From the studio that brought you The Lord of the Rings comes the new trilogy of The Hobbit, the second installment of which, The Desolation of Smaug, was released on December 13th to great fanfare. Imprint Staff members went to view the film as soon as it was released, and were impressed and surprised at how the film was created. We are now joined by staff members Duncan McLeod and Andy Griscom, who saw the film together and have very strong opinions about several of the design changes made by the studio.
[Editor’s note: This is not a review. It is a conversation. It contains spoilers.]
Andy: So, The Hobbit. It was an interesting movie. You had to suspend your disbelief for a good chunk of the movie, but it still managed to keep me amused. What did you think, Duncan?
Duncan: I found it to be a remarkable movie, though in contrast to your “suspension of disbelief,” pretty much all movies do that. This one just might have required it a bit more than some people prefer. Yet overall, most anything straying from reality was done to make the movie more epic and grandiose.
Andy: Certainly it was, and I do agree with you there, it did make the movie better from an entertainment standpoint. But there is a limit to that. I have no problem with making things more epic for a great audience reaction, but after a certain point it just becomes annoying. Case in point; all of the Lord of the Rings characters, none of whom appear in the Hobbit book, who were just thrown into the movie to get a reaction out of Lord of the Rings fans. Enough! You guys got your own movies, go away and let these guys have theirs!
Duncan: The Hobbit was a prequel movie; therefor it needs material to tie it into the Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson essentially created more of a lead-in to the Lord of the Rings, like how he showed us what the Necromancer was doing for the duration of the movie, which in the book was just kind of left to the reader’s imagination.
Andy: I see where you’re coming from here, and it is kind of nice to not just have Gandalf disappear for half the time; we actually see what he’s up to, not just having it mentioned offhandedly after the fact. But a good chunk of the other stuff wasn’t needed. Legolas showing up in the forest? Makes a little sense; it was mentioned in the books that he was from Mirkwood. Having him save the gang from an orcish ambush (that also wasn’t in the book, but we’ll ignore that)? Okay Legolas, you got your screen time. Let us follow the people we actually came to see a movie about. Having him follow the gang all the way to Laketown and save them from more orcish hunters? Okay, enough already! Just go away! I came to see a movie about a gang of insane dwarves and a kleptomaniac midget, not to watch Orlando Bloom dancing around shooting orcs from the top of peoples heads!
Duncan: That does hit the upper limit of what I can take for changes on the book, however, it was done to add a level of characterization to Bolg, son of Azog, the most feared of orc hunters, beyond the level of just saying “Oh yeah, that guy is a scary person,” meanwhile, who better to test an orc heir than an elvish one? So I feel that the changes made not just improved tie-ins, but extended on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original introduction to Bolg.
Andy: That’s actually another thing that annoyed me. Who the heck is Azog? He never appeared in the book, that’s for sure. The character Bolg in the book appeared for like five minutes at the very end, leading the combined armies of every goblin kingdom in the North. He showed up, wrecked some stuff, and then died. End of story. There was no race against the orcs to get to the Lonely Mountain, or a revenge subplot going on in the background. It was the story of a group of dwarves traveling across the world, and the hazards they encountered along the way. The goblins were just another one of those hazards, nothing more.
Duncan: Once again, this is Peter Jackson’s unique approach to characterization. He gets to turn one book into three movies, have twice as many epic scenes, and the people watching get to see a better demonstration of the bad guy’s character than something along the lines of a made-up history lecture, which many of Tolkien’s works can feel like. However, I do feel that the matter of the black arrow is of great importance. In the original book, the “black arrow” was a family heirloom, passed on to bard by his father, and it was essentially used as a fluke, the arrow had never missed, and bard used as his final arrow, hoping that he would be able to hit his mark. However, the movie changes this idea. Instead of the black arrow being some relic of an ancient line of archers, now it was some dwarven invention created only to be fired from a “dwarven windlass” (fancy giant crossbow with four limbs instead of two) that was created for dragon slaying. Now this blatantly contradicts the idea of the black arrow as some sign that Gideon’s line (bards family) was blessed, and the fact that the dwarves never prepared for any dragon, and lost to Smaug because they had no such weapon.
Andy: Yeah, that annoyed me too. The Black Arrow was supposed to be some sort of magical, blessed, kill-whatever-you-shoot-this-thing-at arrow, not a mass-produced, glorified ballista bolt. And there just happened to be the weapon required to shoot it in Laketown, ready to go as needed, yet they didn’t bother to stock it with Black Arrows, which the thing was designed to fire. Not the smartest people, are they?
Duncan: So, the Black Arrow was a bit too much to take. I feel that one of the strongest scenes, and the hardest to really believe, is the fight with Smaug near the end. To see them taunt a dragon into lighting furnaces, use the Dragon’s natural obsession with gold as a weapon against him, to see them running like madmen and working in unison to take their revenge, is perhaps one of the most impressive parts of the movie. Plus, there were explosives, and even more fun watching people fly around on pulley systems!
Andy: I do agree, it did look very impressive. Plus my favorite scene of the entire movie (Thorin surfing a river of molten gold on a wheelbarrow) came from that part. But it was also the part that strained belief to the greatest degree. The fact that the group had a live dragon, who happened to be fighting on his home turf and with a massive advantage in fighting power, chasing them all around for almost twenty minutes, trying his best to kill them, and not a single one was even injured, was a little much for me to take. I could understand that happening if they were sneaking around and trying not to get caught, but these dwarves were maintaining an average distance of some twenty feet away from the dragon. Words do not do justice to how horrendous an idea like that is, but it worked out just fine for them. Even Thorin, who, as earlier stated was surfing a river of molten gold at the time, had to run under Smaug’s legs in order to shred those waves. In fact, now that I think of it, the only time anyone gets hurt in the entire movie was when Fili got shot during the escape from the elves by one of the ten thousand orcs that snuck through the heart of elvish territory because, wait for it…, they needed to give that elf chick a reason to follow the dwarves to Laketown, in order to continue the romance subplot that they just threw into the movie because… well actually they had no reason. So yeah, that was stupid.
Duncan: True enough, the strange romance is totally unnecessary. But if the argument is that adding extra material to a great movie that does entertain is a bad thing, then all of the Lord of the Rings movies, and the previous Hobbit movie, are in fact all bad. The point is: how much material can be crammed into a three part movie totaling about 9 or 10 hours, in the Lord of the Rings that meant taking material out, in The Hobbit that meant adding more material. The easiest way to do this is add more prequel material for The Lord of the Rings. Essentially the romance between Fili and Tauriel (the elf chick) acts both as entertaining material and more reason for Legolas (Orlando Bloom) to have an unusual hatred for Dwarves. However, I do believe that we can agree that extending the scenes with Smaug is worthwhile because of the sheer quality of Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice acting and the animation detail.
Well, let’s wrap this up before we turn this into a 9 hour trilogy. Despite all of the massive plot holes, it was still a very entertaining movie, which, when you come down to it, is what movies are supposed to do. Suspension of disbelief is something that just comes with the territory. Nonetheless, it was a good movie and we strongly recommend going and seeing it.