{March into Middle-Earth} The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Desolation of Smaug

At the end The Desolation of Smaug, right when the dragon alights from the Lonely Mountain, I checked the time on the clock beside my bed. The film had *almost* played out its runtime. While I tried to figure out how the destruction of Lake-town would fit in with only ten minutes to spare, the music began to swell.

Yeah, the subtitle “Desolation of Smaug” is incredibly misleading.

I don’t necessary hold the title against this film. I suppose the whole “desolation” aspect of the movie has to do with the effects Smaug has had on Lake-town and the Lonely Mountain since his arrival. Still, I would have liked to see more fire-breathing action in the present tense, thank you very much.

Like Father Not Like Son

I feel like this film should be subtitled “The One With All the Elves” instead of “Desolation of Smaug” because the elves were the best part of this film. (Right now, I almost can hear my pre-teen self screaming at me for writing that. Historically, I’ve not liked elves.) When the dwarves entered the mountain and starting dealing with Cumber!Smaug, the film took a dive in watchability. Let’s just say that without Thranduil and Tauriel on my screen, I was a lot less interested in the proceedings.

First, before I get to the other two, I think we all know that I need to address Legolas’ presence.

So . . .what exactly was going on with Legolas in this film? It was like Peter Jackson vaguely remembered what people liked about Legolas in the Lord of the Rings and amped it up to 500%.

Did you like when Legolas slid down the steps on a shield? Well, look at him slide around on an orc like he’s surfing on the back of a shark.

Did you like it when Legolas walked on snow? Well, look at him balance on the heads of dwarves as he careens down rapids.

Whatever Peter Jackson was trying to do here, it did not work. I confess that I’ve never liked Legolas as a character, but somehow, The Hobbit made him even LESS likeable to me. It’s like he was watered down to two personality traits: Broody and Agile. Neither aspect was appealing.

It made matters worse that he had to stand in the same room with his father, Thranduil–who was the most fabulous elf of all time and should have his own spinoff a la Gotham (meaning one that’s both cheesy and violent).

I don’t know if I written about my love of Lee Pace before on this blog, but it’s a thing that exists. I felt like his Thranduil was acting in another movie (maybe Jupiter Ascending with Eddie Redmayne), but that didn’t bother me for one moment because that’s the movie I wanted to be watching. He was over-the-top, glamorous, and completely stole the show. While all the other characters were watered down in this film to make way for more action, his personality managed to become magnified and, like I said, the film suffered when he was off screen.   

Conflicting Feelings About Tauriel

Tauriel, Tauriel, Tauriel. . .where do I start with Tauriel? I really, really didn’t want to like her as a character, but I did. Evangeline Lilly managed to portray her as being tough, clever, and unsexualized, and those three things made me fall for the character in spite of myself. I appreciated that Tauriel was an awesome fighter and that was willing to do her own thing in spite of what Thranduil asked of her. I even liked that she showed no interest in Legolas.

My only problems with her character came from intense feelings about her love story with Kili. While I understand why anyone would be attracted to Aidan Turner–Middle-earth dwarf or not, I think their love story moved too quickly to be at all realistic. To top that off, it was annoying in its very existence. I wish Tauriel could have been an autonomous character and stood on par with Bilbo or Thorin as the third lead character in Desolation of Smaug. Instead, she had to sulk over Kili in-between awesomely kicking Orc butt.

In spite of my Kili/Tauriel misgivings, I do have one positive thing to say about their relationship. I thoroughly enjoyed that he was the damsel-in-distress in this scenario. I don’t know how many times she had to save him, but I liked that it was repeatedly she who did the saving.

I Suppose I Need to Say Something About the Dwarves

This film series is supposedly about Bilbo and his adventures with the dwarves. It’s sad then that their storyline got so overshadowed by the awesomeness that was the elves in this movie. (If you cast Lee Pace as an elf, what do you really expect though?) I can’t say that I cared too much for their visit to Lake-town or the interactions between Bilbo, Thorin, and Smaug. Other than Kili, none of the dwarves showed much personality–which was disappointing because I could have listened to a lot more dialogue delivered by James Nesbitt.

As for Smaug, I learned something very important about myself while watching him on the screen. Unless a dragon is voiced by Sean Connery, I am immediately not okay with it. For some reason, the dragon from Dragon Heart has wormed (pun intended) itself into my brain as the only acceptable dragon in film. I haven’t seen that movie since I was obsessed with David Thewlis (a.k.a. Remus Lupin) in high school so maybe if I watch it again that opinion will change.

I actually hope it will change. That’s a such weird opinion to have.

What Was Up with This Film Aesthetically?

After the awkward CGI of An Unexpected Journey, I fully expected Desolation of Smaug to follow in its over use of special effects footsteps. It did, but since this movie was visually darker than the first, the CGI didn’t look quite so horrible. Also, it helped that I noticed one or two of the orcs were actually people in makeup and suits–which was very, very refreshing.

Unfortunately, Desolation of Smaug was plagued by other visual problems–the greatest of which was that the aesthetics were all over the place.

While Lake-town looked like it was set in Dickensian London, Mirkwood looked ripped right out of an illustrated copy of The Hobbit. I understand that these are two very different locales, but the visual disconnect was too great for these two places to exist in the same movie.

The disconnect would have bothered me so much if I hadn’t fallen in love with the look of Thranduil’s elf kingdom so completely. It was obviously computer generated, but because it lacked the cliqued “Fantastical World” appearance of the rest of the generated scenery, I found it refreshing. It did literally look illustrated, and if the entire film series had followed through with that aesthetic, I wouldn’t have complained once about the CGI (Okay, that’s probably a lie. I would have complained much less).

Now, I very much want a Fantasy film that looks as if it was pulled from the pages of a fairy tale or from the cover of a fantasy novel. Maybe, it can star Lee Pace as Thranduil. I’d be all over that.

Ah, the Action Movie Trap!

My biggest issue with Desolation of Smaug didn’t come from the aesthetics or the completely misleading title but rather from the fact that there was practically no part of the book that was salvaged for this film. Sure, we go through the motions of having the dwarves escape from the elves in barrels and meet with the spiders and wrangle Smaug, BUT all of those scenes bear almost no resemblance to the same scenes in the book. Instead, Peter Jackson had to action movie them up.

It was frustrating to me to have this movie be so big and loud. My favorite parts of An Unexpected Journey were those scenes that were pulled directly from the source material. I hated that I didn’t get the same cozy Hobbit vibes from Desolation of Smaug.

I just wish Peter Jackson hadn’t felt the need to make this into an action film. It would have worked better and been more in the spirit of the novel to tone down the action and focus more on the adventure. I mean “adventure” is in the actual title of the first film! It makes sense.

In Conclusion

Surprisingly, I liked Desolation of Smaug and would watch it again. It may have been over-the-top, too actiony, and all over the place quality-wise, but there were a lot of things I loved about it. Okay, mostly, I loved Thandruil and Tauriel, but those two characters will be enough to keep me coming back.

I’m hoping that The Battle of the Five Armies will make an excellent ending to the series. At the very least, I look forward to seeing the ACTUAL Desolation of Smaug and more Thranduil.

Who is your favorite elf? Also, who’s your favorite dragon from film or books?  

Image Source: Kiss Them Goodbye

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5 thoughts on “{March into Middle-Earth} The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with almost everything you say here (except maybe dragons and Sean Connery; I loved Dragonheart, but I vaguely think there’s been another dragon I’ve approved of too. I’m just failing to remember it 😉

    That said, my emotional response was negative to the point I’m not sure I can rewatch it. This saddens me deeply.

    1. And Tauriel. In spite of Kili. But your enthusiasm for Lee Pace might be the one thing that would get me to revisit the film to check 😉

      More broadly, my favourite Tolkien elf is probably Finrod Felagund. But I doubt we’ll ever see him on screen!

  2. Yay! Someone who doesn’t bash Tauriel! I was so excited for a female character I overlooked all the bad things. But upon watching DoS recently I realized that Tauriel and Kili’s relationship seems a bit forced. It’s very Romeo and Juliet. Even then I still ship them because they’re hot! If only they had had a chance! Or even more acceptable if Tauriel had just been her badass self without falling in love with anyone. I loved Kili being the damsel in distress. That whole barrel-riding scene after Kili was hurt was ridiculous, but so funny.

  3. Those Legolas scenes in LotR were not my favorite, so I get what you’re saying here. I haven’t seen this movie so I can’t say, but it sounds like I won’t like those scenes. Now Thranduil I’ve heard does steal the show- and I’m anxious to see him because I was always fascinated with the wood elves in the Hobbit and would like to know more about them, so I’m curious to see what Jackson did here. And Tauriel- I’ve heard mixed things but I’m okay with adding her, although again I can’t really judge yet. 🙂

    I’ve always liked Mirkwood so I’m looking forward to seeing it. And the barrels out of bond scene I love from the book, but I’ve heard the movie version is.. different. As for my favorite dragon, I haven’t seen this one yet but the old movie Dragonslayer had an awesome dragon!

  4. Whenever Legolas came onscreen I felt like I was watching a video game instead of a movie. I agree with you that Peter Jackson seemed to be playing up things fans enjoyed in LotR. I don’ think it worked for this film, though, because it was too unbelievable.

    I also wish the film had stayed closer to the spirit of the books instead of trying to become bigger and louder. The book is so charming and adventure-ful! Why make it into a sword-smashing fantasy like everything else?

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