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2.23.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 24, “Inside Information,” Part 3)

2.23.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 24, “Inside Information,” Part 3)

The Hobbit- The Desolation of Smaug (Martin Freeman; New Line Cinema-Warner Bros., 2013)

The Hobbit- The Desolation of Smaug (Martin Freeman; New Line Cinema-Warner Bros., 2013)

Good Evening, Everybody!

Lake Town (Alan Lee)

Lake Town (Alan Lee)

In this final chapter (12, “Inside Information”) of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit that Peter Jackson adapted in 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, there were a few elements that really stood out for me:  (1) Bard & Lake-Town, (2) Gandalf’s Battle with the Necromancer, (3) Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug, and (4) Thorin & Company’s battle with the dragon.  Don’t want to make these too long, and some of these topics have really inflamed critics of the film, so I’ll take a blog-a-day to explain why the scenes worked for me.

Esgaroth/Lake-Town

Esgaroth/Lake-Town

Lake-Town:
Just as the depiction of Tauriel, Thranduil, & the Wood-Elves in DoS departed from those Elves shown passing through the forest, dwelling in Rivendell or Lothlorien, or fighting on battle-fields in LotR, the focus on Lake-Town in DoS gave us a view of Humans who live in Middle Earth.  The townsfolk of Esgaroth weren’t the drunken, filthy, world-weary, and slightly menacing men & women of LotR‘s Bree, nor of the elites and city-dwellers we saw in TTT & RotK‘s Minas Tirith.

Aragorn & Eowyn lead the people of Rohan to Helm's Deep (The Two Towers)

Aragorn & Eowyn lead the people of Rohan to Helm’s Deep (The Two Towers)

The citizens of Lake-Town were closer to the “commoners” we saw in The Two Tower‘s Rohan (both in the mountain city & also among the people seen in the long march to Helm’s Deep).  Here Jackson took time to reveal a working medieval village that exists in Smaug’s shadow, with a fully realized internal dynamic that spanned from glimpsing watchmen to spies to shopkeepers to, finally, the wonderful addition of Bard’s family.

Tolkien himself tended to some of these aspects of Esgaroth in The Hobbit, but you’ll see that Jackson & Co. elaborated greatly on the sketch of the author:

Esgaroth, Concept Art from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line, 2013)

Esgaroth, Concept Art from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line, 2013)

A great bridge made of wood ran out to where on huge piles made of forest trees was built a busy wooden town, not a town of elves but of Men, who still dared to dwell here under the shadow of the distant dragon-mountain.  They still throve on the trade that came up the great river from the South and was carted past the falls to their town…some still sang old songs of the dwarf-kings of the Mountain…but the pleasant legend did not much affect their daily business….

Esgaroth (by Matěj Čadil, Czech Republic; Wikipedia)

Esgaroth (by Matěj Čadil, Czech Republic; Wikipedia)

…[guards at the bridge] were not keeping very careful watch, for it was long since there had been any real need.  Except for occasional squabbles about river-tolls they were friends with the Wood-elves.  Other folk were far away; and some of the younger people in the town openly doubted the existence of any dragon in the mountain, and laughed at the graybeards and gammers who said that they had seen him flying in the sky in their younger days.  That being so it is not surprising that the guards were drinking and laughing by the fire in their hut, and did not hear the noise of the unpacking of the dwarves [from the barrels] or the footsteps of the four scouts.  Their astonishment was enormous when Thorin Oakenshield stepped in through the door… [from J.R.R. Tolkien, “Chapter 10, A Warm Welcome,” in The Hobbit, 1937]

Bard & Son

Bard & Son

I very much appreciated the screen-writers’ faithful attention to this detail, because it did much to “ground” the characters of Middle Earth in a believable, albeit “blind,” existence.  The moment when Thorin reveals himself to the townsfolk and begins a clash of ideas between the Master and Bard — that is, the Master wants to welcome the dwarves in the greedy hope of getting some gold, while Bard wants nothing to do with rousing a dragon that could destroy Lake-Town! — a clash that sets up them (and the viewer) for a resolution in December’s The Hobbit: There and Back Again.

Bard, Family, & the Master of Lake-Town

Bard, Family, & the Master of Lake-Town

Also, the presentation of Lake-Town did something else — when Bard looks at the tapestry of Thorin’s family tree, he realizes that the dwarves are emerging from myth and into a reality that could threaten life as Bard knows it.  In that moment of fear and wonder, we’re also made to acknowledge how “blind” humans are both to the continued threat of the dragon, and it’s a blindness that’s completely understandable.

A Fully-Stocked Tapestry Shop:  Bard Discovers that, after 170 years, Thorin has returned!

A Fully-Stocked Tapestry Shop: Bard Discovers that, after 170 years, Thorin has returned!

For those keeping track (like Jackson) of time passing in the books, Smaug destroyed the kingdom of Erebor & evicted the dwarves from the Lonely Mountain in 2770 of the Third Age (T.A.); it’s not until T.A. 2941 that Bard slays him. So, Smaug’s lived quite comfortably for some 171 years in the Lonely Mountain…think about your own life and how much gets forgotten even in a few months (!), then apply that knowledge to the lifespans and generations of Lake-Town people who have gotten used to living in the “desolation of Smaug!” When Bard looks at that tapestry and realizes that Thorin is the Thorin Oakenshield from a mythic past, the viewer should understand how big a deal that is… .

Next Time:  Let’s Really Discuss Gandalf…

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