Hobbit 2: Surfing the Mumak

Posted: April 16, 2014 in Features and opinion, Random wifflings, Reviews

I grabbed the chance to watch The Desolation of Smaug on Monday night. This is something my demi-Swede would like to see also, but I figured I’d happily watch it again with her. After driving back from Yorkshire I was in need of some telly time, and had been very much looking forward to the movie.

Damn shame to say, I was disappointed. I’ve read several reviews that rate this the better of the two Hobbit films thus far, but I reckon not. There are plenty of story choices I could pick apart here (Thirty orcs invade a city that becomes conveniently deserted for the sake of a fight! Smaug immediately guesses the provenance of Bilbo’s ring! Middle-earth is as easily travelled as it needs to be! The story suddenly shifts to a quest for the Arkenstone! Smaug the Golden has to be actually coated in gold! Repetition of the virtues of Athelas because we need fan-service winks! etc). I don’t want to write up a long screed that sings out “But it was different from the book! That makes it rubbish!” It does not. Cinema is different to literature. And my objections are personal, therefore their legitimacy is at the mercy of your judgment. After all, my dislike stems from one thing: The film Jackson made is not the kind of film I expected The Hobbit to become.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was, on the whole, a meticulous and considered adaptation of the source material for the screen. Tolkien’s message, though much obscured, is still present. There’s an air of painstaking art about the books, and an air of painstaking art about their adaptations. The Hobbit adaptation feels altogether sloppier. Jackson appears to want two things: Firstly, to make an action movie, secondly, to provide a prequel to his Rings films. But The Hobbit, though blessed with action, would better suit an adventure movie not an action movie format, while the presaging of events of The Lord of The Rings − which I agree with in principle − proves clumsy.

As in Jackson’s King Kong remake, there is much to admire − in this case Smaug, the elves and Thranduil in particular were effective − but like the ape epic there’s altogether too much going on, too many ideas fighting for time, too many “wouldn’t it be so frickin’ cool!” sequences. There’s plenty in the book to make two good films, not three. Sadly, even in making three, Jackson eschews the opportunity the extra running time allows for character beats, filling up his minutes with bonus orc chases and people falling off things (like, come on! What is it with you man?). There is a fair bit of material in the second section of the book that didn’t make onto the screen at all, Bilbo’s role in particular is bizarrely sidelined. Odd, given that changes to the material in the first film appropriately gave his actions greater emphasis.

The biggest addition, Tauriel, I expected. Her almost-romance with Legolas I expected. And I was glad to see that actually, she worked rather well as a character. What I didn’t expect was the weirdly reciprocated infatuation Fili had with her, coming to fruition in his surprise sojourn in Laketown (what was that all about other than a way to give key dwarfs more to do?).

It’s a movie crammed with unlikely acts of superheroic acrobatics and clownish pratfalls, whose design − while awe-inspiring in parts − takes Middle-earth nearer to the whimsy of Hogwarts than the majesty of Arda. If I were to hazard a reason for all this filmic flimflammery, it’d be this: The Lord of The Rings series had effects that were groundbreaking. Their mere execution was enough to wow, leaving Jackon’s not inconsiderable talents free to work on other aspects of storytelling. Now such magic is commonplace, Jackson as a showman seeks to bedazzle us with added… Well, added things falling off other things, mainly. Or maybe he simply has the opportunity to do MORE COOL SHIT. Either way, all good ringmasters know three elephants are better than one. A perhaps apt analogy, because, let’s put it like this, this film is Legolas surfing the Mumak over and over again.

It probably needs a second viewing, this initial opinion may mellow, but I’m not so sure that I do want to watch The Desolation of Smaug again. (Sorry Emma).

As a last minor irritation, The Desolation of Smaug really quite unexpectedly

  1. Gav Thorpe says:

    It’s a horribly vacant, empty film for the most part, lacking any real heart or strong sense of narrative. What confuses me the most are the half-hearted attempts to stick to the text – Beorn and the spiders in particular are included for the sake of inclusion and, as you say, add nothing to the story. I can live with elements being left out completely, but in a film that is already too long it seems like pointless fan (dis)service.

    I am so surprised when I see five-star reviews from otherwise reputable sources and think I must have seen a totally different film.

    I’m glad I saw it at a free showing and won’t bother with film 3 (I wasn’t going to bother with this one after the disappointment of the first, but hey, it was free).

    (That said, I actually enjoyed the mindless fun of the barrel escape, including the Bombur-bomb. Gandalf vs the Necromancer was quite atmospheric. Having both in the same movie was disjointed though. The concluding chase sequence around Erebor was utterly pants. Dear Mr Jackson, a chase sequence does not equal drama, please stop wedging them into your films.)

  2. Stuart says:

    I was turned off after the first one, which I felt was too much like Lord of the Rings (po-faced fantasy epic) and not enough like The Hobbit (upbeat, almost cheery adventure). That the second part just seems to be this to the nth degree doesn’t encourage me to overcome my crippling fear of spiders to attempt to watch this in shifts.

    “But The Hobbit, though blessed with action, would better suit an adventure movie not an action movie format,”
    Now I’m forced to wonder how it would have worked if they played it out like a heist movie, ala Oceans 11. Couldn’t be any worse.

  3. Steve Kozeniewski says:

    I was willing to live with Tauriel, as you said, Guy, but my biggest problem was with the big goofy slapstick dragon fight. And this might sound grandiose, but it’s because NO ONE is supposed to get the drop on Smaug. Smaug is the chiefest calamity of his age! Having him humiliated fifteen times in a wacky dwarf mousetrap sequence degrades the character to the point where I will in no way be shocked when he’s (SPOILER ALERT!) killed. The whole thing about Smaug in the book, or at least how I perceive the character, is that we already know he’s the most dangerous thing in Middle-earth, and when Bilbo meets him we learn much to our chagrin that he’s also probably the smartest thing in Middle-earth. And that just ratchets up the tension to 11. (At least, for a children’s book.) And now he just seems like Sylvester the Cat, easily outwitted and coated in gold by Tweety Bird. But that’s just me. Also, Guy, I loved the way you ended your

  4. […] April I wrote a review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Do the thing and click the words to read it. Yesterday, I went to see The Hobbit: The Battle of […]

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