Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The following post may contain spoilers!

The second installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy released this past Friday, and as I am a massive Lord of the Rings fan, I of course saw it as soon as I could Friday afternoon. I thought it was a fantastic movie - it was much different from the first installment but still good in its own way. The cinematography was better and more creative, and the casting, set design, and musical score were phenomenal. The film vastly differed from the book, to the point that it felt like a completely different adaptation. A part of me wishes that Jackson had stuck to the more lighthearted feel of the book, but I went in knowing that he had changed and added many events and trusted that he knew what he was doing and would make it fantastic (and he didn't disappoint).

I love the character development we see in the cast, especially in Bilbo and Thorin. Not only does Bilbo slowly evolve into a more mature, courageous hobbit, as seen through his role in helping the dwarves escape the elves' prison, but we are also clearly able to see how the Ring starts affecting his mind, something not shown in the book. Similarly, we are able to see how Thorin's journey has affected him and how he struggles with valuing his lost homeland over the lives of his companions. 

I love the additions of Legolas and Tauriel to the trilogy. When I first heard Jackson was bringing Legolas back, I wasn't too thrilled, but once I saw the film and realized what he was doing with the storylines, I loved the elf roles. Also, although Tolkien never mentions Legolas in the book, there was every possibility of Legolas being present at the time of the story given his age. I also loved the idea of adding a female elf character, especially once I heard Evangeline Lilly was cast for the role. Although I've always loved The Hobbit, it needed a better male/female balance and Tauriel was a perfect addition with her personality blend of fierceness and compassion.

I particularly loved the new-to-the-films-but-familiar-to-the-readers characters - Bard, the Master of Laketown, Thranduil, and Smaug. Luke Evans portrayed Bard perfectly, giving him a more well-rounded, 3D feel than he is given in the book. Stephen Fry made a brilliant and disgusting Master, though I wish we'd seen more of him (I expect he'll have a larger role in the final installment). I was very excited to see Lee Pace as Thranduil, especially after seeing some of his shots in Jackson's production vlogs. The way he held himself, especially when leaning over to talk to Thorin, was so specific yet seemed to flow so smoothly - he was perfect for the role. And of course, Benedict Cumberbatch was Smaug, which may have been the best casting decision for the entire movie. Cumberbatch's voice perfectly matches the tone of a dragon and he nailed the emotion in every single line.

The set design and CGI in this film were a vast improvement over those in the last film. An Unexpected Journey had many outdoor landscape sequences and so there was not much noticeable artificial set work. Also, many scenes in the first film were clearly computer generated (to the point of me cringing in my seat), without much sense of realness to them. This film had far more sets, with Laketown being my favourite. The intricacies of the canals flowing between all the rundown houses gave it a maze-like feel and made the chase scenes more visually appealing. The CGI was loads better in this film as well. After the first one, I was worried about how the sequences of Smaug would look, but in fact the dragon looked incredibly real. In particular, the first glimpse we see of of with just his eye opening and closing almost made me forget that it wasn't a real dragon, especially when in the same shot with Bilbo (Martin Freeman).

The Desolation of Smaug is much more action-packed than its predecessor, similar to how The Two Towers was compared to The Fellowship of the Ring. There were moments when the action infringed on the storyline, but overall the fighting scenes were well-done. I particularly enjoyed the elves/hobbits/orcs barrel sequence with its moments of humour breaking up the otherwise intense scene. I also, for the most part, enjoyed the added storylines. I love how Jackson decided to link The Hobbit more to The Lord of the Rings trilogy than is evident in the book with the growing armies and strength of Sauron, something that we didn’t experience in the LOTR movies. Although I didn’t like how the dwarves split up in Laketown, I did like knowing what was happening to Bard and getting a bit of foreshadowing for the next movie.

There were a few plot points I disliked. As I am a huge fan of the book, I was really looking forward to some of the key events – Beorn and Mirkwood (the forest, the spiders, and the prison & barrels) – and I was disappointed by what instead transpired. In the book, Gandalf cautions the dwarves not to anger Beorn so they walk up to his house two at a time and end up getting along with him really well. I was picturing it to be a comical scene in the movie, but instead in the film Thorin & Co. are being chased by the Orcs and they barge into Beorn’s house uninvited and spend the night there before they meet him the following morning. The meeting itself is depressing as Beorn relates the unlucky tale of his people and news of the Orcs movements through the surrounding areas. I felt the added Orc storyline competed with the original story and made the scene feel rushed. The Mirkwood, spider, and imprisonment sequences were the same way. They were chopped short of the book version in order to, as seen as the movie goes on, to leave room for the heavier and longer scenes later. In the book, Mirkwood takes up a considerable chunk of the pages and the scene where the dwarves try crossing a river without falling in could have been made either comical or serious, but instead was completely cut out. The spider scene was also shorter than I was expecting from all the buildup, although it did otherwise play out the way I expected, aside from the elves coming in at that point instead of the Company running into them by accident later. The imprisonment scene only had the dwarves kept in their cells for a few hours when in the book they were there for weeks. I realize they had to cut the scenes short for a reason, but I was wishing they had showing a longer passage of time.

I have mixed keeping about the Kili and Tauriel romance (or Kiliel, as Tumblr calls them). On the one hand, I think it was sweet and added a positive element to an otherwise intense film, but the boundaries could have been set up better. I loved Kili’s little crush on Tauriel, but Tauriel was a little too involved with helping him to only have a small interest in him back, despite that seeming to be what Jackson was going for. I’m interested to see what happens in the third installment as Kili dies in the book and I’m assuming Jackson will at least keep character deaths true to canon.

Despite some of the treatment of book plot points, I thought it was an absolutely brilliant movie. You can clearly see Jackson’s style evolving into bigger and better visions and outputs with this film and I’m very much looking forward to the third film.

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