Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

We finally got out to see the second installment of “The Hobbit,” and enjoyed it. I found that I did not mind the additions to the original plot, most of which you couldn’t really argue with, and some that were just inspired.

After all, why shouldn’t a female Elf be Captain of Thranduil’s guard? After all, we saw female Elves defending Lothlorien in “The Lord of the Rings,” and no one of note objected. Legolas is Thranduil’s son, so it’s right and proper that he be present, even if neither he nor Thranduil (Lee Pace) were given those names in Tolkien’s book (Thranduil was just “The Elvenking”). The attraction between Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and Kili (Aidan Turner) is harder to justify, but acceptable given that some of these Dwarves are a lot handsomer than I ever pictured them, and it does sort of act to prefigure the eventual friendship between Legolas and Gimli. The expanded role we see for Thranduil makes him out a right bastard, which, along with the siege mentality, seems to run in the line of Elven kings, cf. Thingol.

The interpretation of what Gandalf was doing while away from Bilbo and the Dwarves may be stretched a bit, but Jackson and company do obey the film-makers’ rubric to show, rather than tell. Gandalf proves to be formidable in combat against the servants of the “Necromancer”, but his “cliffhanger” at the end of this installment seems rather unimaginatively close to his imprisonment by Sauman in LotR.

Bilbo’s role in the adventure is expanded even beyond the original. Besides saving the Dwarves from the spiders of Mirkwood and from the Elves, he becomes the groups’ cheerleader, and is the one who solves the puzzle of Erebor’s hidden door. This last bit seems to have been put in only because the original wasn’t dramatic enough for Jackson, and adds some nonsensical elements unless certain heavenly bodies behave differently in Middle Earth than in our earth.

The plot as we knew it makes a sharp turn at the point Bilbo enters the lair of Smaug (Benedict Cumberbach). Shocked by feedback through the Ring due to the activity of the Necromancer as stirred up by Gandalf, Bilbo has to become visible, and is engaged by Smaug in a game of cat and mouse very different from that in the novel. The Dwarves get to be more heroic in coming to Bilbo’s aid, and, instead of having to avoid Smaug as he scours the mountain slopes outside, the encounter becomes a running battle in the halls of the Mountain, with an audacious climax that sets up the events of the next film.

Smaug, as created with CGI, is one of the best dragons I have seen. I applaud the decision to make the dragon quadrupedal (rather like a giant bat) rather than hexapedal (four legs plus wings). The dragon’s neck and tail are given unexpectedly snakelike sinuosity that shows another incremental advance in CGI, and is very effective and lifelike. Sorry, though, I still like Richard Boone best as the voice of Smaug. The smoke-destroyed roughness of his voice just seemed to suit the dragon well. Cumberbach’s voice, electronically distorted to suit coming from a multi-ton monster, loses some of its insinuating quality. I had hope to hear his version of the lines where Smaug, in his role as seducer, tries to drive a wedge between Frodo and his “employers,” but those got cut in favor of having Smaug chase Bilbo around the great hall of the mountain.

Stephen Fry as the corrupt Master of Laketown was a nice surprise, although his 16th century-inspired outfits clash with everything else in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films and so are inexplicable.

So, while it’s not the “Hobbit” movie I would have made, it’s still a pretty good movie, and we enjoyed it. We will be looking forward to seeing “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” when it comes out this coming December.

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Tags: fantasy, movies
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