Movies

Movie review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Let’s get this right on the record: I loved this movie, and in fact, I loved it more than the first one.

Picoreview: Overall a tighter experience than the first one, without the need to do all the setup, and there was much less superfluous action. There’s a lot more changes to the core Hobbit storyline that yeah, diehard purists will definitely object to–I’ve already heard and read a lot of those objections. With wry apologies to the purists, I don’t share those objections. Every one of the changes totally worked for me in the context of the story Jackson’s telling in this movie, so I have no qualms about them whatsoever.

Which means that yes, as I pretty much expected would be the case, I am ABSOLUTELY a Tauriel fangirl.

Overall my expectations, set by the first movie, were in the B- range. I was so delighted by so much of what I saw in this second installment that I gotta bump up its grade to a B+, though!

So let’s get into the deets, shall we? Shining starlight-colored spoilers behind the cut!

Above-cut ETA: Dara has her review post up now right over here, in which she brings up the point about Tolkien’s work as a mythos, and myths getting changed and reinterpreted. And which she also points out very correctly that representation does matter, and that’s a big big plus for having Tauriel in the movie.


Right then, so let’s start with why I’m giving this a B+ rather than kicking it up into A territory. In chronological order through the movie:

  • Didn’t particularly need the flashback in Bree at the very beginning, though I allow that it provided a nice segue into the Beorn sequence, with Bilbo spying on the wargs.
  • Beorn was sorely underused at the beginning of the movie. I get why they couldn’t spend too much time with the company at his house–it would have been death to the pacing of the film to play it out completely the way it plays out in the book. But I also feel like they scaled that whole section back a bit TOO hard. I’m trying not to be too heavily influenced by the character I imprinted on in the story, and to focus instead on the film version of him here. But we barely even SAW the guy before the plot zoomed on past him.
  • I liked the whole “Kili gets wounded and has to be healed by athelas” subplot, but having the line about kingsfoil being a weed was a little bit too obvious.
  • Mirkwood looked a fright, but not nearly quite as disturbing as the Mirkwood in my head. Honestly, the look of the place wasn’t particularly more disturbing than Fangorn Forest in The Two Towers.
  • Surprised by how little we saw of Radagast, too!
  • The imagery involving the Necromancer revealing himself as Sauron was a bit too heavy-handed with the repetition of “shadowy figure, flaming Eye, shadowy figure, flaming Eye, lather, rinse, repeat”.

But that’s about it, really, in terms of stuff I had any objection to whatsoever. Now let’s get into the good stuff. 😀

Even though the Beorn bit at the beginning was way too short, I did nonetheless quite like Beorn’s overall look and how he changed form. And I liked the hints of his fantastical ponies and bees as well.

Oh god the shot of Bilbo at the top of the trees looking at the butterflies. Such joy on his face. BEAUTIFUL.

The spider sequence: NICE. I liked the bits of spider speech–oh hey look NOW we’re finally getting some talking animals here! And while my heart did a little lurch that we didn’t get to hear Martin Freeman deliver the “I will give you a name, and I will call you Sting” line, I gotta say, the way it played out instead was still entirely appropriate. I loved that light of “oh hey!” on Bilbo’s face and the “good name!” line he tosses off as the spider falls, wailing, “It stings!”

Of the things I don’t miss about Mirkwood, I’m glad they dropped the whole bit with Bombur falling into the enchanted water, and the mileage with ragging on Bombur about being so fat and useless that came with it in the book.

Thranduil’s realm was beautiful as well, in a way that managed to look Elvish without looking too much like Lothlorien or Rivendell. If anything, it reminded Paul of Blue Mountain from Elfquest, and once he said that as we were on the way home from the movie, I could totally see it. Particularly the little cells they stuffed the dwarves into.

And ladies and gentlemen, nobody flounces like Thranduil McPointyCrown. His disdainful scene with Thorin was great, particularly that chilling little bit of OKAY WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH HIS FACE? Paul’s assertion was that he’s clearly a lot more physically fucked up and is hiding it with glamour, so one presumes we’re going to see that glamour unravel significantly in the third movie, otherwise we wouldn’t get teased with it now.

Also, actor Lee Pace rocks the hell out of some eyebrows as well. It is the household theory that “Thranduil” is in fact Sindarin for “Eyebrows”. (And if it’s not, it SHOULD BE.)

Legolas! Good to see you again, even if you do look suspiciously stockier than you did ten years ago, even if you’re supposed to be several decades younger here. Also, visually disorienting to see his eyes be blue here, when they were dark in the other movies. (A bit of reading indicates that apparently his eye color was inconsistent across the movies due to mishaps with contact lenses. Okay, NEW HEADCANON: Legolas’s eyes change color!)

And that brings me to the other major elf character, who is, of course, Tauriel. Had to remind myself who the Silvan Elves are in the mythos, but okay yeah, a bit more reading reminds me that Thranduil and Legolas are Sindar, ruling over a predominantly Silvan population. The Silvan Elves are therefore kind of commoners, in Elvish terms, which makes Tauriel’s lines to her king about his not being likely to let his son pair off with the likes of her make more sense.

But Tauriel in general? SOLD. As I’ve observed before, no problem whatsoever with her as Thranduil’s guard captain. There IS a guard captain in the books, but he was never identified, so I’m totally down with genderflipping the role. Evangeline Lilly completely sold the character to me, as a younger, more liberal elf being willing to look beyond their borders at the bigger picture of Shit That’s About to Go Down.

And as I’ve observed before, I’m also a total romantic sucker, so yeah, Tauriel/Kili? I SHIP IT. <3 I was charmed as all getout by the scene involving the runestone. ‘Cause I mean yeah, Kili was cute and all in the first movie, but now suddenly he gets to be a character. And a charming one at that.

DIGRESSION ALERT:

The reasonable point has been made to me that there’s not exactly any canon basis for dwarves to be romantically interested in females not of their kind, particularly given the backstory of their creation (i.e., Aulë creating the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves and then putting them to sleep until Ilúvatar gave him permission to wake them up after the awakening of the Elves and of Men). To which I’ve got to point out that dwarves are clearly lovers of beauty. Gimli damn near swoons over Galadriel, even though he never gives any sign of that swooning being anything but platonic adoration of her loveliness. So the potential for Kili to find Tauriel beautiful in general is certainly there.

And while I can see a reasonable case being made for lack of canon support for dwarvish romantic feelings, on the other hand, from where I’m sitting, absence of support does not automatically mean support of absence. I.e., just because we’ve never seen a dwarf in the canon being attracted to a non-dwarf female doesn’t mean it should be impossible for it to happen.

Dwarf women are, after all, very rare–a third of the population or less. Some amount of breeding is therefore clearly going on, but that means there’s a lot of unattached dwarf males running around. My general understanding is that dwarf males who don’t take a wife will devote themselves to their crafts instead, and yeah sure. But Kili’s also young, young enough that he probably still has hormones bubbling around, and unless we want to assume he’s queer, doesn’t surprise me he’d fall for the first female who revs those young dwarvish hormones of his.

Also: for everybody complaining about a romantic triangle, there was in fact no triangle here. A triangle implies that there’s any possibility that Tauriel is undecided about whether she’s going for Legolas or whether she’s going for Kili. Thranduil is clearly not the slightest bit interested in encouraging Legolas to pair off with her, and I didn’t see the slightest hint that she was going to give Legolas any reason to go against his father’s wishes even if Legolas does like her.

Plus, for fuck’s sake, Tauriel even calls Legolas mellon. Elvish word for friend, remember? Not the Elvish word for “sure, I’m going to pursue a romantic liasion with you even though my king expressly told me not to”.

Plus #2, even though she’s pleased that Legolas came after her on her dwarf-saving mission, she specifically backs up to heal Kili even though she knows Legolas has to be out there kicking orcish ass. If she had any indecision on the matter at all, it was about half a second’s worth. My money’s on her being confident that Legolas could handle the problem–and meanwhile, here’s the cute little dwarf being about to die. Lady’s got her priorities.

And as I’ve previously ALSO stated, hiya, big romantic sucker. So god yes, I totally went awwwww! at poor delirious Kili lying there mumbling about “she walks in starlight, in another world.” *Sniff*

Cheesy? Sure. So was how Tauriel made with the glowing as she was healing him and chanting–but, I might pointed out that Arwen also glowed like a great big shiny glowing thing in Fellowship when she came to the aid of delirious wounded Frodo. So it ain’t like this is anything new visually speaking. It’s just that this time, we’re getting it with romantic ravings on the part of a delirious dwarf boy. 😉

I repeat: big romantic sucker. That whole scene stomped all over my romantic sucker buttons and I loved it to pieces.

END DIGRESSION!

Where was I? Oh yes. I loved this version of Bilbo getting them all out in the barrels, too–playing it as “riding the barrels down the rapids, while fighting off orcs” was a great choice for a visual movie experience. I loved the bits with the dwarves tossing weapons back and forth to each other.

And I adored the bit with Bombur’s barrel going flying, and his getting to suddenly use his barrel as goddamn armor. Bombur got to be a lion for a shining moment there. GO BOMBUR! \0/

And then of course Kili gets shot in the middle of this sequence, to wit: OHNOEZ!

Getting into Lake-town, and Lake-town in general–NICE. I liked how they worked in the old legends of Girion attacking the dragon by way of explaining the chink in Smaug’s armor, to get around the problem of a talking thrush being the deliverer of that vital bit of intelligence. And I really liked this implementation of Bard, and the hint that he’s a smuggler type. Because as a former player of Han Solo, I do love me a smuggler with a heart of gold, yep yep yep.

REALLY liked that the actor also played Girion in the flashback, hee, and that he had the ONE LAST BLACK ARROW hidden in his house. Of COURSE he did. 😀

And I very much liked Bard’s reaction to overhearing the name “Thorin”, too, and how he goes running to find the old tapestry. And how the rumors start spreading through the town. Having recently re-read that part of the book, that was a very evocative way for me to get the town’s reaction to the coming of the dwarves on screen!

Stephen Fry was suitably slimy as the Master of Lake-town, particularly once Thorin’s company is revealed–and how quickly he sees that it would be very advantageous to him to publicly side with Thorin. This is dead on for what goes on in the book, too.

I also loved Fili getting to be more of a character here now too–his speaking up for Kili when Thorin orders him to stay behind in Lake-town, and the glimpses we’re getting here of Fili’s responsibilities about being next in line to rule. “My place is with my brother.” Awwwwww. <3

So yeah, the dramatic tension of splitting the company up there worked for me, too, even though it’s a digression from canon. I’m all for anything that makes any of the dwarves get to stand out more as individual characters.

Legolas fighting Bolg and the other orcs–GREAT. Particularly the bit at the end where he pauses, wipes at his nose, and gets this look on his face like, “Wait, what? I’m bleeding? MOTHERFUCKER, AM I BLEEDING MY OWN ACTUAL BLOOD?” And then he goes charging right off after Bolg because oh, this is NOT ENDING HERE, SON. It is ON.

Also: BOLG! Who, as my fellow Hobbit nerds will know, is the actual Orc who was leading the orc army in the Battle of Five Armies in the book. He’s Azog’s son, in fact. So it’s good to see him actually show up here, to get some tie-in back to the actual material. Will be standing by now to see whether Beorn takes him down in the third movie, which is what happens in the book.

Which of course brings us now finally to the Lonely Mountain.

Very much liked that the “last light” turned out to be moonlight. Nice fakeout there! Given that they very much shortened how much time the company spent on the mountain, it added back some dramatic tension there.

And then they get in. And ALL of them go in, as opposed to what happens in the book–i.e., they all wait outside while they send Bilbo in by himself. I loved the reactions on Thorin’s and Balin’s faces–both actors did a great job there of showing exactly how much stepping back into that mountain was a punch right in their guts.

Then they finally do send Bilbo down to look for the Arkenstone. Specifically for the Arkenstone, this time, as opposed to book!Bilbo who’s just ordered to go down and steal something. This makes more sense in the context of the movie, and sets up how Thorin’s already starting to act a little out of character, enough for Balin to notice. Which is entirely right. Thorin at this point needs to be showing signs of being at risk so he can finally wig out further in movie #3.

And oh GOD the hoard. SO MUCH SHINY.

And OH GOD. SMAUG. Chiefest and greatest of GODDAMN CALAMITIES. The chill that raced through me when Bilbo started seeing bits of the hoard moving all around him, conveying exactly how FUCKING GODDAMN ENORMOUS this dragon is.

And OH GOD, Cumberbatch’s delivering those lines. AMAZING. I was told on Facebook that I wouldn’t even realize it was Cumberbatch for the most part, and that was right–I caught hints of his dramatic style here and there, but only towards the very end, when Smaug was pain-maddened and his voice got higher, did he sound more like Cumberbatch’s natural voice.

But JESUS CHRIST, just watching him move. And his face EMOTING. And the way his entire torso began to glow just before he unleashed the fire. SO. STUNNING.

An objection was raised to me on Facebook about the dwarves spending so much time on an ultimately fruitless attempt to take down the dragon–but that was absolutely fine for me, and this is why. Because Jackson’s already established that the movie versions of these dwarves are operating with a far more noble goal than the dwarves in the book, i.e., to take back their homeland rather than to just seize Smaug’s treasure, Smaug is a clear and present danger to that goal. It is vital to the narrative arc that they’ve had so far that they try to take down the dragon here. It would have been untrue to the characters if they had not.

It is equally vital that their attempt fail. But GODDAMN, such a glorious attempt it was, trying to drench him in molten gold. That bit at the end, where the giant statue-shaped mold breaks and you get a brief glimpse of a towering golden figure–WOW. But what blew me away there was Smaug’s reaction. He was utterly transfixed, totally in OOOOOOOOOO SO SHINY OOOOOOOOOO mode. Which, again, entirely right. He’s a goddamn gold-loving dragon. Of COURSE he’s going to be enraptured by the Shiny.

Which then collapses into a hot molten flood all over him. AWESOME. \m/

Even more awesome that IT DOESN’T DO A GODDAMN THING EXCEPT PISS HIM OFF, either. And send him roaring into the sky, bent on torching Lake-town, just because he’s now realized that Lake-town is important to these intruders and he is SO TOTALLY DOWN with making it BURN. And it was beautiful and terrifying to see the shower of golden droplets falling down off of him, too.

And Bilbo’s last horrified “what have we done?!” NICE. I was CERTAIN Smaug was going down at the end of this movie but apparently not. This however works VERY well as an endpoint, and sets up the third movie to be all about taking Smaug down, Thorin succumbing to the gold-lust, Gandalf breaking out of Dol Guldur, and the mustering of the Battle of Five Armies.

I cannot goddamn wait, and meanwhile, I’ll definitely be going to see this again. In no small part because over here flying my Tauriel/Kili Yes I Ship It flag. You wacky kids enjoy that romance, because I am sure you’re both going to die tragically in the next film.

Last but not least, I did also have to call out a particular commonality of hair between my belovedest badassed redhead with a bouzouki:

And this badassed redhead with a bow:

Tauriel

Tauriel

Told her she could TOTALLY cosplay Tauriel. And she got this speculative gleam in her eye and drawled, “The DEUCE you say.”

Muahahaha. I cannot WAIT to see what she does with that, either. 😀

Below-cut ETA #1: Something I forgot to mention that I really liked in the bit where Gandalf infiltrated Dol Guldur and OH SHIT SAURON: while I didn’t care for the repetition of the Eye imagery to drive home the point of who exactly the Necromancer is, I really did like the stark beauty of the contrast between Gandalf’s pure white light and the smoky, cloying darkness being thrown at him. That was stunning.

ETA #2: Couple more things I forgot that I wanted to add!

First of all, on the theme of Representation Matters, why hello there, dark-skinned people of Lake-town! I see you there and am pleased by your presence!

Second, I forgot to mention above that one of the things that didn’t quite play well for me was Galadriel telepathically pinging Gandalf as the reason to make him bail on the company at Mirkwood. Partly because it feels like sore underuse of Galadriel to have her do nothing but playing messenger in this movie, though I do also grant that it plays well with Galadriel and Gandalf seeming to possess the greatest share of the clues in movie #1 during the meeting of the White Council.

And third, Dara and I got into discussion last night about how it’s very ambiguous as to whether Bilbo does in fact finally grab the Arkenstone. I was trying very hard to follow its process bouncing through the hoard as Bilbo dived after it, and I did indeed notice how he deliberately didn’t actually tell Thorin he had it once Thorin got all up in his face waving his great big sword around.

This partly plays into Bilbo quietly yoinking the Arkenstone in the book and deliberately not telling anybody he has it–but even more, it plays well against how in this movie, Smaug very deliberately plants the idea in Bilbo’s head that letting Thorin have the Arkenstone will in fact make him crazy. So now Bilbo has a very good reason to worry about whether he wants to hand over the Arkenstone at all. When I go back for viewing #2 I’m going to pay harder attention to see if we do in fact see Bilbo grab it, and if we don’t, I very much like that being left ambiguous.

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