performance is superb.

One Response to “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug”… a review by Proudfoot.
  1. Miles Whiticker
    January 10, 2014 | 4:00 pm

    Love the warg

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