Tolkien fan review of The Desolation of Smaug

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I’m going to do my best not to be a Negative Nancy, but I am really struggling here.

I recognize that hard core Tolkien fans likely have one opinion, while regular movie-goers have another. That said, I am going to give two separate reviews: one for the Tolkien fans and one for the movie goers.

As with any movie review, spoilers ahead.

For the Tolkien fans:
Drew Lazor from philadelphiamag.com called The Desolation of Smaug “a Three-Hour ‘Screw You’ to the Source Material.”

Frankly, I don’t know what Peter Jackson was thinking.

First, let me say that I recognize that writers have to change some things in order to adapt the story to the film. I am flexible in that sense. I also understand that there are events casually mentioned in the book upon which the movie writers decide to expand.

For example, in The Fellowship of the Ring there’s never actually a battle scene between Boromir and the Orcs—or even an Orc captain. It’s only implied. They simply find him abandoned, and pierced with many arrows.

Jackson decided to include what was implied in the book.

Fine. I have no problem with that.

But The Desolation of Smaug goes way beyond that. It changes not only a great many details, it changes the plot, relationships, and the story arc.

I’m certain someone will soon create a website detailing everything that was changed from the book. I’m not going to spend my time constructing such a list. I just want to focus a on a few things:

Beorn:
Beorn is one of the most popular characters in The Hobbit. I think it’s safe to say that he is the Boba Fett of Middle Earth.

One of the greatest moments in The Hobbit book was when the party, desperate for shelter, turned to the house of Beorn for help. Gandalf knew Beorn was a dangerous, but also a just creature. Gandalf engages Beorn in conversation and what follows is a hilarious demonstration of Gandalf’s wit, as he slowly introduces Beorn to the dwarves a few at a time. It was a fun, witty, and tense exchange.

It was funny because the dwarves seemed so pitiful and helpless.
It was witty because it showed the shrewdness of Gandalf.
It was tense because we didn’t really know how this powerful creature was going to respond.

It was an awesome moment in literature that was mangled for no apparent reason. In fact, the pacing in the film was so strange. It’s almost like Jackson just wanted to get the encounter out of the way so he could quickly get them into Mirkwood.

Interspecies Romance:
Who the heck is Tauriel? Apparently they found that girl from Lost, gave her a bow, some cheap hair dye, and turned her into an elf.

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As you might suspect, there was no such character in The Hobbit. Once again, I think there is license for movie writers to add characters. No big deal.

The weird thing was they chose to create an interspecies romance between Tauriel and the dwarf Kili. It was such a strange addition to the film, and I wonder what it accomplished? I also wonder where this subplot will go in the next film.

Smaug:
This encounter was painful.

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In The Hobbit book, Tolkien’s fun and witty dialogue shines in the meeting between Bilbo and Smaug. The conversation was simply delightful. It was on par with the first five minutes of The Social Network or Inglorious Bastards. In the film we get Bilbo engaging Smaug without his ring, desperately trying to grab the Arkenstone while distracting the giant worm in a watered down version of the Tolkienian dialogue.

I wasn’t quite happy with the exchange, but then the story descended into the ridiculous.

In the book, Bilbo engages Smaug, steals a golden cup, and then escapes—albeit slightly charred. Furious that even one item was stolen, Smaug launches himself into the sky toward Lake Town.

But that was not enough for Jackson. Instead, we get 15 minutes of the most unbelievable cat and mouse game involving a hobbit, some dwarves, and a 180 metric ton dragon.

One wonders how the Dwarf Lords could build a palace large enough in which such a creature could fly? Regardless, this supposedly intelligent and powerful beast is unable to even wound one of the invaders as he thrashes the place.

Thorin and company then attempt to defeat Smaug by pouring some sort of liquid hot magma on him. This, of course, doesn’t work.

What doesn’t work either was how ridiculous the setup was in trying to create a scenario whereby some dwarves could enter an abandoned palace, find a forge, light it, create a enough liquid hot magma to kill a dragon, and then find a way to actually pour it on him—all the while dodging claws, fire, and the general destruction.

This was the most ridiculous, sensational, and cartoon-like scene in the movie.

It felt like we were watching the Coyote trying to defeat the Road Runner—but with updated graphics. Oh, and lots of fire.

Here’s what JRR Tolkien’s son, Christopher, said about Jackson’s work:

“The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away…They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25…And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”

My only hope is that there is at least one re-make of the entire story before I die.

It seems unlikely that Tolkien fans will enjoy this film.

I rate it 2/5 stars for butchering our beloved story.

 

Movie-goer Review: http://gospelgeeks.net/movie-goer-review-desolation-smaug/
Tolkien Fan Review: http://gospelgeeks.net/tolkien-fan-review-desolation-smaug/

Comments

  1. I’m both a Tolkien fan AND a Peter Jackson fan… I just skimmed over your headers so as to avoid spoilers and I’m going to cling to the hope that love for the cinematic experience of all things Middle Earth will overcome my feeling that the “pure story” has encountered the desolation of Hollywood.

  2. I do hope you enjoy it.

  3. I haven’t seen it yet, but you are placing my expectations low. I’ve read the book. At least they included Bjorn this time. They totally left him out of the 1977 cartoon. But yeah, the whole elf side story seems kinda stupid.

  4. I’ve not seen the 77′ version in about 8 years. I think I need to go back and revisit it.

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