Since it’s that time of the year again, I’m reading Tolkien’s “canon”. And since the Internet is full of posts about the book, I’d rather post a few comments on the new Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug, which I watched just before Christmas. (Yes, the Internet is full of those posts too, I know.)
I was a bit surprised by this film. I quite enjoyed last year’s chapter of the story, but this time I was a bit baffled. I mean, yeah, this is a cool film, and I kind of liked it, but this is … another story. It could be described as “loosely based on a story by J.R.R. Tolkien”. But while watching it, I thought, well, OK, let’s see what happens. I might be surprised. And as beeing one that knows the original story, well, let’s say, in more detail than the average, that’s probably a good thing, isn’t it? And with that, I found the film quite entertaining.
There were a few things to note, though, if I may.
First, the meeting of Gandalf and Thorin in Bree, in retrospect. That part is fetched from the appendixes of The Lord of the Rings. I very much liked that part. And perhaps especially because it picks one of the main weaknesses of the book: What is the mission of the dwarves? They should understand that addressing a dragon, and go burglaring for several hundred tons of treasure is just a mad quest. Making the Arkenstone the primary target, as it gives royal power over the rest of the dwarvish clans, see that’s a quest that might be possible to achieve using a smart and quiet burglar. And it also shows Gandalf’s master plan: To get rid of the dragon before Sauron may use it for his own purposes. Nice!
Beorn and his house. Gone is the rather comical encounter of Gandalf and his story, and the dwarves popping up like jack-in-a-boxes. Gone is the laughing, jolly huge man, and his wonderful animals. In his place, a dreadful beast, and a rather mystical, dreamlike figure. I missed the children’s book’s Beorn.
Gandalf finds that the Necromancer has released the Úlari, the nine Nazgûl from their well bolted up tombs in the mountains. A bit far fetched, I think. According to legend, the ring wraiths never died. The rings made them live forever, under Sauron’s dominion. They did not have to rise from death. But this is what happens when one tries to combine the stories. The Nazgûl did not exist yet in Tolkien’s mind when he wrote about the Necromancer in Dol Guldur. Actually making him Sauron, as Gandalf discovers, did not appear to Tolkien before he had started writing The Lord of the Rings.
Bilbo’s heroism against the spiders in the forest is rather ignored. That’s sad. Instead, the general fight, and the fierceness of the elves, and in particular this totally new character, Tauriel, is emphasized.
Tauriel, I actually quite liked, but why was she there? After discussing this with a colleague, the obvious reason appeared: There is no women at all in the original book. And this far in the films, the only female figure that has appeared has been Galadriel. Nice, but quite remote. So here is a heroine for our female audience. Good for them. This is our fight!.
Then, the elven king. With the looks and temper of Lucius Malfoy. ‘nough said. I didn’t like that at all.
An action movie needs action scenes. Legolas jumping from dwarf to dwarf on the river while constantly beheading orcs. It’s a laugh! And that surfing-on-a-shield detail from The two Towers was revisited twice, or was it three times? Or four?
Making Bard a kind of agent for People’s Liberation Front against the Tyrant, was an interesting move, I think. At least more than the original variant of an acid-stomached watchman. But again, Bilbo’s rôle and heroism is ignored. It should be Bilbo that discovers the weakness of the dragon. It should not be a well-known fact from the stories from Dale. Why is Bilbo’s courage diminished for this?
An elf-dwarf love story. Now that’s way too far fetched. Sorry, that would never happen. Orcs attacking Esgaroth? Uhm, well, okay. But parting some of the dwarves from the rest of the company. Now that was a strange move. Didn’t see that coming.
I loved the scene where the keyhole is found. It almost gave me goosebumps. The dragon was great. The dwarves try to fight the dragon using dwarvish tech. Well, there had been at least four minutes without an action scene, and if you have to fill up a film, why not go for the spectacular. I can stomach that.
All in all, while making quite a different story than Tolkien’s own Hobbit, I quite enjoyed this. And to quote a Norwegian ex-politician, caught while lying about so-called facts: “But it could have happened” * **.