As I’ve talked with people about the first Hobbit movie, and now this second one, I’ve noticed that as soon as I begin to express my dislike for them I get accused of being a “Tolkien Purist.”
Tolkien Purists are those that have, in essence, memorized the entirety of Tolkien’s work and refuse to accept any changes made to it for the sake of a film. You may have gathered that, based on the title of this blog, I am a Tolkien fan. This is true. You may have guessed from the title of this blog post, that I am a Tolkien Purist.
This is not true.
I am perfectly fine if Peter Jackson wishes to make changes to the story to fit within a film. Books and films are two different mediums, and a “word for word, scene for scene” translation will likely end in disaster. Tolkien didn’t write a screenplay. He wrote a book, and books need to be changed to work as movies.
So, suffice to say that I am evaluating this film as a film, not as a book-to-movie adaptation. And as a film, I must say, this falls far short.
The story begins with the Dwarves and Bilbo taking refuge from chasing orcs in Beorn’s house. After receiving counsel to go through the forest of Mirkwood, they set off. But at the entrance, Gandalf realizes he must leave, letting the rest of the company move on without him. For the rest of the story, the Dwarves are captured by Giant Spiders, Wood Elves, men of Laketown, and eventually get into the Lonely Mountain, where Smaug the dragon waits.
Here are the things I did like about this movie. The visuals were amazing. The cast did a good job with the material that they had. It was fun seeing the inside of the lonely mountain (it was exactly how I imagined it). The ending was great and there were several scenes that were very well done.
But yet, despite all that, there were still some serious issues.
As I was watching this movie, I slowly felt myself disengage more and more. My interest waned, and I began to yearn for the lights to come back on. That’s not, by any means, a good sign, and it is my primary problem with this movie. It fails to engage me, for multiple reasons.
First, the movie isn’t what it wants to be. By this, I mean that the movie tries so hard to be Lord of the Rings 2, but the plot doesn’t work for that. Lord of the Rings is an epic, vast, complex fantasy. The Hobbit is a simple fairy-tale. Just because it’s a simple fairy-tale doesn’t make it bad. But Peter Jackson and co. are trying to remake Lord of the Rings, with a story that doesn’t work that way. The complexity seems forced. I find myself asking again and again, “Why do I care about the Necromancer’s return? Why does that matter?” We see flashes of Galadriel and see the Ringwraiths returning, mentions are made of people “waiting too long,” or “not paying enough attention,” and a “gathering darkness.” But it all feels superfluous; tacked on. It doesn’t matter to the viewers, because it feels unnecessary. We simply don’t care. Which actually leads me to the next problem.
The next, and possibly bigger, issue is that there is no character development. It isn’t just weak or minimal, it seems nonexistent. Granted, near the beginning of the movie there are hints at various times that some character development might come along, but the hints are nothing more than hints. By the end, the love triangle set up between Kili, Tauriel, and Legolas would have been better than nothing. But alas, even that was dropped.
Without character development, two problems crop up. One, it is impossible to, barring Thorin, distinguish between the dwarves. This means that there are twelve characters present throughout the entire film who’s identity is a complete mystery. They are simply there, but I have no clue why they’re there, or who they are.
Second, the action quickly grows tiresome. Action isn’t bad, but explosions do not create emotional connections. I need people that I care about in the action in order for the action be emotionally involving. At least for me, interest correlates to investment. Think about it this way. Is a four year old interested in the stock market? Probably not. They could care less, because they have no investment or involvement in it.
The same goes for stories. I can show fight scene after fight scene, but nothing matters if you don’t care for the characters.
But there’s another problem that appears at the end. See, up until that point Peter Jackson has kept the action well paced. We get action, and then some time to breathe, and then more action, and then more time to breath, and then rinse and repeat. We’re still disengaged from the story, but at least we aren’t getting hammered with explosions.
And then, at the climax, that’s exactly what happens. We get explosion after explosion after explosion. Fight scene after fight scene after fight scene, and very little of it makes sense. We see people we don’t care about running around underground trying to defeat a dragon. And that’s about it. It could be cool from a simple eye candy perspective, but that wears off fairly quick.
Eventually it ends, but not before a cliffhanger that, admittedly, was well done. So, in conclusion, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug has cool special effects, but very little substance. I wouldn’t recommend seeing it in theaters. Wait until it comes out on DVD, and don’t worry about skipping most of the fight scenes. You won’t be missing anything.
Note: This film contains some fairly violent, surprising images and has an intense feel to it. Not recommended for younger viewers.