Action Movie Friday: The Hobbit, the Desolation of Smaug

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release: 2013
Genre: action, adventure, thriller, fantasy
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Adam Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, John Bell, Peggy Nesbitt, Mary Nesbitt
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro and JRR Tolkien (Book)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Budget: Aprox: $250 Million
Box Office: $960 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 74%

Gingersnaps Rating: 3 3/4 Gingersnaps!

Summary:

Having made it through the Misty Mountains and escaped the orcs following them, Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield still have a long way to travel on their Quest. Their goal, the Lonely Mountain and the gold therein stolen by the great dragon Smaug. In their way is the dreaded forest of Mirkwood, infested with spiders and watched over by the woodland elves. Even if they manage to make it to the Lonely Mountain, they still must face Smaug who knows every piece of his horde and the last thing he wants is for Thorin to get his hands on the most precious treasure of all, the Arkenstone.

Review:

I admitted in the review for An Unexpected Journey that these movie reviews are biased due to the fact that I love the Hobbit story. That remains the same. I should also like to point out that in this movie there are spiders. And if you don’t like spiders, perhaps it’d be best not to watch this movie.

The end of the Unexpected Journey left us about halfway through the book of the Hobbit with the rescue of the party by the eagles. The first movie played the main plot of the book fairly straight with what I felt were ingenious character arcs that involved what was in the book context rather than actual dialogue. The Desolation of Smaug takes us from Beorn’s house to Smaug leaving to attack Lake Town. The important plot points being attacked by spiders in Mirkwood, the imprisonment in the halls of the Elven King, their escape in barrels and then going to the Lonely Mountain where Bilbo has an encounter with Smaug that prompts him to attack Lake Town.

Now, with the movie having such an amazing character arc about Bilbo gaining acceptance among the dwarves as part of their company, there were high hopes for the second movie. This is a story about Bilbo and his journey. We would hope that the story would continue to focus on Bilbo especially as this section of the book is character wise the best part for Bilbo. This part of the book is where Bilbo truly becomes a “burglar” and the dwarves begin to trust him and his hobbit sense. Bilbo defeats the spiders. Bilbo frees them from the Kings dungeons (where they were all in different places no less), Bilbo was the one to suggest searching the south slopes and found the stairs. And lastly, Bilbo almost outwits a dragon while never being seen by said dragon.

That’s not what happened in this movie. There were quite literally no character arcs at all. The movie went from plot beat, to plot beat, to plot beat with plenty of action sequences and additional material and new troubles for our band of dwarven misfits. But without the first movie, there was nothing really gripping in this one. It quite literally couldn’t keep me in my seat. I kept getting up and down and pausing the movie for one reason or another. The changes that they made for the most part took away from what Bilbo accomplished in the book and without these triumphs of Bilbo, later events don’t make as much sense. The changes to Thorin turn him into an insulting halfwit. The movie went from a compelling story to something generic. Sure, having the elves attack the spiders looked cool, and totally missed the point of why it was important for Bilbo to do it. Sure, in the first movie they established at the end that Bilbo was no longer a burden. The second movie is when they needed to establish that Bilbo had ideas. That trust was building between Bilbo and the dwarves and when Bilbo talked later, they listened. And they didn’t.

Instead, they jammed in a bit about Bard, who was really quite unimportant in the book except for his ability to shoot an arrow. The whole part of the movie with Lake Town was added for “conflict” and “drama.” Bilbo became a secondary character in his own story!

The movie hit all the important plot points. It did so in a coherent fashion. There were some good bits in there, but the lack of a decent character arc, especially after how well they did in the first one has me taking a big two bites out of this cookie. Half a cookie.

The desperate fight of the dwarves in the forges against Smaug had explosions and dragon fire a plenty. It was very riveting. One cookie.

There were also plenty of entertaining fights, some to the detriment of the plot as a whole, but entertaining all the same. The fight in the barrels comes to mind where the dwarves and the elves are inadvertently working together against the orcs and showcased a good section with Bombur who had been for the most part previously neglected. One Cookie.

Perhaps the most controversial portion of the movie was the decision to include the Jackson created character of Tauriel. Some felt that she took away from Arwen (who has her own expanded part in the Lord of the Rings courtesy of Jackson) or even Aragorn. (Honestly, kingsfoil really was overused for a little known plant.) Some felt she was there only to have a romance with Kili, whose own character arc and story were changed in the movie. (No one was hurt enough not to proceed to the mountain in the book.) The real question feels to me is did Tauriel add anything meaningful to the story? In my opinion, no. Not really. As presented in the Desolation of Smaug she isn’t a bad character. She’s an outspoken Captain of the Guard. She cares for people even if they are dwarves. She encourages Legolas to look beyond the borders of Mirkwood. Her relationship with Kili could be ambiguous on her end. Though it is obvious he has a major crush on her. A little overmuch is made of Legolas’ maybe, never shown, could be jealous, feelings for her. Otherwise, she’s not overtly sexualized. She’s not a damsel in distress. She’s just sort of there and not expressly needed. Half a cookie.

The second movie takes us into parts of Middle Earth we haven’t seen before, Mirkwood, the Halls of the Elven King, Lake Town, the ruins of Esgaroth, Dale and at last into Erebor. I don’t feel like we got the full impact of Mirkwood. It didn’t feel old and heavy in the movie. I’d imagined it more like Puck’s Glenn in Argylle Forest, Scotland or the heavily mossy bit areas of the Black Forest in Germany. Mirkwood felt like there was too much light. The other place I was really pulled out of this movie was the dwarf carved into the side of the mountain with the stair. This stair was supposed to be hidden. Big dwarf statue is not very subtle! That, and they completely threw out what Durin’s Day actually is. Most disappointing. So, yeah, a bite out of the cookie. It sadly wasn’t as seamless as the prior movie.

The Desolation of Smaug is a decent action movie if you were looking for an action movie. It fails to be an excellent Hobbit Movie as it doesn’t actually focus on Bilbo, the Hobbit. Three and three quarter cookies.

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