Smaug the Movie

I saw Hobbit 2 (Desolation of Smaug) yesterday. It was a bit perplexing experience, thereby worth a short note at least. On one hand, it was a decent fantasy action movie, filled with impressive landscapes and striking visualizations (I saw the 3D HFR version). As to this being part of Hobbit, there was a bit of a challenge to adapt the expectations. There was a hobbit, a wizard and thirteen dwarves ok. Smaug, the dragon itself was also impressive and parts of its dialogue with Bilbo were actually something that Tolkien had written – I think it pretty much steals the show. But most of what was going on was not familiar dialogue. An old, cranky Tolkien-fan could judge the movie just on the basis of its taking too many liberties with the source material. I actually appreciate the effort to explain, for example, why Gandalf and the dwarves set into the hazardous journey to the Lonely Mountain in the first place (hint: war against the rising Darkness, the Arkenstone). The ethically suspicious character of our “heroes” sneaking in to the mountain, waking the dragon, and then cowardly waiting while Smaug hits the mountainside, then flies to burn down Esgaroth, the Lake-town. In this version they actually put up a rather decent fight against the mighty dragon, which is entertaining to follow, but not exactly the most realistic battle in the film history. (I think that the brave handful would probably survived only a few minutes if Smaug would have been himself…) The character of elves is perhaps the most inconsistent element in this version. Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood is a made into a pretty nasty person, and this relates to Legolas, who is introduced into Hobbit (as we learned from Lord of the Rings that Legolas was king’s son). Then there is Tauriel, the new female warrior character who has to carry the burden of being the love-interest of not only Legolas, but also of Kili, the dwarf! The orcs are also made into much active party, and they actively pursue Thorin and his companions first into the gates of Elvenking (I wonder how they made it there unnoticed?) and then deep inside Esgaroth, where they attack the house of Bard, where Bard’s children are treating dying Kili (hit by an arrow with a Morgul blade, of all things). When Legolas and Tauriel arrive to recue at that very moment, the poor Tolkien fan has lost almost all track of where this story is heading.

There are stuff in the Appendices of LoTR that provide interesting materials to explore, and it is clear that Peter Jackson & co. have made good use of it, while filling in some of the most obvious gaps between the Hobbit and LoTR. The stylistic challenge nevertheless remains – this is a children’s book, after all, here adapted to become a much more somber tale of ambition, empathy, greed and hunger of power, and it only just about sticks together as a logical whole. Sometimes I wonder what Jackson would make out of Silmarillion, if he would get the filming rights to that, truly epic treasure trove of material. But watching Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug makes one suspect that such film would over-emphazise the action elements so much that the more philosophical and lyrical elements would be severely downplayed. And that would be a real shame. But, I must underline, Hobbit 2 is pretty ok as an action fantasy movie, one just perhaps needs to adapt one’s expectations a bit.

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland.