Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Post-Viewing

I discovered the works of J.R.R. Tolkien when I was about twelve years old (sometime in 1997). It began when I chose The Hobbit at random from a list for a Seventh Grade book report, not knowing anything about its history or its exceptional and incredibly interesting author. Reading it opened a whole new world to me. 

During my freshmen year of high school I read The Lord of the Rings. I didn't leap right into the trilogy after reading The Hobbit, even though I had heard of it in passing, because copies of the books were unavailable to me, and for some reason the idiom "Out of sight, out of mind" described my way of life in those early teenage years. However, I did see the title and cover images for the other books inside the cover of my copy of The Hobbit and I wondered at them, but I was unable to track them down until later. Though it took me a couple of years to explore the rest of Tolkien's writings, after reading The Lord of the Rings I completely immersed myself in the world of Middle Earth. I learned of its history, its peoples, its languages, and its heroes and villains. It became my universe for escape and fancy, especially when life fell apart around me. 

When the films of Peter Jackson's trilogy were released I excitedly watched all of them, anxious to see my beloved literary universe brought to life. They came to theaters during a time when my family was going through several extreme rough patches and was rapidly dissolving. In those days the books and movies were a powerful comfort and very much my "World beyond the wardrobe" or simply a spiritual link for me to the beautiful dimension of imagination. They sustained me long into adulthood.

Then came Peter Jackson's take on The Hobbit, about ten years later.

News of an adaptation of The Hobbit to film had been around since just after Jackson wrapped his Rings trilogy. I, along with many of my fellow appreciators of Tolkien, were naturally very excited for this news. Even though initial reports suggested that it probably would not involve Peter Jackson, I was simply anxious to see another piece of Tolkien's Middle Earth brought to the screen. When it was eventually announced that Jackson would once again take up the reins I was thrilled because he had already given us a fine adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and in so doing, proved his understanding of and respect for the source material - even though he did take some liberties with The Lord of the Rings. Then I heard that he wanted to convert the novel into another trilogy. A single novel into three films. At that announcement I suddenly remembered my concern when I heard that he wanted to add a sword-wielding Arwen to Helm's Deep. Odd changes were afoot. Frustration and concern began to set in. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (which I wrote on last year - here) was an enjoyable film, though I did have some issues with certain aspects of the movie's story progression. In the end I chose to view it with the idea that it was an adaptation apart from the source material in several respects and should therefore be appreciated for what it was. So, time passed and I waited patiently for the second part of what I still considered an unnecessary trilogy.

My wife and I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night, the Saturday of its opening weekend. My initial reaction after viewing the film was one of anger and supreme disappointment. This stemmed mostly, again, from my feeling of unease with Jackson's desire to produce a trilogy and, considering what I had just seen, his decision to justify and make that trilogy by packing in absurd filler, seemingly to placate simple-minded movie audiences who care nothing for the source material. At least I hope that's why some of that material was included, though I detect a certain Del Toro influence in some of the story decision making, which is likely since he co-wrote the screenplay. What I mean by that statement is really a reference to my opinion that Del Toro tends to include sudden, heavy, awkward, and lengthy action sequences and to explore aspects of the characters which interest him and generally tend to have little to no connection to the source material, if he's adapting.

To state it plainly, my biggest issue with the movie was the excessive insertion of additional material and the strange diversions from the original story. Without giving too much away, I found myself bothered by the inclusion of a ridiculous and highly unnecessary love triangle, which included a character created by the filmmakers. One not pulled from Tolkien's writings. Then there was an alteration of a certain major player toward the end of the The Hobbit's tale, the addition of a video game-like sequence which went on for far too long, the poisoning of one of the dwarven party so that the filmmakers could include a nod to Frodo's plight in Fellowship of the Ring, and finally, the games of "Tease the Dragon" and "Let's Light the Forge" played by Bilbo and the dwarves near the end of the film. There were other additions to the original story, but in my opinion, those made sense in terms of creating a film experience for the every-viewer. 

Many things in The Desolation of Smaug excited and very much pleased me, though. Beorn was fantastic, though he was underused and the sequence in his home was unfortunately diminished. The Mirkwood sequence was well executed, and they even thought to include Bilbo's time above the canopy of the wood, surrounded by the butterflies. The elven hall was exceptional, though the film did not need either Legolas or his manufactured counterpart Tauriel. I also thought that Lake Town was well done, and I appreciated the culture of the Lake Folk which the film represented. There were other moments or locations which were exciting to watch, and for most of the film I found myself wanting to both desperately reread the books and to quickly strike up a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

In regard to any feelings of inspiration or longing generated by this film, the largest impulse I had when leaving the theater was to go and seek out a copy of the Rankin-Bass animated feature. Of all the Tolkien adaptations, the Rankin-Bass Hobbit came closest to the tone, style, and overall feel of what I felt was at the heart of the novel. Sure, it left out some great sequences from the book, but the character and world design along with the flow of the story matched my original feelings when I first read The Hobbit. Perhaps I'll pay a visit to Amazon after writing this post so that I can finally own a copy.

It was not my intent to write a scathing review of the movie, but I did want to explain my perspective and my reaction to the film in hopes that other Tolkien enthusiasts would read this and use caution when viewing it or contact me with their opinions of the movie. The above consists greatly of my opinions, so know that I don't claim to have the correct outlook on the film or the only valid view. Basically, see it and decide for yourself, but know that someone who grew up loving the books upon which this film was based felt mixed-to-disappointed about the film.


  1. I think I stumbled on The Hobbit the same way as you and LOVED it when I read it. I've enjoyed the movies.. though a few went on way longer than necessary. I'm sorry to hear this one isn't one of the better ones, but thanks for letting me know!

  2. Thank you for reading this reaction.

    If you see it I hope that you find more to enjoy out of it than I did. I wouldn't say that I hated it, and I wouldn't discourage people from seeing it, but again, I did feel more than a bit of disappointment after viewing the film.