The second of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, arrives in theaters December 13. Now that we've come to terms with the fact there will be three -- count 'em -- three movies based on a book that could be read in half a dozen toilet visits, we can look at some of the ways this next installment will be even less enjoyable than the bloated heap that was An Unexpected Journey.
It's funny, isn't it? My favorite of any of Jackson's Tolkien adaptations is still The Fellowship of the Ring, which somehow captured the spirit of the book yet kept things moving briskly, even at a three-hour run time. Each successive film, however, became increasingly self-important and bogged down in monotonous (and ridiculous) battle scenes, culminating in AUJ's 20+ minute Misty Mountain hop. I'm not normally one to write off a movie sight unseen, but I haven't heard much about the second installment that pumps my nads.
First, I don't think it will be *all* bad. Martin Freeman is a great Bilbo, Ian McKellan could play Gandalf in his sleep, and I'm quite looking forward to a draconic Benedict Cumberbatch. Weta Digital's effects have only gotten better (compare 2012 Gollum to the 2002 version), so Smaug, his accompanying desolation, and the Battle of the Five Armies (in the final film) should be most impressive.
But while they'll carry you a long way in my book, bad-ass dragons only go so far. Here, then, are some of my more glaring concerns:
Even More Cameos
The Necromancer, in addition to being a bitchin' Rush song, is also the secret identity of the Dark Lord Sauron. Very little is said about the character in the books, but Jackson never met a secondary plotline he couldn't expand (how we escaped Tom Bombadil and the Scouring of the Shire remains one of the 21st century's greatest mysteries). Sure, we get more Cumberbatch (a Cumberbushel?), but hang on. There's also the return of Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Orlando Bloom -- seeking another blockbuster fix now that those Caribbean pirates have sailed on without him -- as Legolas, neither of whom are in the book (not counting the appendices), and both of whom are unnecessary to the story. Sylvester McCoy's Radagast, on the other hand, is mentioned in passing by Gandalf, unless I missed the chapter where he races giant spiders on a freaking rabbit sled.
[Radagast is also what they call an Istari, among the most powerful creatures in Middle Earth, so of course he lets birds shit all over him.]
Not Just Barely Mentioned Characters, But Wholly Invented Ones
Don't remember her? That's because the Chief of the Guards for Thranduil (the Elvenking of Mirkwood), is entirely a creation of writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Jackson. Not Tolkien. But it's okay, because as Boyens puts it:
"She's our redhead. We created her for that reason. To bring that energy into the film, that feminine energy. We believe it's completely within the spirit of Tolkien."
Ah yes, the "spirit of Tolkien." That would be the same Tolkien whose track record creating female characters of note not named Éowyn or Galadriel in his four most well-known works isn't that great (tthe Shield Maiden of Rohan had her role beefed up for the movies -- thought not as much as Arwen's -- and Galadriel in the books is basically a demigod). We can revisit this issue if anyone is ever insane enough to film The Silmarillion.
I don't necessarily disagree with the idea, but adding a female character in "the spirit of" a writer that had little narrative use for them is a bit of a stretch.
More Endless Action Sequences
These made more sense in the Lord of the Rings movies; both The Two Towers and Return of the King were punctuated by huge battles (Helm's Deep and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields). That's not the case in The Hobbit, which enjoys a relatively pastoral existence (minus trolls and spiders) until the Battle of the Five Armies.
But then you wouldn't have the proverbial money shot for each of the three movies. Who cares if the company's escape from the orcs under the mountains wasn't exactly epic in the original telling? Just leave it up to Peter Jackson, who never met a thrilling chase he couldn't turn into IMAX Ambien.
Besides, if you've read The Hobbit, you might think there'd be no action sequences of note during the middle section. I assume the giant spider invasion of Mirkwood will last about 30 minutes. And then, of course, there's the terrifying escape from the Elvenking's domain:
In the book, it was *anything* but terrifying. Unless the idea of sneaking past some drunken elves makes you pee your pants. Now it looks like Thorin and company have to fight kicking and screaming the whole way, because heaven forbid they let Evangeline Lilly's archery lessons go to waste.
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Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the new trailer, released last night. It certainly has a more "epic" feel, and is decidedly darker in tone than previous spots. And that, I think, is my main problem.
Matter Of Fact It's All Dark
The Hobbit, lest we forget, was children's literature. Orcs were referred to as "goblins," the dwarves tended to be more bumbling than bad-ass, and many of the events, including the aforementioned spider sequence and escape from the elves, had a -- well, I don't know that I'd call it "comic" feel, but it certainly wasn't "epic." I realize the bajllions of dollars the LotR movies earned meant the chances Jackson would alter his style were about as likely as him directing a sequel to Braindead, but these look less like The Hobbit and more like the Star Wars prequels; unconvincingly grandiose, and except for a few high points, needlessly drawn-out.
Because I am capable of holding separate viewpoints in my head, I can retain my fondness for the book while heaping scorn on the movies. To use a clumsy construction analogy, it's like Jackson has taken Tolkien's postwar bungalow and built a three-story add-on over it. And added a pool and a kegerator. The framework is still there, but the end result is almost unrecognizable.