Monday, December 23, 2013

The Hobbit: A Destination of Smaug

It’s hard to find anything new to say about the fifth foray into Middle Earth by Peter Jackson and “company. “

Ha ha, get it, Tolkien geeks?

I’ve covered it all before.  Once again we are invited into their version of Tolkien’s world, and it continues to be filled with amazing visuals, compelling characters, and thrilling action.

The Hobbit story remains a less oppressive adventure than the dark times of Lord of the Rings, but includes much more serious elements than the original novel. The film makers have, yet again, made the right choices about what to leave untouched, and what to alter, to both keep the audience’s interest, and have the story line fit within the world established in the previous trilogy.

After opening with the required flashback, the heroes were immediately shown actively escaping from peril.  This is markedly different from that encounter with Beorn in the book, which for the most part, was a repeat of the Dwarfs' arrival at Bilbo’s house.  Instead the action ratcheted up right at the start with a frantic woodland chase involving a giant ferocious werebear.  


The film continued in this manner throughout, following the decisions made in the first part to turn the Company from a bumbling group that needs constant rescuing, to a band of heroes worthy of inhabiting the cinematic universe established in Jackson’s first journey into Middle Earth.

It is very similar to how the Fox X-men franchise progressed.  The movies had a strong internal constancy, making it somewhat pointless to complain where they diverge from the original cannon once the universe's layout had been firmly established.

In all cases, rules set up in the earlier films took precedence over events from the novel.  Talking animals would be out of place in that world; therefore Bilbo could only hear the giant spider’s speak when he wore the ring, matching the one ring’s previously shown connection to all those whose alliances trace back to Melkor. 

Also, the ring was established as calling out to Sauron, and being generally less effective against evil beings.  Therefore Smaug had very little problem finding Bilbo when he was invisible, and the heroic Hobbit spent most of his dragon chatting time without wearing, “The One.”  That worked well for the studio also, as having the main character unseen during the important dialogues is a big movie “no no.”

There are many other specific examples, but they can basically be boiled down to two areas:

1) The Company being transformed from their goofy, capture prone versions in the book, to warriors rivaling the Fellowship.

2) Multiple focal points of the narrative being introduced, to create parallel story lines, and expand the amount of time required to tell the tale from the original source.

The giant spider attack is a pretty good example of the first point, though the scene of Bilbo in the tree tops looked exactly as I pictured it when reading.

A far better example would be the escape from the Elf King’s Hall.  In the novel it could be summed up as:

“The dwarfs got sealed in barrels and floated uncontrolled out of the Wood Elves realm until they reached Lake Town.”

The film turned it into a daring and active battle involving elves and orcs. Big ole Bombur came out the best. Where his original version was a load that had to be carried through the forest asleep for much of the journey, in the movie, he turned into a flying, flailing barrel of goblin slaughtering as he bounced down the river bank.

The scene also featured a character that embodied both of the above ideas, Tauriel.  I’m sure some purists will have massive issues with a brand new character being given this prominent of a role.

My guess is those purists do not have daughters, because I found having a female character thrown in the mix able to awesome on par with Legolas was a fantastic addition to this all male tale.

Legolas himself provided a big part of the connection between the Trilogies, surfing on darn near anything he could stand on.  Orlando Bloom looking older, but playing younger wasn’t much of a problem for an elf.  His new CGEyes were a little disconcerting.  However, seeing him play a sterner, darker version of the character made me agree with the Pirates of the Caribbean commentary about where his career could lead him: now he could pull off James Bond.

In my review of the first part of the Hobbit, I noted that I expected them to deal with Smaug as the climax to this film, and then leave the battle of Five Armies for the final’s finale. 

They faked me out using both elements above.  By using the first, they extended several scenes into action packed battles that took more time than I expected based on having read the thing.

It was the second that truly expanded the time, though.  By splitting the Company between Erebor and Lake Town, with the elves tagging along to the latter, it allowed the story to equally focus on both locations.  With the addition of Gandalf’s mission, all three strands commanded interest and easily kept the audience’s attention for the nearly three hour adventure.

I was partially correct; there was an epic battle with a truly awesome looking dragon.  Not the Lake Town attack in the book, but a brand new one inside the mountain, that once more allowed the dwarfs to appear as competent combatants.  It also set up that the Lake Town attack is going to be in-freakin-sanely cool.

The ending was an annoying cliffhanger, made more so by knowing we have a year of waiting ahead of us.  Considering where the story is headed, this is going to be one heck of a party next December.
Bard needs to free himself and get back the (massively upgraded in size and power) Black Arrow, to fulfill his printed destiny.  Not sure if Kili and Tauriel’s story will bring them into the meeting with the fire drake, or they’re being saved for the Battle of Five Armies.  I am betting that a bad ending for those two is what sours Legolas on dwarfs for Fellowship. 

Then there’s the Battle of Five Armies itself. Given what we’ve seen of orcs, elves, Beorn and Bard, plus the promise of more from the Eagles, and Billy Connelly leading a horde of likely similarly nutty dwarfs, it’s going to be quite a show.  Hopefully we’ll learn there’s a dwarfen ring of power behind Thorin starting to act like a butthead in the lead up to that military gathering.

Not only will there be the two ginormous conflicts from the novel proper, but Gandalf also needs rescuing.  Based on a sentence and a half in the novel, that’ll be the White Council defeating the Necromancer.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing Gandalf team up with Radagast, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel to kick some Sauronic butt. 

Galadriel has to be in it, she’s been in all five of Jackson’s films, even when she wasn’t supposed to be, as a flash back or voice over.  She’s like a Noldorian good luck charm.

The only real trouble I had with this film had nothing to do with its construction or execution. My daughter was overly excited about it, which originally seemed connected to a lack of Gollum this time. In fact, she was initially ready to see it in IMAX 3D, but changed her mind at the last minute, by outsmarting me yet again.  Her reason was not wanting to see Gollum in 3D. When I pointed out that he isn’t in the story anymore, she responded with:
“In the BOOK he’s not in the story anymore, but you said they added a bunch of stuff from other places, so he COULD be there.”

My concern came from her overwhelming response to any appearance, be in on screen, a TV add, or a billboard on the way to the George Washington Bridge, of Legolas.

Massive amounts of cheering ensued every single time. 

As a father, I am not ready for this to start yet.

Jason Fox said it best:

In conclusion, the review:

It was awesome,
Grab the family,

And Go see it.

P.S.  What would a review be without an insane prediction?


a) Gandalf's staff was destroyed.

b) Radagast was not in Lord of the Rings

c) Gandalf started in Fellowship of the Ring with the staff Radagast has in the Hobbit films.


d) Radagast will get vaporized in the assault on Dol Guldur, and be reborn as a moth.

Edit: 12-23-2014:  or...not.

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