The Desolation of Smaug; or, Time Someone Bitch-Slap Peter Jackson
Despite the heading of this blog, I liked The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It is, without a doubt, better than the first entry in this series. Smaug is a good film. That’s the problem. It’s good, when it should be great. And it is for the first half. The movie begins back in Bree at The Prancing Pony (with Peter Jackson’s requisite cameo), where we see Gandalf setting Thorin on his path. Gandalf does meddle, and as established in The Lord of the Rings, he will put in danger other characters in order to further his own agenda.
The film jumps back to the present, some days after events in the first film have ended. Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves are about to enter Mirkwood Forest. They are helped along by the skin-changer Beorn, and once they are in the forest, attacked by spiders. This is one of the best sequences in the film, even though it seems too short. After the dwarves are freed from their cocoons, we see Bilbo feeling the first effects of the ring. This is one of the additions to the novel that really works.
Legolas (Orlando Bloom) arrives to fight off the spiders. With him comes Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). This is our first encounter with the she-elf. The character is another Jackson addition. While some characters were given bigger roles in the Rings Trilogy (compared to the novel), Tauriel is the first flat-out Kiwi invention. One reviewer of the film wonders if she will become these prequels’ Jar Jar Binks. The Hobbit films will not escape comparison to the Star Wars prequels. But the expectations for Jackson’s films weren’t as high. And rest assured, Tauriel is no Jar Jar Binks, and even though Jackon’s films present multiple missed opportunities, I’d rather stare at a bowl of diarrhea for six hours than sit through George Lucas’ abominations again. Tauriel kicks ass, and is very much in line with another Middle Earth woman warrior, the Rings’ Eowyn. Like Legolas, she provides a character we can identify with amongst the otherwise nondescript Woodland Elves.
That’s all fine and dandy…but then love enters the picture. After coming home from seeing The Hobbit yesterday I flipped through the newest Entertainment Weekly. The critic Owen Gleiberman gives it an “A-“. That’s nice. But the review itself left me wondering if we saw the same film. Tauriel is identified as Legolas’ love interest. Uh? Ah, no. She is clearly Kili’s love interest. Yes, Kili. One of the dwarves. After a two minute conversation with Kili in his jail cell, the 600-year old elf becomes so smitten with him she disobeys her king and rushes off to save him hundreds of miles away after he is shot with a poisoned arrow. Yeah, none of that was in the novel. With good reason. Not only is it utterly preposterous, I find it misogynistic as well. Yes, in LOTR, Arwen hooks up with the human Aragorn, but their courtship goes on for decades. And yes, we have an elf on dwarf bromance, but neither Gimli nor Legolas will admit their friendship for each other until they face what they believe is certain death at the battle in front of the Black Gate. Jackson introduces Tauriel as an empowered female, an ass-kicking super hero, and the only Woodland elf who recognizes the danger of King Thandriel’s isolationist policy. But after two minutes with Kili, who is “taller than other dwarves,” her fragile little heart goes all pitter-patter and she rushes off to save him. She doesn’t give a shite about his quest, his friends, or the looming disaster. Apparently, even she-elves can only be motivated by love for males. Two minutes worth. For a being already 600 years old. It’s revolting. To Peter Jackson: want to rectify this idiocy? Have Galadriel, a real she-elf, show up in the third film and slap the shit out of Tauriel.
Much of the rest of the film has only a passing semblance to its source material. The best bits follow Gandalf and his quest to figure out what’s going on with this Necromancer he keeps hearing about. Bilbo and some of the dwarves finally make it to the Lonely Mountain. Some of the dwarves inexplicably are left behind in Lake Town, I guess so the loins of Kili and Tauriel can get all tingly together. Bilbo and the gang find the hidden door, and the brave little hobbit makes his way down into Smaug’s lair. This is perhaps my favorite sequence in Tolkien’s novel: Bilbo has an intense cat and mouse game with the deadly dragon while the dwarves cower in fear outside. Given the fantastic Riddle Game sequence in the first film, my expectations were very high.
That was my mistake. In the film, once Bilbo enters the lair, Jackson proceeds to rip out page after page of the novel and wipe his ass with them. You want to cut things, Jackson? Fine. Want to add things? Fine. But why dramatically change one of the sequences which make the novel so memorable? You’re not dealing with an unknown work. The Hobbit was published in 1937, and is still loved today. Fans want to see their favorite sequences on film. That’s what we’re paying for, you dick! Well, Bilbo has a bit of a cat and mouse game, but not before Thorin shows up beside him.
And therein is perhaps the biggest problem in Jackson’s films. Jackson’s Thorin is not a dwarf. He’s nothing like the other dwarves in the company, let alone Gimli. He doesn’t look like a dwarf. He doesn’t talk like a dwarf. He doesn’t act like a dwarf. He’s a dude with a height deficiency. That’s it. Jackson concocts some ridiculous plan for the dwarves to encase Smaug in a pool of molten gold. This entails getting a bunch of mining equipment working again after rusting in a dank mountain for sixty years. The whole sequence is implausible and poorly conceived. Why does Jackson do it? In his mind, Thorin is a Bruce Willis type of action hero. Action heroes do things; they don’t cower outside the mountain while little hobbits do their dirty work. His fear is one of the things that make Tolkien’s Thorin so interesting. Jackson flattens him into a cartoon character. I can’t wait for him to die in the third film.
By the way, Smaug is impressive, as his the pile of treasure he sits upon. Problem? It’s nitpicky, but there’s so much gold in Smaug’s lair that even it represents 99% of the gold in all of Middle Earth, it would be totally worthless. There’s simply too much of it. You might as well trade in blades of grass. Bigger isn’t always better, Mr. Jackson. Don’t worry. I’ll be amongst the millions waiting in line for the third film next year.