Picture this with me. You’re waiting, full of expectation, in your local museum. A set of never-before-seen Rembrandt paintings were discovered just a few years ago, and you were thrilled with the first one unveiled. You’ve been waiting all year to see the next one in the set, and now the time has come. Along with dozens of other art-lovers, you watch as the new picture is dramatically unveiled.
And your heart drops. Is it even a Rembrandt? You can see bits and pieces of the painting that look like they could have been painted by Rembrandt at some point in time. But someone has painted on top of it – there are Picasso-like figures scattered all over the canvas, in bright colors that look garish next to the original oils of Rembrandt. Your mouth hangs open as you try to understand who on earth would do this – adding paint to a masterpiece until the original is almost unrecognizable.
This is how I felt when I watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in the theater Sunday night.
After seeing the first movie in Peter Jackson’s new trilogy last year, I absolutely loved it. Even though there were a few extra story lines added in that weren’t in the original book, I didn’t really mind. Jackson spent so much time and detail on all the scenes that were from the book, getting them so perfect that I could quote along with almost the entire movie, that I could easily forgive any new additions he happened to bring in to the story. In this second Hobbit movie, scenes pulled directly from the book were few and far between. They were over almost before they started, and were so bungled and choppy that I had a hard time seeing how they even related to the original story. It’s my personal estimate that less than a third of the movie was based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and less than a tenth of those scenes were done properly. Peter Jackson had one shot at bringing The Hobbit to life, and he completely squandered most of the story.
I’ll try to condense all of the negatives about the movie as much as I can, and end with the positives, to keep this review from being too depressing. 🙂
To me, the most disappointing part about The Desolation of Smaug were the scenes I’ve been anxiously awaiting (Beorn’s house, the spiders, the barrel scenes, Lake Town, and most of all, Smaug). They were so, so poorly done. Jackson tried to make the dwarves’ journey a race against time, and a race against Azog’s orcs. As a result, the best parts of the movie were extremely rushed and to be quite honest, just plain weird. Beorn looked like a werewolf from a black and white movie, the spiders scene started out pretty good and ended with a huge fight scene, and I won’t even try to describe the never-ending barrel-battle sequence. Lake Town looked right, and Bard was very cool, but once again, Jackson strayed incredibly far from the book with the scenes in Esgaroth. And most of all, I was bitterly disappointed with Smaug’s scenes! At first, the conversation between Bilbo and Smaug started off very close to the book, but it degenerated into an awful, thirty-minute-long action sequence. Even the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch played Smaug couldn’t hold my interest after that.
I had heard rumors about there being a strange love-triangle involved in this movie as well. “Oh, well,” I thought, “how bad can it be?” Let me tell you, it was painful. I don’t mind love triangles in moderation, but it was downright embarrassing in The Hobbit. Picasso is just fine on his own, but please don’t finger-paint him onto an antique Rembrandt!
But perhaps the worst decision of all was the constant stream of orcs that kept appearing at all the wrong times, and causing dozens of huge fight scenes. I didn’t mind Azog in the first Hobbit movie, because Peter Jackson just put him in the place of the random goblins and orcs that harassed the dwarves in the book. But when nearly half of the movie is taken up with random orc battles that have absolutely no place in the story, it begins to feel very cheap and overdone. I almost got tired even of Legolas, because all he ever did was fight orcs! (Of course, that’s not his fault…) All in all, I felt that the original story line was given as little screen time as possible, shoved in the corner as it were, to make place for the new, cheaper characters and story lines.
Now that that’s behind us, on to the good parts!
Martin Freeman was, as usual, positively brilliant. His portrayal of Bilbo was still spot-on, no matter how wrong the scenes were that he was playing in. I loved how the evil of the Ring is beginning to bother, and even frighten, him the longer he keeps it. And he’s just so hilarious! His expressions and mannerisms never fail to make me laugh out loud.
Richard Armitage was brilliant as well, in the role of Thorin. The rest of the dwarves, as characters, were almost nonexistent in this movie, which is quite sad after becoming attached to them in the first film!
As I said before, Bard (played by Luke Evans) was excellent; a very noble, brave, wise man. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) was, of course, just as awesome as ever. I loved his scenes in the Necromancer’s lair. They were just like I imagined when I first read the book as a little girl!
The very first few minutes of the barrel scene, where Bilbo was getting the dwarves packed into the barrels, was so cute. And I loved the scene where Bilbo gives his sword the name “Sting.”
My favorite scene in the movie was when the dwarves and Bilbo were trying to find the invisible door in the Lonely Mountain. Even though it wasn’t exactly like the book, it looked perfect, and it felt more like the book than the rest of the movie did.
I watched The Desolation of Smaug with a group of friends, and discussed the movie with one of my friends afterward. I was devastated, but he had actually enjoyed it. He had looked up reviews ahead of time and realized that the movie was completely different than the book. He told himself before the movie started, “This is not The Hobbit. It’s a random fantasy movie,” and he had a great time watching the film. He argued that the changes were good, and made the movie more exciting. Maybe he’s right – all of the rest of my friends enjoyed it just as much as he did. But the way I see it, Peter Jackson has no excuse. He’s got the best of the best to work with: excellent actors, the best movie-making technology around, and a classic masterpiece. There is absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t have taken his time with every single scene from the book, making each one perfect, dripping with rich details from the pages that Tolkien wrote. Instead, he crammed in so much new material that the original story line suffered terribly. In short, I felt that The Desolation of Smaug was a sad case of a ruined masterpiece.
But in one sense, no movie can ever ruin the book it’s based on. No matter how many different directors interpret a tale, the original remains untouched. It can always be picked up, thumbed through, and enjoyed by awakening the reader’s own imagination. I’ve got The Hobbit on my desk right now, ready for a re-read. The scenes, the characters, the settings – they can be enjoyed over and over again. And really exceptional books, the classics, will be around hundreds of years after the movies are forgotten. That, my friends, is the beauty of a masterpiece.