Greetings my intrepid troops!
In this article I discuss what I think of Peter Jackson’s movie: “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”
Starting off, the sojourning with Bearn was cut too short and carried implications not found in the book. He mentions that his kin had been killed off by Orcs. Bearn also mentions that they have hurt him, yet we never get a really deep reason as to why he is sharing this information with us. It also seems a little pointless since it doesn’t really to come into play later in this film series at all.
My biggest disappointment, however, was the trek in Mirkwood Forest. This forest portrayed in the film was hardly black, in fact you could see between the trees for hundreds of feet, whereas in the book this forest was so dark and haunted you could barely see inches in front of you.
Aye, in the novel, The Hobbit, the dwarves and Bilbo quickly got lost and the presence of the forest was pitch-black and disturbing. Lending to this feeling was the fact that the water was enchanted and the only light came from the Elves who kept disappearing. This film did nothing to convey the supernatural evil of this forest! Also disappointingly this film omitted the scene where Bombur fell into the dark waters and was drugged, and the scene where elven fires appeared and vanished in the darkness.
Those two scenes expressed better than anything in the novel how dark and twisted this forest was! It was those two scenes that had me hooked! It was those two scenes that I was looking forward to most with Peter Jackson’s retelling. I was thoroughly and severely disappointed with Jackson’s shortening of this pivotal part of the book!
Furthermore, the spider attack in the film came rushed and they were dispatched by Elves! Oh my word! What a dumb reversal! In Tolkien’s book the Elves vanished and left the Dwarves in the dark to be eaten by these creatures! The Elves of this wood knew they would be slaughtered! They did not care about any other beings in this forest but themselves! It was their apathy and greed that showed how twisted the Mirkwood Elves were, just like their forest!
Besides the shortening of the Mirkwood journey Jackson committed another unwise story change: a new Elven story arc that detracted from the main story. With the inclusion of Legolas and a new Elf named Tauriel the story takes on a more ‘universal perspective’ of Middle-Earth. Allow me to explain: the Hobbit was a story about the Dwarves getting their treasure. The Men and Elves they encountered were almost seen as annoyances because they were not the focus. This allowed the readers, like me, to care exclusively about the Dwarves and pay less attention to what was going on in Middle Earth. This limited perspective allows the reader to be pleasantly surprised by the interruptions of Elves, Men and Goblins. Jackson destroyed that. This retelling takes the focus off the treasure hunt and onto the bigger events happening in Middle-Earth leading up to the final battle. This broader focus, I argue, is what undermined Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy. By making another build-up to a final battle we get a shadow of the Lord of the Rings, which leads to a conclusion we already guessed. Peter Jackson shot himself in the foot here.
By staying with the original limited perspective of the Hobbit found in the book he could’ve kept fans strapped in for a new story arc and not a re-hash formula of his previous success. Tsk tsk, Jackson, tsk tsk.
Nonetheless, Jackson included this Elven story arc to explain that Orcs were preparing for something big. He also portrayed more of the Orc culture through their use of Black Speech and their open disdain for Elves. Within this arc the Orcs invade Mirkwood to kill the Dwarves but are silenced by Legolas’ bow. This was a shameful attempt to pander to casual audiences wanting to see more Legolas theatrics and superfluous fight scenes. The fight along the river itself was unrealistic and more fit for a level in Call of Duty than the Hobbit.
I was ashamed of this scene. It completely undermined the story of the Elves and built new plot holes. The orcs WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO INVADE MIRKWOOD! The Elves’ surveillance kept them out and protected the wood from any outside forces. This was a fact clearly established in the book. The only evil in the forest was already there from ancient times (Spiders) or Sauron’s spirit in the fortress of Dol Guldur. Jackson ignored this too.
Following this mess of a plot deviation we get Gandalf’s sojourn into Dol Guldur. While the idea of showing Gandalf’s trials greatly thrilled me the execution left something to be desired. Gandalf walked up stairs in a pitch black haunted ruin leading to a creepy hill. I would not have included the pale Orc in this scene. I would have included the Nazgul crypts (good job Tolkien) but I would not have have them appear as phantasms. We know who they are we don’t need to see them. Sauron I would’ve portrayed as a shadowy silhouette laughing and taunting Gandalf. He could have waved a staff at him and chanted in Black Speech. In fact, I would’ve portrayed him as a goblin-looking creature with red eyes. I would not have shown him as much and I would have made the scene between him and Gandalf short; so short that the audience is left wondering what the hell they just saw.
Moving on, the dwarf Kili begins a romance with Tauriel, which mirrored the romance of Aragorn and Arwen: she was a beautiful creature of light and he a mortal being of fallen stature, like a man falling in love with an angel. I have no qualms with this concept! I just think that it interfered with the plot, and had it been given more time it could have at least explained the social and spiritual standing of the three races: Elves, Dwarves and Men. Elves are already similar enough to angels in that no other race is immortal nor has that connection to the gods (Ainu), and it is a shame that Jackson never touched on that with this romance arc. I actually would have been fine with such an explanation, but I felt that Jackson never went far enough with this story to give us more in-depth knowledge of Middle-Earth. Tsk tsk, Jackson, tsk tsk.
Finally, Lake-town and Smaug deserve their own critique. Jackson did poorly with both, and yet made me care more about both than the books did!
Bard, the eventual hero of Lake-town, is caught in a tangled web of mistrust and jealousy. The mayor hates him but Bard’s children look up to Bard despite being so overlooked in his community. While this deviates from the plot (tsk tsk) it still manages to flesh out Bard’s character and make us care more about him than Tolkien did. In the novel he is merely an afterthought to the main plot. Bard, in this interpretation, needs to do something heroic in order to cement himself and establish his family. This move is a bold one but achieves the desired effect (good job Jackson!).
Smaug, the big baddie, manages to portray the evil greedy scumbag he is in the novel. He is psychologically terrifying and mysterious like Sauron. This actually works well. However, his physical appearance isn’t that impressive. Smaug looks very worm-like and serpentine to the point he doesn’t look truly terrifying like the way we’d expect a dragon to be. He is lithe, flexible and able to move really fast but his face and body shape don’t exactly scream horrifying. His limbs seem small, his bulk is scrawny and his face seems pushed-in.
Nonetheless, Smaug manages to play deadly mind games with Bilbo and he makes allusions to Sauron. Smaug, it seems, recognizes that Sauron is the bigger guy on the block but Smaug has no interest in fighting him or comparing himself to him. He tells Bilbo he won’t part with any of his gold. Smaug, it seems, has his own agenda and isn’t intimidated or worried about anything else happening in Middle-Earth. His eyes are hypnotizing and his personality is very human; rife with greed and pride.
The Dwarves put up a fight and challenge the beast. Smaug terrifies them and breaks through their traps but their last effort (burying him) is enough to drive him away. Somehow, after seeing him act human I am less afraid of him though I was afraid of what he was about to do as he flew off in the night sky.
In conclusion, this film was fun to watch with friends and overall entertaining. However, as a fan of Tolkien’s book I was shocked, disappointed and displeased with the plot deviations, unfulfilling minor story arcs (Gandalf in Dol Guldur, and the Tauriel-Kili romance) and the cheap pandering to the casual fans (fighting at the river). I would recommend this film to anyone wanting to watch a fantasy film but would not recommend it to ardent fellow Tolkien fans.