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The Definition of “Slog” – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

December 13, 2013

bilbo

  1. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo continues to be the best thing about this series, fortunately so since it’s his character that it’s all named after. Unfortunately the narrative continues to divide its focus between our brave little hobbit, Gandalf’s dealings with the Necromancer, and Thorin the Jerky Dwarf. Really, they might as well have named this Thorin Oakenshield: The Motion Picture, because that’s what it feels like most of the time. And not for the better. Freeman’s performance has such joyous subtlety, you find yourself wishing that Jackson would give up all the other crud and just keep the camera on Bilbo at all times — our companion, after all, throughout Tolkien’s first book. Alas, that’s not to be. He again disappears into the background far too often.
  2. There was nothing in Journey to equal the barrel escape from the Mirkwood elves — and a pack of bloodthirsty orcs thrown in for good measure. It’s a wildly inventive, soaring action sequence that feels like a heart-in-your-throat amusement park ride splashed up on screen. There are genuine laugh out loud moments contained within, and for a moment you’re taken back to the December fun the LotR movies gave us a decade ago. You remember, back when Jackson was trimming story elements, not inventing them out of whole cloth. It may end up as the bright spot of this whole trilogy.
  3. CGI Legolas returns, as does Orlando Bloom in the role he was born to play, i.e. a being with no emotional range whatsoever. Along for the ride is Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a made-up elf found nowhere in Tolkien’s work. She has a vaguely romantic scene with the youngish, hunkyish dwarf — I can’t remember his name — that’s so atonal and useless and lame, you might feel compelled to bash your skull into the seatback in front of you. But hey, at least it’s keeping Ms. Lilly from going back to the phone sex commercials. Kate from Lost gotta eat!
  4. Is it always raining in Bree? And is Peter Jackson always eating a carrot there?
  5. Lee Pace, who’ll be Ronan the Accuser in next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, gets to actually utter lines in this installment. His is an enjoyable if brief performance, as Thranduil, while speaking with Thorin, takes on an effeminate bent that harkens back to Raoul Silva in Skyfall. Pace is an easy actor to get behind, and it’s good to see him here. (A part of me wishes he was the new Batman. Again — alas.)
  6. Much of this whole endeavor hinged on a convincing dragon, and on that the filmmakers delivered. Smaug, voiced by the great Humberto Cumberbun Benedict Cumberbatch, is all that you can ask for, and puts old faves like Vermithrax Pejorative to shame. You get a true sense of skyscraper scale as he writhes around on his mountain of gold, taunting and tormenting the little thief that has dared trespass into his domain. He’s evil but somewhat gentlemanly (gentledragonly?), a creature that at least seems to have manners. At least until his belly glows and he starts trying to char-broil hobbit and dwarf and man and everybody else.
  7. Hey, the birdshit wizard is back. Hooray, because we really goddamn needed that.

The biggest signal that all is not right in Middle-Earth? At the end of my screening there was a chorus of sighs from the audience. Not “what a fulfilling experience that was” sighs, but the “Really? That’s it?” variety. The cliffhanger ending doesn’t leave you wanting more. It only frustrates, leaving a sour taste in your mouth, a taste that has nothing to do with the tub of rancid popcorn you might have just devoured. The movie is choked to the gills with characters you never truly get to know and you certainly never give a damn about, and that combined with scattershot plotting makes for a tedious experience. There are elements of to be enjoyed here, especially for those devoted to the source material — and they are legion. For the rest of the viewing public, this will be a mediocre two and a half hours at best.

And you can’t help but feel like a fool as you’re sitting there, a fool buying tickets for a drawn out trilogy whose sole tripartite reason for existence is to make a studio a Smaug-like mountain of cash.

Two out of five.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. mlpost permalink
    December 13, 2013 10:23 pm

    Well, I haven’t seen the new movie, but, if I remember the book, there’s still a big-ass, vicious, bloody, rip roaring battle between the humans, elves, dwarves and goblins coming up. Or, as we call it in my family, get-togethers.

  2. theartisticpackrat permalink
    December 14, 2013 2:16 am

    There’s also the fighting over the gold between Thorin and the people of Laketown. I think there’s a lot more left to do in the story than you’re thinking/letting on.

    • December 14, 2013 3:35 am

      Yes, audiences can’t wait for Thorin and the people of Laketown fighting over gold. Maybe Jackson and co. can stretch that out for another 45 minutes. And maybe we get to see more of poor Stephen Fry’s one-dimensional Master character along the way. Wonderful! More sawdust in the meatloaf!

      • theartisticpackrat permalink
        December 14, 2013 12:41 pm

        I’m not saying that’s ALL they’ll be focusing on in the last movie. My point was that there’s more to do than you’re letting on. For one, you also have to build up more character moments for some of the characters who die in the last movie.

  3. December 14, 2013 2:01 pm

    Could have used more Bilbo, but it was fine for what it was. Even if I still feel like this is an obvious and manipulative cash-grab. Good review Jared.

  4. Volker permalink
    December 17, 2013 4:07 pm

    I’ve avoided Jackson’s HOBBIT for exactly this reason. In fact, I’m not watching any of it until after the release of part 3, when somebody has made a fanedit that follows the script and pace of the Rankin-Bass animated feature. 77 minutes are plenty (I’ll allow 80).

    Peter Jackson has become the Erich von Stroheim of the 21st century.

    • December 18, 2013 7:45 pm

      No lie, Greed popped into my head when watching this thing. The entire trilogy, though not yet complete, already cries out for a Phantom Edit.

  5. Volker permalink
    December 18, 2013 9:24 pm

    I saw a leaked copy of the script for Part 3. PJ has scoured the works of JRRT for clues, and will fill in the gaps between HOBBIT and LOTR. This includes:

    –Bilbo’s failed, childless marriage and how his wife finds out why he is called “Bilblow Teabaggins”
    –He hits rock bottom when he holds up an Elven-Eleven, gets sent to prison and contracts Hobbititis C from a homemade tatoo
    –His career comeback, that starts with a heartfelt confessional interview on the Ogreh Show
    –He is able to retire comfortably selling foot toupees on QVC

  6. Tangent permalink
    December 23, 2013 10:56 am

    Sighs? No. Whimpers, yes.

    It was quite delightful to hear people realize they were going to have to WAIT to see Smaug incinerate Lake Town.

    And it could have been far far worse. I timed Mirkwood. They were through there in record time.

    Personally? I rather enjoyed the movie. And I thought it a better movie easily than the first (which did need an antagonist such as Azog to drive the dwarves forward). Likewise, having the backstory of what was going on with the Necromancer helped fill story that the audience would have wanted to know (that and having the goblins and orcs marching because of Sauron rather than greed helped explain that story).

    But what I disagree with you is your claim Smaug puts Vermithrax Pejorative to shame. There were homages to Vermithrax Pejorative in Smaug’s design (notice that unlike so many drawings of Smaug, his forearms were incorporated into his wings much like Vermithrax Pejorative and the dragons of Skyrim). And Smaug’s grace and litheness was due to technological innovations in the three decades between the two films. (Not to mention Vermithrax Pejorative was a much older dragon who was stiff with age, while Smaug was at the height of his power. And even then it took a wizard snuffing his own life to kill her, while Smaug is taken out with a simple ballista.)

    Both Smaug and Vermithrax Pejorative are absolutely fantastic dragons and their depictions on the screen are fantastic. Contrasting the two, however, is a fools game. Neither is better than the other.

    • December 24, 2013 4:57 pm

      I feel like I just sat through the movie again. (Kidding. Merry Christmas to all.)

  7. January 22, 2014 2:55 pm

    Cool review. Check out mine if you like at http://printplayparticipate.wordpress.com/

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