“Benedict Cumberbatch sounds like a jaguar purring into a cello.” –anonymous
Smaug. Smaug. Smaug.
That’s what we’ve been anticipating. In short, he desolated. And so did Peter Jackson. In a few ways. Not all of them good.
As always, I’ll tell you when the spoilers come.
Harkening back to my Hobbit Part I review, we have a saga that, unlike LOTR, begins as an enchanting romp and slowly grows darker.
The movie was rich and immersive as LOTR, which I do love about it (I honestly could sit through a seven-movie version of Silmarillion one day). If you’re not a fan, you were in for a confusing but fun romp (like when you see the giant bees, and you’ll know what I’m talking about). If you’ve read The Hobbit you’re in for a frustrating romp. But if you’ve not only read the book but just plain love Tolkien, you’ll look past the flaws and just be glad to go back to Middle Earth. Parts of will be painful, and obnoxious, but I think you will leave satisfied.
Peter Jackson can’t tell a story. He has to tell a tapestry of stories, a full hieroglyphic wall. You have to get the whole package with him, even the errata and mythos compounding mythos. We have a familiar open in this film that, like his others, start before the story, showing us extra. That’s the theme of his work: Showing us extra. Like a Lonely Mountain, his films pack too much treasure, not all of it worth the same, so we must pick through it to find the good gems. But they’re always there, and the gems don’t disappoint.
As with the first film, the biggest problem with the Hobbit is the addiction to 3D. I imagine after the first film Peter Jackson saying, “all right, no more goblin town silly chases—wait what? There’s a barrel rolling scene?”
Azog reappears, and although I could to without him, I understand why Jackson needed a consistent, visible villain in all three films. Both Smaug and the Necromancer don’t show up enough for casual audiences to draw a connection across 3 films, I suppose.
In the first Hobbit film, we were invited to share in an adventure. In this film, we question the motives of adventure. In the third, I imagine, we will discover the consequences, good and bad. And so we wade into deeper waters in part 2, when characters lose their initial charm and we see their darker sides begin to come out, the politics of Middle Earth becoming murky, twisted, and creeping with darkness. Can Bilbo handle this ring he found? Is Thorin merely after restoring a Kingdom? Are all elves as benevolent as Elrond? Will the bear eat us? Does LakeTown have to stink of fish?
Bilbo found two things in that cave in part 1. A ring, and his courage. In this film, we begin to see is courage tested by his possession of the ring. How will he use each, or misuse each to get what he came for? And what did he come for?
Don’t go into the movie expecting The Hobbit. Go into it expecting The Hobbit and an Then Some. It will test your ability to withstand absurdity. But we also see one of the coolest man-caves in the world, a few hilarious scenes of Bilbo, a frightening confrontation between light and darkness, and what will go down as one of the most outstanding, if not the most outstanding, on-screen dragons in the history of human film!
*And now we will get into SPOILERS and discussions.
The prologue reminded me of why the Hobbit is a mirror to LOTR. The trilogy begins with “Fellowship of the Ring”, but the whole story could be called The Stewardship of the Bling. One quest is to a mountain to destroy a bling of too much power, the other is to reclaim a bling to reclaim power. One story asks, “do we have the courage to let go of our power?” This one comes to ask “do we have the courage to handle power responsibly?” Gandalf believes in Thorin, and in Bilbo, and we see in the beginning that dwarves, like hobbits, feel dwarfed by the worlds of men and elves.
Second to Smaug, I was looking forward to Beorn. I wanted to see how he was portrayed, as well as his awesome abode. He is the ultimate wilderness man’s man of Middle Earth, so much so that he can become a bear. I find this an important way to begin the second part, as he is a natural foil to the “kings” in the book, and Peter Jackson’s way of making up for not showing Tom Bombadil. Beorn is impervious to greed and power, but is also very brave and strong. He does not rule creatures, but cares even for mice, for he walks in the footsteps of animals. He is honest in his politics. He swindles no one. He seeks no treasure, nor hoards it. He is kind even to those he despises. He hides only for safety. And he rocks an awesome beard (and mullet), keeps oxen and bees in his house, and has furniture carved into bears. The ultimate man cave.
Mirkwood did and didn’t work. It had the look perfectly. And I love that it was a windy maze. But did that have to be compounded by the “spell” of confusion? Is this part of the dark forces at work? Or the elves? Still, it wasn’t too ridiculous. The spiders worked well. And at least that scene wasn’t overdone. Bilbo’s discovery that he can hear the spiders speak wearing the ring was very parceltongue-ish, and his discovery of a name for his sword was nice too. As I said in the last movie, the name Sting works as a symbol of Bilbo’s conscience. It stings evil, as the spiders, and works for good. It is not the ring of power that can kill a spider, but a sword of courage. I also like that plucking the web reverberated through the forest, signaling the spiders. Little touches like that, rather than full-scale CGI lunacy, is what Jackson does wonderfully in his epics.
We are given this early moment, when Bilbo fights a baby spider for his ring, that we see a flash of Gollum, of the future Biblo, of Sauron and of the whole battle for Middle Earth in one grasp. “Mine!” Biblo first confronts his darkness in the darkness of Mirkwood. This scene is crucial because if it weren’t for his reaction to the horridness of his own lust, he might not have walked into that Lonely Mt. Hall with as clear a conscience. He examines the dragon’s horde as ready to examine himself as well. His bravery comes not from confronting an outer dragon, but from an inner dragon.
Oh and how in the world do you expect me to believe that a bunch of dwarves, who live out their lives in mountain halls, are unable to figure out where they are going without sunlight? The scene worked great for Bilbo, but was unrealistic for the dwarves. They should be masters at navigating dark, maze-like places. They might not know where they are going, but should know where they have been. It should be ingrained in their subconscious.
The Elf King worked, and all that. Now let’s talk about Tauriel. I was very worried that they were adding this character, and complicating it with a love triangle. When she first appeared on screen, my faith in Peter Jackson was restored. I can’t explain why, and I hope I don’t have to explain why to my wife, but I was just ok with her being in the movie. Let’s move on.
I’ll tell you what did almost ruin the movie. Bombur and Legolas. The moment Bombur tumbled down the hill in a barrel and spun around like a video game character I nearly died inside. Really? In fact, this was one of several moments in the film in which I turned to my wife and said, “video game”.
Dwarves climbing out of a toilet. Will be the butt of jokes for years to come.
Although it was not in the novel, I can’t say I was displeased with how Gandalf and Dol Goldur were handled. I’m picky about my portrayals—I hate lightning shooting out of wizard fingertips—and I was impressed with the duel of light and shadow. It was reminiscent of the Balrog encounter, and here we see a Gandalf not strong enough to best a weak manifestation of the Necromancer. But we know all he has to do is whisper to a moth and he’ll be fine.
“If the aim of men had been true that day“. Wow, that’s deep. It not only shows the distrust of the different races after years of conflict, mistakes, and misunderstandings. It’s also figurative language. When the aim of men is true, dragons are slain. Begs us the moral question, “what are you aiming for?” Maybe it’s too deep and not at all what the scriptwriter intended. But it’s what I gleaned.
Nope, didn’t like that the dwarves split up. I feel that they should have all been at that mountain together, all 13. I feel it was supposed to mimic the parting of the fellowship in LOTR as well as developing the weird love triangle between elf and dwarf. But it just hurt not to see ALL the dwarves at least get to the Mt. together.
Everyone had a judgement call to make in this story, one that was crucial to the development to the plot: Should I help these dwarves? Should I pursue this trouble? Should we storm the mountain now? Should I side with these guys or those guys? Should I tell him that I have the stone? Should I go in alone?
All I can say about Smaug is that he and Bilbo are the two flawless things in this movie. The whole encounter was centerpiece, like the encounter with Gollum. He was the perfect dragon, Biblo was the perfect clever thief, and if only the dwarven dashabout wasn’t quite so long and silly. For a moment I almost shouted “Leeeeerooooooooooyyy Jeeenkiiiiiinnnssss!”
Smaug is the king under the mountain, and that’s no pun. Smaug is greed. Smaug is pride. He boasts his form and his prize. He is not just an external villain to be slain, he represents all that lives in the hearts of men. And dwarves. And elves. And all other sentient creatures. But we are left with a painful cliff-hanger. Bilbo facing the consequences of waking the dragon, of taunting the dragon. And that’s only the beginning of the fire of war that is to come.
“If this is to end in fire,” says Thorin, “we shall burn together.”
This provides the link between the second and third installments. Everyone makes critical decisions, most of them somewhat foolish or ill-advised, and everyone is lead toward swift desolation. It’s no secret we are building up toward a final battle. Readers know how it ends, but are interested to see how Jackson develops it.
“I See Fire”