Review: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug
So we get a lot of people that like to complain about our reviews when they’re opinionated or negative. I could rant about stuff like that for a whole post, but instead, I’ll go with this disclaimer: If you don’t want to read an opinionated review about this movie, just skip this post. That and I should have come up with a good joke about spoilers to put in this post. Yet all I have are spoiler-ific rants to put below the fold. So… spoilers ahead.
By now, anyone who has read my reviews know that my method of choice is flimsy analogies, name calling, and long, drawn-out comparisons to other movies. This movie actually makes it kind of hard to take that route, because there were so many ways for me to tear into it I ended up giving myself a headache (watching my Cowboys play like the * bleep * Keystone Cops of football right after watching this movie probably didn’t help). But hey, I can push through and give it a shot…
In Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, a movie I think most everyone here will agree with me is just terrible, there was a specific scene that had me wanting to walk out of the movie. I know, it’s like picking the smelliest piece of a manure pile, but the only reason I stuck through the movie in the theater is that it was towards the end. It was while the kid that ruined Indy 4 ran through some ruins that were supposedly by the pyramids (which were actually like 90 miles away) in order to get to Petra, a city in Jordan and nowhere near Egypt, for those keeping scores. It was perhaps the most Michael Bay scene ever done this side of wingsuits.
LeBouf was running across walls and rooftops, dodging explosions (in slow motion), shards of stone and concrete, shrapnel, and jumping out of clouds of dust. The part that bugged me was the whole shrapnel thing. I can suspend disbelief in a guy falling for a few thousand feet and somehow getting caught and saved (instead of shredded into several smaller pieces). I can look past the stupid mom-on-pot jokes, or the general racist tone of most of the characters (though not easily… let’s say we snuck some “refreshments” into the movie theater to help). But what I couldn’t look past was the fact that Sam would have been turned to hamburger by the shards of rocks and shrapnel flying around him. I got to see exactly what that stuff was doing because of all the slow-motion scenes. That scene, more than any other in there, was just horrible.
All of that being said, that the action in that scene looks like the opening of Saving Private Ryan compared to what we get in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Really, as I left this movie, my basic thought was… “who really thought it was a good idea to let Michael Bay direct a movie based on the Hobbit?” But that’s not fair, since, as I said in the opening, the action in this movie is worse than the worst Michael Bay has ever done. Maybe Peter Jackson, blinded by the fact that Smaug’s treasure pile wasn’t a special effect, just the money that he’s making off these movies, thought that what Tolkein really needed was some Elf-on-Dwarf fan-fiction service.
When I reviewed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, my biggest complaint was where the movie deviated from the little-known book that only a handful of people have ever read. As a rule, I try not to dismiss a movie based on a book out-of-hand. Books are a different medium, and have to tell stories a different way. But at the same time, the best adaptations honor the book and the stories behind it. The worst just cannibalize the source to do something that borderlines on (or sometimes just skips straight to) insulting fans of the source.
This one somehow finds a way to top that by honoring the original in the most inapproriate ways. The first movie was a pacifist compared to the fighting of this movie. There’s fighting with Smaug (which sort of happens), fighting in Laketown (which never happened), fighting with the elves (which didn’t really happen), fighting with albino orcs and mean clouds (totally didn’t happen). There was a skinchanger (which was in the book), but animosity with him and dwarves (outsiders in the book).
This was actually promising to start, since that was on tangent with the book. We even get Azog tagged out and Bolg, the actual orc antagonist in the books, tagged in. Azog doesn’t really go away, he’s just shuffled off with the other made-up bad guy stuff (the Necromancer-as-Sauron) in Dul Guldur (a place that wasn’t given a real name until Fellowship).
I realize that the Necromancer was alluded to being Sauron in Tolkein’s works, but it was just that, an allusion. The extra junk added to beat you over the head with it and set up movies that we’ve already seen were out-of-place. I honestly went into this movie wanting to like it, thinking that they could improve on the first film. There’s more action towards the back-half of the book, with Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies. But things started to look awry almost immediately, and in very strange ways.
I mean look very literally here, because the thing that makes the least sense in this movie is just how off the CGI looks. The movie starts with orcs on wargs skipping across mountains in animation that would have probably looked great back in the 90s. And it keeps popping up, with fights that involve the elves, with dwarves in barrels, and with dwarves in buckets. I can’t really explain this one, given the time and the budget, but it’s enough of a problem that it just sticks out.
Speaking of Barrel chase, and the one Hobbit set that I still haven’t bought, the scene does show up in this movie, as does Escape from the Mirkwood Spiders from the same release schedule. The spiders one is okay, and the scene isn’t too far off from the movie (though slathered with an extra helping of violence and a whole lot less sneaking), at least to a point…
That point is when the elves get on the screen. Did you enjoy watching the improbable stuff that Legolas did in the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Well, that’s about to get turned up to 11 (to make up for it, the believability will be turned to 0). Remember that scene where he stabbed an orc with an arrow and then shot it into another orc? At least that’s something you could theoretically do. Shoot an arrow completely through an orcs skull as if it was a .308 round, and then use it to shot another orc? Or how about shoot through the heads of two orcs with the same arrow, pinning them together?
It’s not just Legolas, either. During the barrel chase, which has many, many problems of its own, a dwarf throws an axe at an orc, pinning him to a log. Through the center of his torso. Oh, and this same axe has been tossed back and forth between dwarves that are floating impossibly upright in barrels without lids (which would fill, submerge, or go on their side in any sort of reality). At another point, they break a log strong enough to hold a half-dozen orcs with a couple of swings.
There are so many examples of this in the movie, and they’re so out-of-place that it’s just distracting. I mean, we’re talking stuff like Thorin grabbing an iron shield and riding it like a sled through molten gold. Without it showing any sign of warming up. For those curious, the melting point of gold is just under 2000 degrees F. Pretty sure that’d singe even a dwarf. Stuff like that makes up the majority of the movie. The rest is mostly panoramas of walking scenes and this weird camera spinning trick that Jackson seems in love with.
The sad part is that isn’t even the dumbest thing you see in that whole (way too long) sequence. That’s reserved for the whole gold statue thing. A lot of action scenes that don’t make a whole lot of sense, like sending the company through Lake Town to introduce some humans. Sure, they introduce Bard, but then they toss some political intrigue on top of it, which diminishes the triumph of what the humans did when they rose up in the book. They give us Stephen Fry as The Master of Laketown, and I love me some Stephen Fry, but then toss on some stuff about prophecy.
The Master was a greedy and somewhat cowardly character in the book, but his place in the movie doesn’t really set up much of anything other than more conflict. Conflict that isn’t at all resolved in the movie. The strange thing is that the most out-of-place but actually interesting to watch part of the movie is the romantic connection that’s formed between Kili and Tauriel. It’s like a whole running subplot that just sort of happens, with her commenting how he’s “tall for a dwarf.”
Speaking of Bard… is it just me, or did they cast someone who looks uncannily like Orlando Bloom, and then make sure his costume looks like Will Turner? Cause I thought for awhile that Bloom just needed a second paycheck or something and got another part.
I’m actually inclined to believe that whole plot was included to make one of the elves not look to be complete jerks (I’d use stronger language, but this is a family site… it deserves some stronger language). I actually don’t mind the inclusion of Tauriel, since it did actually give put a woman somewhere in this movie. The only problem is that she’s not really portrayed as anything other than fighter and some sort of fetishist for hitting on the dwarf. There’s a little tease about her and Legolas, though that serves more to paint Thranduil as an even bigger jerk than his son (and that’s saying something). In the book, there was tension between the elves and the dwarves, but it wasn’t anything like this.
In the movie, it comes far more hostile, and to be honest, the elves come off far more like the instigators. Also, apparently Thranduil is using elf magic to cover up some Harvey Dent face. Sadly though, even the whole Kili and Tauriel, sitting-in-a-tree is undone by the Lake Town stuff, where we get to see Legolas being all Legolas (right up until the point where the greatest archer in the history of middle earth doesn’t bother to put an arrow in the back of the skull of an orc as he’s running off, exposed and vulnerable).
She abandons her post as protector to stay and save Kili’s life, which is sort of spoiled by somewhat ripping off the whole Arwyn and Frodo feel from The Lord of the Rings. It’s okay though, because she later saves Legolas’ life, consigning us to a terrible fate of watching him do things like surf down stairs on a shield or eventually become friends with the guy he called a half-bred goblin spawn the guy he’ll eventually form a brother-like bond with. And that was after he insulted Gimli’s mother.
Yeah, I told you he was a jerk.
Really though, the most unforgivable sin of this movie is that the thing just… ends. It stops. Nothing is brought to a resolution in the movie. We’re introduced to a whole lot of characters. We never learn if Bilbo grabbed the arkenstone. Smaug flies off to torch Laketown (presumably). The elves killed a lot of nobody orcs and let the one they should have killed get away. Gandalf went to a made-up place, actually used magic (probably the first time we’ve seen the wizard do anything more than parlor tricks). The dwarves failed to kill the dragon because they hatched an asinine plan to, I don’t know, cover him in molten gold, having never played D&D apparently and lacking the common sense to figure out that “fire-breathing dragon” typically means “can’t be hurt by fire.”
Speaking of Smaug, the dragon is easily the best CGI in the entire movie. He’s also got the voice of Khan 2.0 at his grumbliest, and they actually did a fair little bit to set him up. Yet after setting him up as a great fire-breathing beast that can be talked, one with a nose so acute he can tell Bilbo is there even when he’s wearing the ring (and smell dwarves that are in the halls above the treasure horde)… it all goes out the window once Bilbo goes for some surfing on gold trying to grab the Arkenstone. The dwarves spend about three hours (or at least it felt that long) running around, setting up their insane plan with said molten gold, which hinges on the fact that Smaug apparently forgot how to use his nose shortly after telling us all how great it was.
The last movie I felt this unsatisfied with after watching was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. And I’ve shared exactly how much that ruined it for me. It had all of the same problem hallmarks that this movie has: ridiculous and overly-long fight scenes, a total lack of an ending, a bad guy with a cool voice, Orlando Bloom.
If there’s a silver-lining to be had, it’s that we’ve gotten a few good sets out of the mix… maybe. I liked Mirkwood Elves, but feel the need to go amend my review to state that the wood elves of Mirkwood apparently live in caves, not in trees (at least in the movie). There is a fortification in the movie, but it’s over the river our dwarves are taking an entirely impossible barrel escape in, and all the elves not named Legolas and Tauriel did there is suck and die on the end of orc axes. After I get this finished, I’ll be working on Ambush at Dul Guldur, and I’m waiting for the rest of the sets to arrive from Walmart.com‘s wonderful sale (most have ended, though Mirkwood Elves is still $25).