Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Sucks



There is something to be said for leeway as far as novel-to-movie adaptations go. However, left unsaid, and often heavily implied, is the unfortunately lesser observed notion of keeping with the spirit and tone of the source material; in this manner, The Desolation of Smaug fails more severely than does Sean Bean in living until the end of a movie.

I can tell you that, certainly, I am a fan of Tolkien's work. I adore the books of the original trilogy, as well as the corresponding movies. When I read The Hobbit, I liked it very much as well – but if you were to show me the two current movies with which the novel shares its name, I would likely question whether the director had any actual contact with the novel. Throughout The Desolation of Smaug, only very few scenes and characters appear roughly based upon the novel – there are some barrels, there is a hike through Mirkwood with its corresponding spiders, and, unlike the previous installment, there is actually a fucking dragon in this movie. Unfortunately, and rather noticeably, in straying from the tone of the source material to such an extent, The Desolation of Smaug never quite makes up its mind about what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it trying to be funny, as a comedy of sorts? It it fantasy-adventure like the original trilogy? Or maybe, is it an action film? Well, the answer is irrelevant, because the movie utterly fails in all three departments: the humor entices no laughter, the action lacks tension, and the fantasy comes off as uninspired.

So yes – as far as the comedy goes, the humor is indeed derived directly from the script; but not to the writers' knowledge, the audience is often inclined to laugh at the movie instead of with it. I lost track of how many times a joke based on something found in a bathroom was made in the first Hobbit, and although the humor in this movie draws from markedly fresher sources, the wit involved never surpasses the kindergarten level; and while it's true that The Hobbit was written by Tolkien for children, it would be exceptionally insulting to so settle and refuse the notion that children are capable of understanding more than the over-abundant slapstick that dominates this movie. If anything, it is apparent that Tolkien thought the opposite was true – as his childhood was during the time Beatrix Potter was being actively published, it can be seen throughout the novel of The Hobbit that eloquent language was commonplace. In terms of the movie, and through Peter Jackson's influence, the dialogue throughout is devoid of the smooth-spoken conversations apparent all throughout the novel. Instead, and perhaps as the pinnacle of all insults throughout the movie, the audience is continuously subjected to clich├ęd dialogue more reflective of stereotypical fantasy tropes – nowhere in the novel did I ever recall thinking of having read or heard such generic dialogue. In doing this, Jackson destroys the Tolkien-esque idiosyncrasies present in the dialogue of the novel, and correspondingly so, causes nearly the entirety of the conversations in The Desolation of Smaug to remind the audience that they are watching a movie.

The action fares no better. Any character with whom the audience is familiar from the original trilogy will be obviously known to not die; in fact, it is the case that none of these characters can even be injured. Much in the same way that the third Star Wars prequel was obvious in the way it was going to end, The Desolation of Smaug supplies the audience with not a single mystery. However, unlike the aforementioned Star Wars episode, The Desolation of Smaug cannot provide interesting action. Whereas the first Hobbit installment laughed away at the rules of physics, often inviting characters to survive falls that would kill a normal being a hundred times over, this second movie does the metaphorical equivalent of reversing gravity – and often, it is literally the case as well, as a more prominent action scene features various elves accomplishing such stupendous physical feats that eventually I came to wonder if I was really watching a shooting gallery. As a highlight, it should be pointed out specifically that Orlando Bloom manages to balance himself on the heads of two dwarfs in separate barrels inside a raging river, simultaneously firing an endless volley of arrows into moving targets in front, to the side, and behind him, while not necessarily ever needing to see said targets in order to hit them, and so hitting them in the head, at every occurrence, without fail. And this theme of elven ninjas is consistent throughout the movie, having seemingly supplanted Gandalf as the premiere deus ex machina – after the elves are introduced (unwittingly, as a deus ex machina), nearly every other transition into "a scene with elves" starts with Legolas or his girlfriend appearing out of thin air to kill some orcs. Over the top is an understatement; the action itself merits the supposed "fantasy" label this movie is sure to receive, because there is no other excuse as to how the characters throughout this movie do what they do, the way they do it.

The fantasy element of the movie is perhaps its weakest component. Those who have read the novel will not recognize the characters or settings they came to like while reading, because all Jackson offers is CGI on top of more CGI. Even despite the setting of this movie, where every other spectacle necessitates CGI by virtue of its fictitious nature, I found myself underwhelmed, realizing that the given vista I was admiring was probably the work of some nerd in a dark room. Or maybe it was really a bona fide effects technician – the point is that eventually, CGI fails to impress simply because it isn't real. Conversely, the original trilogy prominently featured the beauty and majesty of New Zealand, and quickly immersed the audience with long, overhead shots and steady camera panning; and as far as The Desolation of Smaug goes, the modernized fast-cut fast-zoom technique is all that's used in filming the action and environment. Ultimately, this causes the action scenes to feel like a video game, but more importantly, it causes the random glimpses of the environment to not provide a sense of scale or direction – what good is seeing the top of a snowy mountain if I have no reference point for its height or what lies near it? Certainly I can recall the fire-beacon sequence of the original trilogy, where the eye was skillfully drawn around the screen, prompted to look all over the mountain sides for the next light – whereas in The Hobbit, the audience is given (or rather, subjected to) a cursory peek and then is immediately cut away to some tirade.

So supposing Peter Jackson (or whoever is relevant here) was to sell the rights to film J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, and supposing further that the names of characters and settings and events were changed, a lawsuit over copyright infringement would have no legal basis. 

30 comments:

  1. Since Elrond is Agent Smith, perhaps the other Elves are also agents from the Matrix?

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  2. I felt the same way about the camera angles. Too quick, too sudden. When the "camera" feels like it has to move around that much, it leaves me thinking the director has something to hide.

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  3. Dude, your article is "dead on balls accurate" -peace

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  4. Why no one talks about that idiotic saurons eye scene. Effects were so bad and that infinite eye animation was so dumb. After that scene i had no hope left for the rest of the movie. I really wonder what jackson tought there. I bet he suggested a dubstep song to that eye scene as well. Becouse it wouldnt be anymore awkward.

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    1. Okay, my bad. That scene was definitely extra terrible, so I should have mentioned it. I especially agree about the infinite eye part – I literally facepalmed when it happened.

      A note about the music: the only good song appears *after* the first credits track. It's the only song in theme with the traditional LOTR feel; for whatever reason, Jackson decided to only use stereotypical action-y music everywhere else.

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    2. I couldn't be more disappointed in this trilogy. It sucks, so bad.

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  5. I must say,while I was watching, I really struggled to wrap my head around it all. They might as well have not wasted the money on Cumberbatch, since they pretty much rendered his voice unrecognizable, and chose not to have him engage in the meaningful,interesting conversation from the book.

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  6. I just got back from Deso of Smaugo... fucking atrocious. Thanks for your review. My words aren't work right now, they gone and just hatred be. Glad your words exist. Mine no good, just, PAIN, fucking arg.

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  7. Painful to get through was what I thought. How almost an entire movie could be "filler" was incredible. And the last movie? It's just going to be one long battle, isn't it?

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  8. Glad to see there are others familiar enough with the written story to see the films for the disappointing wastes of time that they are.

    I had such high hopes of seeing the novels I had loved since my childhood, brought to the big screen back when I first hear the Lord of the Rings were being adapted to film, and while those three films were for the most part (some glaring butcheries to Tolkien's material aside) quite accurate, I could never have anticipated how much of a mess Jackson would make out of the much shorter, and simpler novel of the Hobbit.

    While I don't think anyone really expected the movies to be completely true to the books, it would have been nice if Jackson had at least made an effort to do some justice to the brilliant fantasy writings that Tolkien gave us.

    Instead he has taken an almost Michael Bay style approach to the story. Throwing away the themes, unique characters and deep lore, all in favour of slap stick "comedy" and a visual "wow" effect.

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    1. You absolutely nailed it. I never expected Jackson to make such a piece of crap. I hope there will be a remake that respects the book and not the rules of making a decent blockbuster, this was suposed to be so much more than a simple blockbuster.

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  9. Could they please make a remake f this film that actually reflects the book and the lore and culture of Middle-Earth. Including real music and more left to the imagination and the mysterious nature oof Tolkien's world

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  10. Spot-on review, as are the comments. Jackson's post-LOTR fluff panders to modern, juvenile (regardless of age) audiences, who appreciate nothing but eye candy.

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  11. You should also have mentioned the awful way the source material was twisted to its roots: An "Angmar Grave" with nine tombs? The witch king wasn't even dead and Tolkien made no mention to the nine being present at the destruction of Arnor; Beorn was NOT the last one of his kind; Bilbo NEVER shows himself to Smaug and so on and so on... But yeah, I agree, there are so many items that a list would be painfull work.

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  12. This article is the group therapy I needed to work through my profound disappointment with this movie. Jackson seems like he is running scared from the critics of the first film that wanted another generic video game movie and could care less about a charming, subtle, and dynamic fantasy adventure.

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  13. Amazing review. These are my thoughts exactly. Unfortunately, when I try to tell people why I did NOT like the film, I can't give reasons as smoothly as you did here. Kudos my friend.

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  14. Thank you for this article. I helps me with the insane feeling of dissapointment that I have had since seeing this horrible bastardization of Tolkien's work.

    I liked the LOTR movies and bought all the versions on DVD. Not perfect but pretty darn good. I would not use The Hobbit DVD's as a coaster for a warm pint from the Green Dragon.

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  15. I would not pay money to see this in a theater. I have watched about half of the movie online (filesharing site)...and have not finished it yet. This movie does suck, and I have seen the other LOTR movies many times over.

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  16. wow. It's as if I wrote this myself.

    I think the biggest thing for me was "the action lacks tension"...man alive did you hit the nail on the head. All the little mistakes also make this a sloppy film. I hate the way the weaved Gimli into the movie, and I was actually looking forward to a Gimli reference, but not like this. How did the Orcs sneak into Laketown? Why did Bard have to sneak them in if they were going to be met with such good favor? Why were the Dwarves ready to quit so easy after not finding the key hole? The Molten Gold Statue...that worked like a charm, but didn't work at all? An Elf and a Dwarf? Just why?

    Than you have the other mistakes....for example in AUJ: 13 Dwarves have so much trouble with 3 dimwitted trolls yet 10 minutes later they are slaughtering Wargs with ease. Literally with ease. They will shoot an Orc with 3 arrow and than cut it's head off, but it only takes 1 arrow to kill a huge Warg. Ok. Or how about Thorin getting his sword back at the end after the Eagles save him? This stuff continues in DOS. In the Barrel scene I believe 2 Dwarves were able to get out of their original barrel and jump back into empty ones that were conveniently and suddenly available.

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  17. Ok, now that I rethink it, Fili was holding Kili's barrel...but Bombur definitely was pretty lucky, and very ninja like. But just thinking back....how many swords did Thorin throw from his barrel? I counted 2. It makes sense that they all had axes to chop down the tree, so I'm fine with that, but if Thorin has a sword in this last movie I'm calling bullshit. haha.

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  18. It's such a shame that The Hobbit was in production hell for such a long time. I have a niggling feeling that had it been made soon after the original trilogy, Jackson would have knocked it out of the park for many years to come. Now? Too many fingers in the stew, plus (I suspect) a bit of Hollywood ego after making it big. The feel for the Middle-earth we encountered 10 years ago has been completely lost.

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  19. nothing but punch of people walking to a fucking mountain, even trees walked in those movies.

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  20. Wish I saw this before last night. Bought pt 1 & pt 2 (still thought it was supposed to be just 2 movies). Got my girlfriend to do a Hobbit/LotR marathon. Halfway through pt 1, I told her I was sorry. During pt 2 (she's a trooper) she asked why is it called the Hobbit, if he's not in it. Lake Master had the same amount, if not more scenes, than Bilbo. This article and comments, glad I wasn't the only one.

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  21. I'm only watching for the dragon.

    but it sucks for sure.

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  22. It's nothing but ugly violence.

    The childhood wonderment of the story is so incredibly gone I will never show this to my kids. It practically advocates cruelty and torture... How did the elves become cruel ninjas?

    The LOTR films were far more violent and left out much of the magic: Tom Bombadil! is nearly the most powerful character, most important... However, the LOTR films at least had some of the reverence for the common countryside hobbits.

    In the first film when there was so much emphasis on the first meal with the dwarves I was quite optimistic that the films would be a playful treat (as the book is) but it quickly devolved into melodramatic grandiose cliche action movie pablum.

    In the 2nd film there is even less wonderment. The dragon is the only interesting character but only barely.

    Booooooooooo!

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  23. Oh please, while I do agree the movie was far from perfect its by no means a bad movie. It's a action adventure movie that's heavy on the action, is it like lord of the rings, no its not, the thing that bothers me is that this movie is called the hobbit, and while it may share the same character names and setting, it does not stay true to the source material, which is obviously THE HOBBIT! They should have just changed the names of the places and called it "insert generic movie title here"

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    1. Thank you for the first dissenting opinion, anon.

      I think that when you try to determine if a given movie is good or bad, it's important to do it in the context of that movie's goal, as otherwise, many movies that are commonly held to be bad, such as Troll 2, Mission Impossible 3, and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, could be argued, quite convincingly, to be very good – Troll 2 would be hailed as one of the most hilariously constructed pieces of "junk" ever made, but due to the near-artistry of its failure, it would still be regarded as having succeeded, because everyone that finds out about it and watches it ends up loving it; Mission Impossible 3, despite lacking in logic and good action, would still be argued to be an effective spy-thriller because of its cheap twists; and lastly, Attack of the Clones would be praised for its special effects and its blatant disregard of good writing and dialogue would be left unnoticed.

      In saying this, I am not trying to equate The Desolation of Smaug with these movies (okay, maybe a little bit–). However, I am trying to show that bad movies can only be called bad if there's some sort of reference point. We could go on for days arguing about the subjective nature of "choosing" this reference point, so instead, I'll just point out that typically, the reviewer goes with whatever reference point the movie itself establishes, and that in the case of The Desolation of Smaug, it's quite clear that the movie wants to be compared to the book, especially given that its director had previously worked on the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which he did well to translate fairly directly from the source material.

      So yes, while it's true that a movie will be inherently different than its novel (and vice-versa), the gist of the two should remain the same. In this case, The Desolation of Smaug is so inconceivably different than the corresponding novel that many fans of the latter, like myself, are recoiling away in annoyance. Sure, you can call it elitism, call me pretentious, or a whole host of other things – it's probably true, but in any case, it doesn't do very much to dispute the fact that The Desolation of Smaug completely fails at what it tries to do, and even in and of itself, is still not a very good movie.

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  24. They took a magical masterpiece and defiled the authors work way to go holly Weird

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  25. I finally got around to watching this film, and like many others I am disappointed, but not surprised. I expected nothing more than the first film in the trilogy offered, and nothing more was what I got. The action was predictable. The fantasy unfulfilling. Smaug was certainly the high point of both parts thus far, and I know that he will soon die and leave the trilogy to end with a massive cgi epic action battle festival. I think I need to read the original story now. Maybe I'll feel better. I marveled at how Peter Jackson brought Middle Earth to life with the LOTR trilogy, now I marvel at how he has ruined it with The Hobbit. Keep it simple stupid. The book didn't need additions or changes. It was perfect as it was.

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