Monday, December 16, 2013

The Desolation of Tolkien - The Hobbit, Commercial Installment Part II

The Animated Version of Smaug the DRAGON (not the Wyvern)
Tolkien's Original Hand Sketch of what he (the author( envisioned as Smaug
I just got home from going to see "The Desolation of Smaug" , aka the 2nd Hobbit movie in the needless trilogy, and I can't say I am not significantly disappointed.  I don't want to fill the start of this with many spoilers (those come at the end) but the film does Not follow the book much at all, other than a very very very loose story line and some of the same casts of characters.  Most of the "places" in Middle Earth are still there, but what happens in those places, who goes there, and how they get there are nearly completely different than anything I read in the book decades ago.
Peter Jackson is a very good movie maker, and loves elaborate scenes, but he also loves commercialization, merchandizing, and taking massive 'creative license' whenever possible.  Contrary to some of my friends' perspective on the first movie, "An Unexpected Journey" I generally liked the first movie.  Yes, it had some divergences and dwelled too long here or there, but it seemed to carry the general spirit of Tolkien's original work, or at least the first 1/3 of the short novel, and I walked away from it in Christmas 2012 not feeling let down, ripped off, or baited-and-switched.  "Desolation of Smaug" tremendously let me down, confused me, and was just plain-out gratuitous where it didn't need to be.

If you've not seen it yet, and don't want to have any "spoilers", stop reading now.   Come back later after you've seen it, and let me know what you think.

Positive Points:  (I like to put the good before the bad)
- Smaug (the character) is done very well, crafted in pure evil.  Nicely done in Smaug's personae as represented by his dialogue, intelligence, ferocity and wickedness.
- The King of the Wood Elves is done very well, very haughty, sticking close to the original (mostly)
- Peter Jackson makes a second appearance near the very beginning, as does Steven Colbert 1/3 of the way through the film; both very minor roles, but sweet little cameos.
- the blue butterflies Bilbo stirs up at the Mirkwood canopy when he climbs up to get his bearings are beautifully done
- women (and 10% of men) who love Orlando Bloom will be able to swoon looking into Legolas's iridescent blue eyes.
- the natural beauty of New Zealand is spectacular, and Jackson shows off many pastoral, mountainous, and CGI sceneries.
- the Spider encounter is even creepier than the book or animated movie, and the "it Stings!" quote it spot on
- Smaug's in angry condemnation "I am fire, I am death" and "there is no where to hide" as well as Bilbo's flattery of Smaug under the mountain in the great hall is spot on, Spoken very well.

Negative Points:
- there were no female elvish lead characters in the book or the animated movie, but obviously Jackson's marketeers (or maybe Jackson himself in his own creative license) decided that injecting a main lead female character would SELL MORE Merchandise, inject more positive female role models, and perhaps was an attempt to get more female movie goers (little girls and their parents) to go see a movie of a book that most of them had never read.  "Mommy, I wanna be like Tauriel! she fights so fiercely AND helps people!"  Ugh.
- there were no orcs who ever entered Laketown.  So the Laketown lackey police can stop "smugglers" but don't monitor their ONLY land bridge?  No one sounds an alarm, anywhere?
- Bard the huntsman / archer was not a smuggler nor a rule-breaking philanthropist in the book, no was he being spied upon by Stephen Fry's slimy henchmen
- none of the trees attacked anyone in Mirkwood, unlike (as I recall) they did in the book
- none of the dwarves entered Lonely Mountain in a ludicrous attempt to "save Bilbo" in the book, once Smaug was awakened
- Thorin Oakensheild never held his sword to Bilbo's chest while standing in the dwarven great hall greedily demanding if he had gotten the archenstone or not
- Bilbo Never took off his ring in front of Smaug, in the book, who would have instantly incinerated or eaten him, if he had
- In the book, Smaug was a dragon, and in Jackson's 1st movie ("Unexpected Journey") he was a dragon with 4 legs and 2 wings, but then in "Desolation" he becomes a Wyvern instead...   sadly  (for more, read here).
- the Orcs in the book do no chase the barrel riding dwarves down the river.
- the Orcs in the book do not approach the elvish capital inside the forest, and stay far away
- the Orcs in the book are not slain, in droves, as easily as they are in "Desolation" (heck, it took a "battle of 5 armies" to slay sufficient numbers of Orcs, not just two elves with excellent archery skills)
- Legolas of the book has no love interest in any other elf
- all the elves in the book have contempt & disdain for all dwarves, and there is no sub-plot of love interest or singular compassion, when the dwarves stumble into the elvish citadel
- Laketown in the book is not a dilapidated, run-down, Akron-like, has-been cesspool as Jackson has made it out to be (if you don't like "Akron-like" then insert your favorite city who has been past its hey-day and is now, in severe decline or a shadow of its former self; Terre Haute, Hammond, Baltimore, Newark, New Orleans, Wilmington, Allentown, Toledo, Detroit, Birmingham UK, etc)
- no elf in the book stood on the heads (literally) of any dwarf, anywhere
- Laketown was not "full of spies" like an Erick  Honecker East Germany was, or a modern Chinese Great Wall tourist exhibit is
- the dwarves, though skilled craftsmen, miners, and smithies, did not have MASSIVE, Incredibly Easy to light & ramp up to smelting temperature, sic-fi scaled blast furnaces (not "forges" as "forging" requires Pounding to align metallic grain structures, consult a metallurgist, Mr. Jackson, please!  And even if they did, such furnaces would NOT instantly light off and run perfectly well after 75+ years of no maintenance by anyone while a giant red dragon occupied the entire underground mountain complex.
Tolkien's sketch of Laketown (not too shabby)

So what Peter Jackson did, was to borrow Tolkien's rich narrative's characters, geography, and plot, and then super-impose his own version of what he wanted to see in a movie version of it, drawn out into three parts (when it really could have been just one, or maybe 2 [MAX] movies of "The Hobbit") and in doing so, distort the fundamental nature of Tolkien's original works.   I must say I was enormously disappointed leaving the theater... and if Dr Desert Flower and Nathan Jr go to see it when he visits next week, I doubt I will go with them.  I went to see Tolkien's move come to life, not to see Peter Jackson's remix.  In fact, Puff Daddy's "Every Breath You Take" is proportionally Closer to The Police's original version, than Peter Jackson's 2nd Hobbit installment is to Tolkien's book, to illustrate Just How Far Off I think Jackson is on this film.

But I am sure it will sell alot more merchandise this way, and more little girls will ask to go see it, and people who have never read the book will probably love it.  Bleh.   I'll pass.

And there wasn't even any Desolation caused by Smaug in this movie - misnomer!  You can't Drown a Red Dragon in liquid gold...  you'll just piss him off, royally!  Tsk, tsk, tsp Peter.  You should have known better.


  1. Just saw it. I agree that Smaug, Thranduil, and the spiders [Jackson has a way with spiders, no?] were all really well done. I guess I don't mind too much that he added some stuff, even if a lot of it is dumb or nonsensical, what I really mind is that he did so at the expense of the original material.

    If you're going to use up 9 hours of film time to adapt a relatively straightforward and tidy little book, what sense does it make to cut Tolkien scenes to make room for your "improvements"?

    E.g. the scene in the book in which Gandalf and Bilbo go up to Beorn and tell a story with the number of companions steadily increasing, while the dwarves bumble into the house in pairs at regular intervals, is goofy and charming. Why cut that? To spend more time with some idiotic orc battle in laketown?

  2. "Improvements", indeed. I think some of the blame goes to Guillermo del Toro who aided and abetted Jackson's idiotic side trips.

    And as my buddy Ryan pointed out in text messaging to me:
    - Smaug was awfully well informed about current events (knowing Sauron was coming back, orcs in Mirkwood, Thorin was there, etc), though he'd been sleeping under the mountain in a pile of treasure for several human generations. (my reply was 'maybe he was listening to the ground, and hearing reverberations, like when you listen to a rail road track - dragons are geniuses afterall)
    - Azog being in the first or 2nd movies when he only appears in the battle of 5 armies at the end of the original book
    - Kili getting shot with any arrow, much less a contrived Morgal arrow
    - Any Dwarves staying behind in Lake Town
    ...etc etc etc.
    The only way Jackson "improved" it was to take a non-romantic, sausage fest, male oriented quest & power struggle, and to twist it into a love triangle, with persistent evil villains hunting down the merry band of protagonists, while marketing to young women, Lego, and other toy / merchandise companies, all the while emphasizing clearly how greedy all dwarves are (he doesn't miss a chance to throw a greedy punch in, ironically, while be so dam greedy himself).

  3. I, too, complained about how in the world Smaug knew all about everything. In fact, everyone evil seemed to know everything that was going on in EvilWorld. My theory is that Smaug follows @Sauron on twitter, and @Sauron must've been tweeting stuff like "hangin' in Dol Guldur"... "feeling stronger"... "time for flaming eyeball! LOL!!!"

  4. LMAO!


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