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2.16.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 17, “A Warm Welcome,” Part 3)

2.16.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 17, “A Warm Welcome,” Part 3)

Bard's Early Appearance in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug" (New Line Cinema/Warner Bros., 2013)

Bard’s Early Appearance in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug” (New Line Cinema/Warner Bros., 2013)

Good Evening, Everyone!

A Director's Interpretation — Peter Jackson's Cameo in Bree (The Hobbit, DoS)

A Director’s Interpretation — Peter Jackson’s Cameo in Bree (The Hobbit, DoS)

When I watched Peter Jackson’s film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug — the 2nd of a 3-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel, The Hobbit — my wife, kids, & I emerged from the 3D/IMAX experience really impressed by a variety of things; among these, the family had a consensus that Jackson successfully realized Tolkien’s work in his depictions of Beorn’s House, the fight with the Giant Spiders in Mirkwood, the treeish/cavern atmosphere of the Wood-Elves’ realm, and the climactic encounter with Smaug the Dragon.  We also acknowledged that the screenwriters had taken quite a bit of artistic license by inserting elements not in the original text, but, again, really enjoyed the adaptations featuring of Legolas, the introduction of Tauriel (& her developing relationship with Kili), the white-water-rapid barrel-ride/orc-dwarf-elf battle, and Gandalf’s battles with Azog the Pale Orc and the Necromancer.

Dock under Bard's House

Dock under Bard’s House

As a Tolkien-fan of 35+ years, though, the presentation of Lake-Town, the Master, & Bard collectively stood out as some of the films’s most rewarding moments. Now, I realize that some critics think that Jackson went CGI crazy in crafting this film, and sacrificed much of Tolkien’s original Bilbo-centric story to please modern Hollywood audiences.  However, I found that — just as he’s done with the town of Bree in both The Hobbit: AUJ and FotR — the depiction of Lake-Town was remarkable on several fronts, not least of which was the fact that the town’s role added depth across the board in the film.

Bard Guides the Dwarves to Esgaroth

Bard Guides the Dwarves to Esgaroth

First, the scenes of the river that opened onto Long Lake and Bard’s role in conveying the barrel-hidden dwarves were inarguably great adaptations of scenes in the original book.  No, we didn’t get a presentation of Chapter 10’s huts of the Wood-elves, nor drawn-out scenes of the original, languid barrel-riding journey into Esgaroth; instead, we got some nice character-building moments among the dwarves drying off, meeting Bard, and then were treated to beautiful topographical images of the Middle Earth lands around the Lonely Mountain, a very true-to-Tolkien Lake-Town, and insight into the different classes of people that made for a vibrant, fully realized medieval community.  (If Tolkien’s The Hobbit were being edited today, I think that his editor would’ve had him remove the Wood-elf huts’ scene because although it established part of the trade network that serviced Lake-town, today’s readers seem to crave “action, action, action” and might have not had tolerance for another Wood-elf scene that duplicated some of the events/conversations we read about when Bilbo was spying in the dungeons of the Elf-King.)

Common Folk of Dale

Common Folk of Dale

Secondly, where last chapter’s adaptation of the Wood-Elves realm revealed the isolation of Thranduil and his folk, this chapter’s interpretation of Lake-Town’s citizenry imparted a sense of the “desolation” of Smaug’s lands, and the blindness of the human realms to supernatural menaces, be they a dragon or Dark Lord (we’ll see this again in the LotR films, esp. at the “noble” level of society, with Boromir’s father, Denethor).

The Hobbit: DoS (Stephen Colbert cameo, Lake Town)

The Hobbit: DoS (Stephen Colbert cameo, Lake Town)

In this, it appears that Jackson derived his inspiration both from studies of medieval urban life and also character sketches from a Charles Dickens novel like Oliver Twist!  Whatever the inspiration, this attention to detail in the townscape really worked for the family and me…and loved seeing Stephen Colbert and his kids as part of the Master’s spy network!

Dale, before the Dragon

Dale, before the Dragon

On another aspect of the city, successfully conveyed was the quiet, subdued rhythms into which the people had fallen while living under the threat of Smaug.  Remember all of the sun-drenched city scenes of Dale with which AUJ opened? the gleaming white buildings, thriving markets, children playing, & kites flying in blue skies?  None of those things were present in the obverse presentation of Esgaroth; as Bard and the dwarves approach the town, we see cold, grey skies, floating bergs, shadowed figures, and dank, dirty buildings, with most of the citizenry tired and world-weary of living in the shadow of the dragon.

The Master of Lake Town (Stephen Fry)

The Master of Lake Town (Stephen Fry)

Thirdly, there was the depiction of the Master…perfect.  Stephen Fry’s rendition conveyed all of the attributes that Tolkien had in the original; the exhaustion borne from living near a dragon, the greed of a corrupt bureaucrat, the knowledge that there’s another leader (Bard) in town, and the attention given to the public mood when the people of Lake-Town learn of Thorin’s identity.  The addition of Alfrid was also a welcome addition, both in his own capacity as the Master’s servant, but also as a means for us to start seeing the tension apparent in the Lake-Town community (i.e., utter reliance on the trade with the Wood-elves and the dire economic circumstances wrought by Smaug).  Everything about Lake-Town just felt as if it were about to burst apart at the seams, and we’ll have to wait until December to see what happens to people and buildings when the dragon comes….

Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans)

Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans)

Finally, Bard.  For me, although he didn’t appear in the original “Chapter 10” of Tolkien’s work, Jackson’s introduction of Bard in this scene (in contrast to Chapter 10’s originally having an invisible Bilbo & hidden dwarves arriving via the Wood-elves’ raft), we immediately get vested in a character who’s crucial to the climax of the story.  Luke Evans’s thoughtful/canny/ethical/brooding portrayal of Bard the Bowman really added some depth to both a “commoner’s” assessment of the dwarves’ arrival (i.e., the legends of old returning to life…), as well as providing a foil to the Master’s hold over Lake-Town.  Through Bard’s interactions with the dwarves (& his successful smuggling of them into the town), the viewer gains a sense of the dynamics at work within the village, and we keep the action moving forward.

J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien

In Tolkien’s The Hobbit, much of what we learn about Bard comes from Chapter 14, and the sketch is a simple one, painted in the moment he’s about to slay Smaug:

But there was still a company of archers that held their ground among the burning houses.  Their captain was Bard, grim-voiced and grim-faced, whose friends had accused him of prophesying floods and poisoned fish, though they knew his worth and courage.  He was a descendant in a long line of Girion, Lord of Dale, whose wife and child had escaped down the Running River from the ruin long ago.  Now he shot with a great yew bow, till all his arrows but one were spent. The flames were near him.  His companions were leaving him.  He bent his bow for the last time…

Bard gives Bilbo & the Dwarves some straight talk...

Bard gives Bilbo & the Dwarves some straight talk…

I very much enjoyed how Jackson expanded upon this description (and later interactions with Bilbo) to flesh out a Bard character that resonates a quiet strength in DoS, and giving screen time to both his kids and brief encounters with the town-folk and the Master really sets us up for a compelling end of his story in There and Back Again.

Next Time:  Another Huge Win for Tolkien-Fans — Some Appreciated Backstory for Mithrandir the Maia!

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