Thoughts on Desolation of Smaug

Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Hobbit plus Appendices to LOTR are not exactly going to be winning any awards for “most faithful screen adaptation” even if one were willing to give him a pass on shoehorning the appendix material – and I am quite willing to do so. (Most Faithful Screen Adaptation award goes to Catching Fire. I think it’s somewhere about 98% faithful. Seriously, they just straight-up lifted the dialogue right out of the novel.)

I’m also willing to concede certain alterations that were, in fact, necessary. It’s been many years since I read The Hobbit (I do need to reread it!) but it is so entirely a different genre of book from LOTR that remaking it today basically requires that the genre be shifted from its origins as a children’s developing-hero adventure novel into an adult-audience ensemble cast epic fantasy prequel to the LOTR movie trilogy. Adding in the Necromancer plot and fleshing out foreshadowing for the Battle of Five Armies was a great choice!

However, I do have some problems with specific tonal choices. In the first movie, we had an over-the-top CGI action scene in which a falling platform miraculously doesn’t kill any of our main characters. That would have been just fine… if it had been just a little less over the top. There’s not many scenes in LOTR where corny slapstick action humor shows up, and even where it does kind of come into play, it tends to be fairly dark (battle humor) or related to the hobbits (Merry and Pippin in particular). That humor lightens the LOTR movies without breaking tone.

My biggest problem with the two Peter Jackson Hobbit movies is that he’s constantly breaking tone. Is this a serious fantasy epic, or is it a slapstick kid’s adventure film? Choose ONE. A few well-done shout-outs to ridiculous things that happen in the book could easily have substituted for overly corny action scenes in the movies.

I particularly disliked how long the river-barrel-fight went on. Actually, it would have been fine… except for how long that part where one of the dwarves’ barrels gets knocked out of the water, and instead of smashing to bits on the rocks fairly quickly or getting stuck in the rocks after rolling a few yards, it goes bouncing along for an extremely implausibly long time. Over. The. Top. The whole golden statue thing at the end was the same way. Yes, keep the scene, but CUT IT SHORTER so that it doesn’t become so ridiculously absurd!

The Elven Romance subplot could have been handled a lot more delicately, too. Just cut the scene where Tharanduil warns She-Elf off Legolas. Have the acting make it clear that he’s kinda sweet on her, and she’s… ambivalent about that and wants to take off from Mirkwood on her own adventure, but can’t because she owes the king. I’m hoping they actually do something politically clever with that in the last movie to trigger the Battle because otherwise it’s just unnecessary romance inserted into a movie that Should Not Have Any Women In It (besides Galadriel) IN THE FIRST PLACE. Quit with the PC tokenism. Token She-Elf does not make me happy as a woman. I am not so easily appeased. But I guess the feminists are stupid enough to be appeased by that. They didn’t need to go so deep into Romance subplotting to fleece the female preteen demographic.

They totally should have done the scene where Gandalf introduces the party to Beorn in small groups. That would have been a great bit of humor. Just have them lose the orc hunting party long enough to do so.

I think they should have made the spider part where Bilbo saves the dwarves longer, but one of my family members (forget who) pointed out that that would necessarily involve putting more gigantic ugly CGI spiders on the big screen for longer, and gigantic ugly CGI spiders do not please most audiences. Point.

As for most of the creative choices, I’m definitely behind turning what was originally a story about Bilbo into an ensemble cast story; they’re definitely setting us up to care a lot when certain dwarves die at the end. If they do die; I wouldn’t put it past PJ to change that too. Changing the dwarves is especially important because the dwarves in LOTR and the dwarves in The Hobbit are so different; they needed to upgrade the Hobbit dwarves to match. The whole eye-of-Sauron kaleidoscope thing could have been cut in half (once again, just too much) but was a great scene otherwise.

Here’s my overall impression: this could have been a movie filled with sheer awesomeness, but the tonal whiplash I got from going from epic fantasy to slapstick humor and back really tainted the experience. Because the slapstick, unserious moments crop up so suddenly and then vanish, they break me out of enjoying-story mode and into how-ridiculous-is-that? mode. The fact that those moments could have been eliminated by simply toning down the existing scenes just makes their inclusion all the more pointless and galling.* I do have nascent plans to see it again in theaters, and I’m curious to see how a second viewing might change my first impressions of the movie.

*That I consider that tone of slapstick humor a mainstay of male-oriented comedy probably makes me sexist. Take back your token female and get rid of that disgustingly juvenile male humor instead, thanks. Then I’ll be appeased. (/irony) But don’t try to meld chick-flick elements (elvish romance subplot!) with comic-book-geek elements: on a good day they mix as well as oil and water, and on a bad day, about as well as matter and antimatter.

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