Saturday, December 14, 2013

My Armor is like Tenfold Shields, My Teeth are Like Swords...

...Mt claws, spears! My tail, a thunderbolt! My wings, a Hurricane!

And my breath?



So, "Desolation of Smaug"....


HOLY @#$&*ING !@#$&!!!!

I mean, MAN! This was an in-freaking-credible film experience!

I still like "Unexpected Journey" a little better, but this is still one of the better films in the series!

It's also the one that - so far - takes the most liberties with the source material. Most of what is written is pretty untouched (with the exception of a briefer stay at Beorn's place), so it's a question of additions and some slight switching. Nothing exceeding the level of "Faramir Becomes an Obstacle" from Two Towers, just a little bit more of them. It's up to you whether or not you can personally accept the flat-out changes to the story, which are:
1. A new character in Tauriel. She is the captain of Thranduil's guard and fancies Legolas (who, by the way, is quite active in his father's court), but is told point-blank by the elven king that his son is too good for her, so she forms an odd sort of mutual crush-like thing on - of all people - Kili. Speaking of whom...
2. Kili is pierced by a Morgul Arrow fired by Bolg, Azog's son. It's a superficial wound in the leg, but being of Morgul make he gets sicker. This prompts Thorin to have to leave him behind in Laketown along with Fili (who refused to leave his brother), Oin (who is the healer of the group anyway), and Bofur (who overslept and missed the boat out).
3. This all comes together as Tauriel has to kind of play Arwen to Kili's Frodo (with a nod to Kingsfoil) while Legolas fights off Bolg's squad - once more, this is in Laketown.
4. Also, the rest of the Dwarves actually grow a conscience and try to save Bilbo from Smaug, leading to - from an objective cinematic standpoint - a pretty damn exciting chase through the forges of Erebor where Smaug's fire and greed are used against him...but he ends up leaving to go burn up Laketown anyway.

There are more deviations, but as I said those are straight additions either inspired by or straight-up taken from Tolkien's writings. Above are the only true major story changes to what we've read in the book already. I had no problem with them, and honestly I can only forsee certain extreme die-hard Tolkien purists taking issue. Well, them and people who are just trying to be negative and contrary because they don't like the movie being split in the first place. And this is not counting people who don't like Tolkien stuff anyway.

Was there anything I disliked? Well, I will say the use of Azog continues to stump me. I was underwhelmed when I first saw him in "Journey," but the more I watched him the more I really liked what they did with him and why. Which is the reason why I was really sort of confused when about 20 minutes in, he's summoned to Dol Guldor, leaves his son in charge of hunting Thorin's company, and gets nothing to really do until Gandalf comes snooping around and even then it's pretty minor. And, again, I missed some of the Beorn stuff from the book, but what we do get is pretty awesome.

* Everything else.

Okay, fine. Actual Highlights:
* Mirkwood. Just...Mirkwood.
* Sub point: I know Shelob is supposed to be the big mama, worse than any other spiders. However, the Mirkwood spiders are ABOUT A MILLIONS TIMES MORE FREAKING LEGITIMATELY SCARY THAN SHELOB EVER WAS. It was also a nice surprise when Bilbo's ring translated Spider-speech for them. I didn't think we'd get any talking animals.
* Thranduil is an a-hole. Well done, Ned the Piemaker.
* Barrels out of Bond. Just...Barrels out of Bond.
* More Radagast please.
* The reveal of the Necromancer's identity (which I will not spoil on the odd chance you've glossed over the part of the books the go into it) is done absolutely perfectly.
* Laketown is just an amazingly designed location, both set and ditigal.
* Similarly, this is the first time even in any version of The Hobbit where I actually gave half a crap about Bard. Well done Luke Evans and the screenwriters.
* Stephen Fry alert.
*  I've made no secret that of all creatures living, extinct, or made-up, I regard dragons more fondly than any other. I've long since discarded viewing dragons with any sort of real fear. So imagine my surprise when I finally saw Smaug in all his magnificence. Yes, he had a really cool design. Yes, he was fantastically animated. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch gave an amazing performance. But at the end of the day, Smaug was also legitimately frightening. He was a scary freaking dragon.
* The ending, or rather the placement of it in the story, will no doubt anger some. But for me, it was absolutely the PERFECT place to cut to black. I think I actually said "YES!" and applauded when the credits came up at that point, only because even going in I couldn't imagine the break happening at any other place.

December 2014 can't get here fast enough.


  1. I actually saw this opening night with a friend (who's a major fan of the films). Now, I actually haven't yet seen Unexpected Gathering, and I've not been following up on the films in any major way (such that I didn't know where the cutoff points were or what all they were doing in addition to the Hobbit stuff).

    My feelings overall were mixed, but I certainly enjoyed it a heck of a lot more than I thought I would. Absolutely adored most of the changes made to the book, in particular fleshing out Bard and the dwarves (the scene with Balin propositioning Bard for transport is probably my favorite scene in the film), and *loved* the scenes with the Mirkwood Elves. And though I agree with a lot of the criticisms with Tauriel, I also quite liked her and the romance with Kili (their first scene together is probably my second-favorite scene). In general the character stuff was I felt really well done, to the point where I really wouldn't mind a 9-hour trilogy if it were packed with that sort of thing.

    Unfortunately, though, it isn't, and where the film fell afoul for me was the side-plot with Gandalf, which seemed to me to belong in a different film entirely- I would've much preferred the Hobbit stuff staying together and then everything else pulled into its own separate film. Though I did quite enjoy Radagast (Favorite Doctor, yay!).

    And the one change that *didn't* work for me were the scenes with Smaug, which on the whole is probably my least favorite part of the film- the initial scene lost so much of what made the book version so good by revealing Bilbo that early and having Smaug be much more generic villain, and then the way they kept stretching the scenes in the mountain on and on and on seemed to almost miss the point of the scenes (where Smaug is really a feint, with the Battle of Five Armies being the real climax of the story). Not to mention that it took a lot of focus off of Laketown, which I was hoping would have a bigger presence. My presumption is they'll be focusing more on it in the next film, but really would've preferred more of a focus here over the scenes with Smaug.

    And I felt the ending was a total cheat, personally- on, like, Back to the Future II-levels here. I don't mind a good cliffhanger now and then, but the film itself still needs to be *resolved* in some way, where here it just feels like a rather awkward cut-off point. Also, I would've expected in a film entitled "Desolation of Smaug" to actually *see* his desolation.

    On the whole I did enjoy it, but it dragged and meandered a bit too much for me to really appreciate it fully. I've not seen the first film, but this doesn't really instill a lot of confidence against my original reservations about turning a 300-page children's book into a 9-hour trilogy.

    Ah, well, back to watching the Rankin-Bass.

    1. To each their own, I guess. Like you said, you never bothered with Journey (?!?!), and you seemed ambivalent towards LotR (?!?!?!?!), so I guess it's amazing you enjoyed what you did.

      But really, how can you call Smaug "generic?" His avarice and ego were handled beautifully. While I would have liked Bilbo to have stayed hidden longer, I would not have wanted that entire scene intercut with ringworld, so it makes sense. Plus, it was handled in a way that gave me as an audience member a sense of dread, like I literally thought "Oh shit! Smaug knows it's The One!"

      Plus, come on, even if you think the chase climax was totally wrong, you must admit it was well-constructed.

      Finally, like I said in the review, I sort of understand why you'd be disappointed at the cutoff, but for me I expected and sort of hoped they'd end it there, because it gives more than just Bo5A and WC v Necro to look forward to in 3.

    2. I haven't seen the LOTR films in ages, but from memory I'm quite fond of them, as well as the books (adore Hobbit, the prose is wonderful).

      And I dunno, I didn't find much special with Smaug here- certainly not in comparison to the book or the R/B version where he's at times playful and almost friendly, in addition to being ferocious and egotistical. He just felt more well-rounded in the book in a way he didn't here. I liked elements of the chase, I suppose, but still found it just dragged on too long without much of substance really *happening*. I dunno, I was continually more interested in the Laketown stuff than anything to do with the mountain.