The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – My Take

So my lovely wife T and I took in the latest installment of Peter Jackson’s Tolkein franchise last night. I have to admit, after seeing the first part last year, I went into this with lowered expectations. I was STILL disappointed. I will do my best to leave out spoilers for those of you who still intend to see the film.

To be fair, the dragon, Smaug, was awe-inspiring. The composite effect of all those thousands of terrabytes of computer-generated images was truly impressive. Also, we get to see more of the inside of the dwarf kingdom of Erebor – the Lonely Mountain – which I found fascinating. In the Mirkwood scenes, the spiders were quite scary, but by the way the Mirkwood sequences _ a major part of the book – were treated, it seems to have been included almost as an afterthought.

Taking all that into account, I have to admit this is the first time I was actively unhappy about a film from this franchise. Too much was added – and, in my opinion, to no good effect – to claim it had much to do with the original book. T made a fabulous point: the film lacked the charm of the books; scenes like Bilbo throwing acorns at the spiders to lure them away from the captured dwarves were omitted altogether. Sacrificing the very soul and innocence of the story for more action scenes — and more screen time for the elves who were barely involved with the story of The Hobbit — seems the order of the day in modern filmmaking. Sometimes that works; here, it did not. In the end, the film was unsatisfying, and is a classic example of folks in Hollywood thinking they know better how to tell a compelling story than the person who wrote the original, wildly-popular book on which the film is based.

Much can be said about any number of logistical decisions made regarding these films: splitting this book into three entire films leaps to mind as entirely egregious, and frankly I think now we see why that was a poor, though clearly solely an economic, choice. Too much filler had to be created from whole cloth to turn a 300-page children’s book into three entire, feature-length (perhaps even lengthier than that!) films.

I greatly admire the work of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens to turn the Lord of the Rings trilogy into three spectacular feature films. However, they run a very real risk of undoing all that good work by not only pushing the metaphorical envelope with The Hobbit, but by ripping it to pieces and jumping up and down on the bits.

I will still see the third film, and as the time grows near I will doubtless be filled with anticipation just as I was five times before. Life goes on, and the films will make buckets of money, but the excitement for me is gone. T. and I agreed that we feel no need to own copies of ANY of The Hobbit films. Contrast this with the previous trilogy, where we could hardly wait to obtain the DVDs and watch them, over and over. That is a powerful testament to the film-making skills involved that filled us with such a strong sense of wonder. Where those skills and that sense of wonder went this time is anybody’s guess.

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