03 January 2014

"Desolation of Smaug" Review

I have finally seen The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. What's more, I got to see it with my son James, who was, I must admit, slightly more entertaining in his enthusiasm than the film itself. But before I regale you with my unsolicited review, I should of course start by rewinding to last year and my thoughts after seeing the first installment:

I know you've been on the edge of your seats waiting for my Hobbit review (right?), so I'm going to do you one better and give you a summary of the thoughts that went through my head while watching it! Merry Christmas! (And no, this gift is not returnable.)
1. This Ian Holm-as-Bilbo frame narrative is slow and annoying -- an unnecessary reminder that this story takes place before the events of LotR. I was looking forward to NOT seeing Elijah Wood again.
2. I like the back-story on Erebor and Smaug. Works like the prologue of Fellowship did.
3. Why do dwarves have Scottish accents in almost every fantasy continuity?
4. Every year around the holidays I start pining after the D&D days of yore -- long hours of questing and snacking and getting lost in a fantasy realm. I've been trying to satisfy it by playing games like Heroica, Heroscape, and HeroQuest with my boys (yes, those are the games' actual names). But this movie really hits the spot!
5. It's a good thing I like this "Misty Mountain" musical theme because it's going to be stuck in my head for awhile.
6. Why do gross villains always have Cockney accents?
7. Tolkien makes a pretty generous DM. Who knew such valuable loot was so easy to find lying around?
8. Am I crazy or is Thorin Oakenshield a more interesting character than Aragorn was? A worthy stand-in for the reluctant leader role, but flawed, and completely lacking any heavy-handed emotional ties to Liv Tyler!
9. I don't remember that from the book. It must be part of the appendices' material they're grafting in to lengthen the story into a trilogy. (This thought reoccurred about ten times.)
10. Uh oh. This is starting to remind me of a certain other Peter Jackson movie where the main characters pass through improbable chaos unscathed. If one of the Dwarves shoots Goblins off another Dwarf's body with a machine gun without harming said Dwarf, I'm outta here.
11. It's nice that the deus ex machina (Gandalf) has his own deus ex machina (the eagles).
12. It's over and that song is definitely stuck in my head. I think I actually enjoyed the movie more than LotR, maybe because I read The Hobbit at a younger age and was therefore transported into a younger mindset. Or something. Anyway, now I'm pining for the sequel AND D&D! Sigh...
Next I should point out that, in my eagerness to dive back into Middle-earth, I re-watched both the first Hobbit movie and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy -- extended editions, no less! The latter is what my family did on New Year's Eve, and we managed to finish the whole thing by midnight. But immersing myself so thoroughly had two consequences (aside from the usual that accompany such blatant idleness):

First, I realized that the movies incorporate a whole bunch of Tolkien mythology without ever really explaining it, and so I wasted several more hours looking stuff up on wikis. (Is Sauron's disembodied-ness like Voldemort from Harry Potter? What's up with Galadriel's "I'm too angelic for this world yet still exist here for some reason" attitude? What exactly is this "West" that they're sailing to? Heaven?)

Second, I mistakenly ODed on Middle-earth-stories-as-interpreted-by-Peter Jackson, which is a none-too-desirable prelude to seeing another in the theater.

All that said, we finally come to the summary of my thoughts while watching The Desolation of Smaug. As a bonus, I'll include my son James's actual comments spoken out loud during the movie. Spoilers follow.
ME: James is going to be confused because they're starting with a flashback and he's already iffy on the chronology between the two trilogies.
JAMES: "Who's that? What's going on? Where's Frodo?"
ME: Beorn looks funny as a bear. Oh wait, he looks even weirder as a man.
JAMES: "Wow, who's that!"
ME: We're already into this a fair ways and I still haven't noticed that "Misty Mountain" theme. How disappointing.
JAMES: "Ooh, mountains!"
ME: They're not directly acknowledging that Bolg is Azog's son, but then why would they make them look alike? Speaking of which, I love the look of both albino Orcs in these movies. They seem more real than the muddy-faced LotR Orcs. Interesting how motion-capture "captures" more of the actor's performance than real world make-up can. Plus, Manu Bennett! He's fun as Slade in TV's Arrow. Crap, James will need help with their subtitles.
JAMES: "What did they just say?"
ME: Lindon [my eldest] would hate these spiders.
JAMES: "Lindon would hate these spiders!"
ME: All right, I really wanted to be okay with Tauriel and this whole love triangle thing I've been hearing about...but really? She falls for him that fast? It takes Legolas three movies to overcome the Elf/Dwarf rivalry and call Gimli his "friend," and Tauriel manages to shrug off her Elf-ness -- hatred for Dwarves, loyalty to her king -- in a matter of minutes? I guess they do provide some precedent for it in that Tauriel clearly doesn't sit comfortably inside the king's good graces...plus there was that extended scene in the first movie showing Kili's interest in Elves...but still. If it added something fun/interesting I'd be all for it, but it's really rather distracting. And is it just me, or do these Hobbit movies allow more anachronistic dialogue than LotR did? I mean, the pants joke? Come on.
JAMES: "Did you see what she did to that Orc? Ah-ah-awesome!"
ME: James is right. The action is pretty spectacular. But you have to wonder how a bunch of incompetent Dwarves that constantly need help from a Hobbit can suddenly pull out all kinds of mad tricks in the midst of a car chase river barrel escape. I guess that's Peter Jackson for you. He should design amusement park rides.
JAMES: (Incomprehensible squeals of excitement.)
ME: Orlando Bloom is looking a bit chubby in the face. And holy cow, did he just get hurt by Bolg? Legolas never gets hurt! Am I actually starting to root for the albino Orcs?
JAMES: "Why is Legolas bleeding? Did he bite his lip?"
ME: I've heard a lot of hype about how great Smaug looks, and yeah, he's a worthy homage to Vermithrax Pejorative. But Benedict Cumberbatch is so cool he makes me sick.
JAMES: "Now that's a big dragon!"
ME: In terms of expectations, I haven't remembered or adhered much to the book. However, I do remember thinking that Bilbo outsmarted Smaug more impressively than this. And I assume the Dwarves' involvement is new. Lucky all that mechanical engineering held up after all these years. But wait...it's over? Well overall it was fun, but I have to admit I didn't enjoy it as much as the first one. I guess filling my D&D fix with Descent this past year, plus ODing on Tolkien lately, has made me less agreeable. But I'm still looking forward to the third installment with its dual coverage of both the Battle of Five Armies and the Battle of Dol Guldur.
JAMES: "Best. Movie. EVER!"


  1. We enjoyed it too and I had several of the same reactions as you and your son. Beorn was not how I remember imagining him. I pictured black-bearded and black-beared. The added interracial romance I found to be uninteresting and the charm of the pants joke and rune curse didn't seem enough to convince me of her romantic interest or motivation to quest. I was pleasantly surprised to really enjoy the creature design of Smaug and the voice was well done. Overall it was a fun movie, but I feel like so far both could have been shortened a bit. I am looking forward to the 3rd one. Watching all 6 in a marathon sounds exhausting though.

    Have you read the Silmarillion? There are some insights there on the elves and the relationship with the West.

    I definitely think back on the D&D days and it was great. I still have all my books and characters and hold on to some hope that I may pull them out some day to play again or at least try in vain to explain what magical moments were tracked on the faded character sheets.

  2. Thanks for reading and sharing your own thoughts! I'm always curious what you think of these films because I remember what a Tolkien fan you were.

    I haven't read Silmarillion, actually, and I understand that the studio doesn't have the film rights, which is why they've been pulling extraneous stuff from the appendices in Return of the King. From the wikis I gained a slightly better notion of the West, but the cosmology was so detailed and expansive that reading it in summaries was probably a disservice.

    I still have my old D&D stuff, too. I believe this month is its 40th anniversary. I was under the impression that you still played with a local group. Did that come to an end? I've been playing Descent lately (mentioned above). It's a board game like Hero Quest instead of a role-playing game, so it's not half as time consuming but still lots of fun. I often wish that you lived closer so you could join in!