Before I begin what will seem a litany of complaints about “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, let me say first that I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit. In the first film I was a little put off by the goofy looks of some of the dwarves, but I suppose they’ve grown on me, and the cast did a good job of making them into recognizable individuals with their own personalities rather than “Thorin and his merry band of redshirts”. The action scenes were mostly enjoyable if a little bit over-the-top. The small comedic touches here and there worked well (unlike, say, Gimli’s LOTR extended edition “consistency of squirrel droppings” remark).
(Danger: Beyond this point, watch for falling spoilers.)
And most importantly, they Got. Smaug. Right. If you’re gonna do a movie of The Hobbit, you absolutely can’t screw up the dragon. Smaug is to modern dragon stories what Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin are to rock and roll – like them or not, their influence on their respective genres can’t be denied. (Smaug is, of course, better than Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin, because he could eat all of them and not even feel a slight buzz from digesting Keith Richards. )
Having established my generally positive overall impression of the film, allow me to now proceed to nit-pick it to death.
I’m something of a Tolkien purist; I was bothered by a lot of the exclusions and changes in the LOTR films, though never enough to keep a puddle of drool from forming on the floor in front of me in the theater on first watching each of them. I’m not necessarily even talking about the big-ticket items like leaving out Tom Bombadil or skipping the Scouring of the Shire – I missed the little touches, the minor characters who showed up for a paragraph or two in the written work and added to the sense that a much larger, richer world surrounded the events chronicled in the story.
I knew that The Hobbit would be even less true to the text – how could it be turned into 8+ hours of film otherwise? – but I didn’t think I would mind the changes too much. As I’ve mentioned before, I like The Hobbit, but I’m not nearly as passionate about it as I am about the other Middle-Earth books. I was even looking forward to seeing how Peter Jackson and crew would flesh out the tenuous connections to the LOTR story – after all, even Tolkien himself did this with some minor edits that were added to later publications of The Hobbit.
So I was a bit surprised at my annoyance at the Stuff That Got Left Out and a bit of the Stuff That Got Added In. We didn’t get to see Bilbo shout “Attercop!” while lobbing stones at spiders. The dwarves never left the path through Mirkwood to chase flickering lights and feasting Elves.
Instead, we got a lot of footage of Legolas killing orcs. We were treated to an inter-species love interest, a splitting of the party that didn’t occur in the book, and just a few too many instances of someone arriving just in the nick of time to save our heroes from certain doom. We got floating open-ended barrels which, when the open ends went deep underwater, bobbed back up and did not cease to be floating barrels.
The climactic action sequence inside the mountain – not from the book – had its moments, but it was too long and in places played a little like The Keystone Kops and the Temple of Doom. Memo to prospective dwarven kings who want to emulate the surfing-on-a-river-of-molten-metal scene: try it, and history will remember you as Thorin Roastedheels. There was an event which seemed like it needed an entirely absent earlier scene to explain the presence of one of the critical elements of the sequence. Without that establishment in place, the climax left me wondering “where did that come from?”
And last but not least: why did Bard have to look so much like Legolas with a pasted-on mustache? As the credits rolled, I thought of a good way to decribe this similarity.