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2.27.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 28, Conclusion 1)

2.27.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 28, Conclusion 1)

Good Morning, Everyone!

Ugh.  I’m in the midst of fighting a nasty bout of the cold/flu, but also at end of my reviews of Peter Jackson’s 2013 film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbitwith The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug depicting (and departing) from events related in Chapters 7-12 (of 19).

Given that I’ve gotten 400+ new potential readers via Twitter, here’s a top-line of my views about each chapter adaptation. (If you want to follow me, just click on the icon to the right of this column!)  Tomorrow, when I’m hopefully feeling a bit better, I’ll give a proper send-off to the film as we wait until December for Part 3: The Hobbit: There and Back Again:

"Gandalf & Beorn," from Peter Jackson's Adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's work, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (New Line, Warner Bros., 2013)

“Gandalf & Beorn,” from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 7: “Queer Lodgings” (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema & Warner Bros., 2013)

Chapter 7: “Queer Lodgings”
(Tolkien Blog-sphere Controversial Issues:
Beorn’s Home, Azog & Dol Guldur, Necromancer)

The Carrock (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line, 2013)

The Carrock

[A.J.’s concluding thoughts:  from ]
“…while the essentials remain the same in both book and film versions (the Carrock, Beorn’s House, & Gandalf’s departure at edge of Mirkwood), there are dramatically new dynamics at play here in Jackson’s adaptation:  the elevation of Azog the White Orc from a one-line mention to a full-blown villain, the rise of the Necromancer at Dol Goldur, & all of the other elements that are playing into the deepening backstory to Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films (i.e., how did Sauron return after getting the One Ring cut off his finger on the fields of Dagorlad during the Last Alliance of Elves and Men)?”

The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 8 “Flies and Spiders” (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema & Warner Bros., 2013)

Chapter 8: “Flies and Spiders”
(Tolkien Blog-sphere Controversial Issues:  
Invention of Tauriel, & elevated roles of Thranduil & Legolas)

On Tauriel:

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly)

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly)

[A.J.’s concluding thoughts:  from

…for DoS, screenwriters Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro consciously made a decision not only to make that “rewrite” (to make their film accord with the LotR film trilogy), but to also introduce a vital element sorely lacking in the original…females!!!  Just as Galadriel, Eowyn, and Arwen had a much more elevated presence in the LotR film adaptations than Tolkien allowed in his original books, so, too, does the invention of Tauriel bring a much-appreciated feminine presence into this Hobbit adaptation!

Evangeline Lilly, The Hobbit (New Line, 2012-2014)

Evangeline Lilly, The Hobbit (New Line, 2012-2014)

…On her own merits (and as a father of a daughter who also loves Tolkien’s works, but can’t find many females within the books with whom she can identify), I find both the Tauriel character and Lilly’s interpretation of her wholly welcome additions to Jackson’s perception of Middle Earth.   In fact that brings up another future blog in itself, “the treatment and presentation of women in the epic fantasy genre!”

On Thranduil & Legolas:

Thranduil (Lee Pace)

Thranduil (Lee Pace)

[A.J.’s concluding thoughts] “…Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily like the character of Thranduil, but in these instances of (1) seeing a dragon destroy Erebor, and (2) watching minions of a resurgent Dark Lord invading his kingdom, his hesitation and reticence at getting involved do become understandable.  (Suffice it to say, in the Wars of the First Age, the Dragon Glaurung was a general for Sauron’s master, Morgoth…not much of a stretch to think that Thranduil here might be fearful that Sauron himself might want to have his own dragon as an asset.)

The Wood-elves, Tauriel & Legolas (Evangeline Lilly & Orlando Bloom) from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line Cinema, 2013)

The Wood-elves, Tauriel & Legolas (Evangeline Lilly & Orlando Bloom)

….Moreover, [Jackson’s] narrative tack gives (1) a more varied look at different elven cultures within Middle Earth (heretofore we’ve really only seen the 6,ooo-year-old Elrond, who was actually “half-elven,” meaning that he and his twin brother were descended from Luthien, and like Gandalf/Mithrandir, was partially one of the Maiar who chose to live out his immortal life as an elf); with Thranduil & Legolas, we get to see “pure” elves, which should make any Tolkien fan really excited to at least see an attempt by Jackson to show more of the “races” of Middle Earth that Tolkien was so careful to delineate.  We also get to see (2) a lot more depth in the character of Legolas, who by disagreeing with his father (and ultimately leaving Mirkwood against Thranduil’s wishes), begins to reveal the path that it took him to become part of the fellowship which would destroy the One Ring in LotR.”

Scenes from Peter Jackson's Adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; "Barrels Out of Bond," New Line Cinema/Warner Bros., 2013)

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 9, “Barrels Out of Bond” (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema/Warner Bros., 2013)

Chapter 9: “Barrels Out of Bond”
(Tolkien Blog-sphere Controversial issues:  
CGI-Laden Barrel-Ride, loss of Bilbo floating quietly sniffling down river, Orc Chase, Legolas, etc.)

[A.J.’s concluding thoughts:  from ] 

The Hobbit, DoS: "Barrels Out of Bond" (New Line, 2013)

The Hobbit, DoS: “Barrels Out of Bond” (New Line, 2013)

“...speaking of Tolkien’s vision, I do understand the concern that many critics’ express that the “Bilbo” story runs the risk of getting lost with this new take on “Barrels Out of Bond” — that is, by having an invented battle with orcs and thrilling ride down the rapids, Jackson removed the essence of Tolkien’s original version that featured Bilbo bobbing gently down the river, the many descriptions of the woodlands and natural surroundings, the hobbit’s concern about the dwarves, and his attempts to stay warm when he comes to the huts of the Wood-elves.  But, I think it would have been a different, quieter and less exciting movie for it!  Most of the sense of “loss” these critics express seems to me a loss at the journey with Bilbo, an introspective, one-person narrative in Tolkien that definitely charts a heroic trajectory for the protagonist, and which still stands the test of time as a heroic, inspiring story.

Tolkien, "Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves" (The Hobbit, 1937)

Tolkien, “Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves” (The Hobbit, 1937)

If I want that feeling, I can always go to Tolkien’s book and lose myself in that eternal depiction of Middle Earth.  Part of the appeal of Tolkien is the author’s ability to recreate a medieval world wherein the reader participates by the full immersion that Tolkien achieved by his writing; there is paragraph upon paragraph of nature descriptions in his works, and a sedately paced narrative that I don’t think would be replicated into film in a way to which audiences were accustomed after the game-changing success of LotR.  No, if I want to see Bilbo bobbing gently down the river and finally getting to Lake-town with almost no interaction with anyone except himself, that movie’s not yet been made.

What has been produced is an enjoyable action film that’s much better written and crafted than many of its competitors, and a movie where I finally got to see many wonderfully realized moments from one of my favorite books…and come on, wasn’t it almost worth the price of admission to see all the dwarves in barrels and peering out in consternation at Bilbo before getting dropped into the water?”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 10: "A Warm Welcome" (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema & Warner Bros., 2013)

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 10: “A Warm Welcome” (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema & Warner Bros., 2013)

Chapter 10:  “A Warm Welcome
(Tolkien Blog-sphere Controversial Issues: Emphasis on Bard, politicization of Lake Town & Master,  Master/Alfrid imitating Saruman/Grima, etc.)

[A.J.’s concluding thoughts:  from ]

…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.

J.R.R. Tolkien, "Lake Town" (from The Hobbit, 1937)

J.R.R. Tolkien, “Lake Town” (from The Hobbit, 1937)

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.

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).

Thorin & Co. in Lake Town

Thorin & Co. in Lake Town

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.

Bard (Luke Evans)

Bard (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.”

Thorin & Co. "On the Doorstep" regard the ruins of Dale (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema, 2013)

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 11: “On the Doorstep” (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema & Warner Bros., 2013)

Chapter 11: “On the Doorstep
(Tolkien Blog-sphere Controversial Issues:  Gandalf vs. Az0g & Orcs, then solo battle with revealed Sauron, etc.)

[A.J.’s concluding thoughts:  from ] 

The Hidden Stair (The Hobbit- The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema, 2013)

The Hidden Stair (The Hobbit- The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema, 2013)

“… First, this was a very, very short chapter in Tolkien’s book, so there are similarly only a few things to comment upon (as opposed to next chapter, and the climax of this film).  So, I really enjoyed the journey of Bilbo and the dwarves to the Front Gate, and the cinematography that captured the lands around Smaug’s domain; especially effective here were the discovery of the stairwell in the side of the dwarf statue, the perilous ascent and depiction of the hidden door, and even the departure from the book that had the moon (instead of the sun) illuminate the keyhole.

Secondly, I found that back in Lake Town, both the infiltration of Bolg’s orc troop added some great tension to the film, & Bard’s revelation of the Black Arrow as “hiding in plain sight” gave us a needful foreshadowing to the bowman’s role at the end of the story.

Gandalf vs. the Necromancer (Round 1)

Gandalf vs. the Necromancer (Round 1)

Lastly, I thought that the battle between Gandalf and the Necromancer was awesome; loved the magical engagement, and so glad that the CGI could bring this kind of conflict into high relief…for those critics who’ve thought it essentially a poor-man’s Harry Potter vs. Voldemort, all I can say is that Tolkien did much to invent the epic fantasy genre, and this kind of wizard’s battle should most definitely be featured in an adaptation of the work that informed much of the 20th Century imitators of Tolkien!

Holmes & Watson...oops, Smaug & Bilbo! (Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman)

Holmes & Watson…oops, Smaug & Bilbo! (Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman), from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 12: “Inside Information” (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line Cinema & Warner Bros., 2013)

Chapter 12: “Inside Information”
(Tolkien Blog-sphere Controversial Issues:  Gandalf vs. Az0g & Orcs, then solo battle with revealed Sauron, etc.)

[A.J.’s concluding thoughts:  from ]  

Gandalf (Ian McKellen) in Dol Guldur

Gandalf (Ian McKellen) in Dol Guldur

“…I was very pleased to see the kind of thought (and respect) that went into this presentation of both Gandalf and the Necromancer/Sauron.  First, let’s deal with the Necromancer and Gandalf issue.  The Necromancer? Enough already with people upset that Sauron’s making an appearance here, when Tolkien only allowed him a few mysterious lines in the novel.  Jackson’s the only creator in 70+ years to bring both of Tolkien’s works to the big screen, and you’d think from some screams in certain quarters that his approach blasphemed against an organized religion.

For all those who think that desecration’s occurred, read Seth Abramson’s very helpful assessment over at The Huffington Post which concisely gives a timeline that segues perfectly with how Jackson’s approaching Middle Earth history:

The White Council (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012)

The White Council (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012)

Back?  Good.  I’d only add that, in terms of storyline, the first 2 films in this Hobbit trilogy are internally consistent in regard to the depiction of the Necromancer, and nothing really departs from Tolkien’s story.  Is there a Necromancer in the 1937 novel, The Hobbit?  Yes.  Did Tolkien later retroactively make Sauron that Necromancer? Yes.  Did Gandalf go to Dol Guldur alone to discover or confront that fact?  Yes.  (No, I don’t care if 90 years passed between Gandalf’s 1st and 2nd visit, I’m just talking about respecting essentials of an author’s literary story, and adapting them cinematically!) Did the entire White Council eventually have to assault Dol Guldur to drive Sauron from Mirkwood, & thence to Mordor where he appears by the time of The Lord of the Rings trilogy?  Yes.  So, in my mind, if all of these essential plot-points are intact, why not just enjoy the film as a great adventure story?  Anything else is just quibbling, and rather ungrateful to Jackson for daring to adapt a book and make it align with movies he’s already filmed, let alone a LotR trilogy that features the same characters (Bilbo, Gandalf, Sauron) over a span of time!

Gandalf approaches Dol Guldur

Gandalf approaches Dol Guldur

So, rather than rashly going into Dol Guldur, Gandalf had no choice.  Even if he only suspected that it was Sauron, Gandalf certainly wouldn’t have shied from confronting him.  That’s because part of his entire reason for coming to Middle Earth was because his master, Manwë told him that he needed to get over his fear of Sauron! (Seriously, critics: go read up, because Jackson certainly has.  There’s a personal beef between Gandalf and Sauron, with most of the fear coming from his younger days when he lived in Valinor as Olórin in the gardens of Irmo.) And, when you think about managing an entire continent, take this into consideration:  Gandalf only had Saruman and Radagast to help him.  (Originally, Tolkien mentions that there were “two Blue Wizards” who disappeared into the East, never to be heard from again.)

The Five Wizards sent by the Valar (Istari), from J.R.R. Tolkien, "Unfinished Tales"

The Five Wizards sent by the Valar (Istari), from J.R.R. Tolkien, “Unfinished Tales”

So, critics of “Gandalf going solo,” here’s a math problem that’s not too easy to reconcile with the cheap shots at Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the character vis-a-vis entering Dol Guldur by himself:  if you’ve got five wizards assigned by the Valar to “win the trust of Elves and Men,” and two blue wizards “disappear,” a “white” one is already corrupted by the desire for the One Ring (yes, in Tolkien canon, at this point Saruman’s already begun his machinations), and you’re left with just Radagast the Brown and Gandalf the Grey, what do you do?  Well, if you’re one of the Maiar like Gandalf is (remember, power of a “fallen angel”) you don’t run from a confrontation, you send Radagast for reinforcements and then you stride into the dark and fight the good fight.  Oh, wait, that’s exactly how Jackson/Walsh/Boyens/del Toro interpreted it!   Personally, I loved that Gandalf didn’t run back to the White Council and recruit Elrond, Galadriel, & Saruman to help him and Radagast, and I don’t think that the current storyline really suffers  he chose to take on Sauron alone.

Gandalf's Home ("The Light of Valinor on the Western Sea," by Ted Nasmith)

Gandalf’s Home (“The Light of Valinor on the Western Sea,” by Ted Nasmith)

I also thought that it was brilliant for Jackson & Co. to implicitly refer to Gandalf/Olorin’s ancient fear of Sauron, and proverbially “beard the lion in the den” of Dol Guldur!  Remember, in Tolkien’s mythology, these entities are running around Middle Earth over thousands of years; the typical movie-goer doesn’t need to know that, but I would certainly expect that so-called Tolkien “purists” might give a nod to Jackson for addressing these ancient relationships in his films! Moreover, I was glad for the CGI because it really allowed us to see the kind of ancient kind of wizard battle that Tolkien really reserved for readers of The Silmarillion.  As character arcs go, this development of Gandalf really gives us insight into the man, and will make his transformation into Gandalf the White in The Return of the King (after the Balrog battle) something very meaningful.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line Cinema/Warner Bros., 2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line Cinema/Warner Bros., 2013)

As to the merits of the storyline unfolding in these first two Hobbit films, again, have been criticized for going all over the place in trying to keep all-action, all the time, but I believe that they’re keeping to a quality narrative line that has its own internal consistency.While different in presentation, all of these scenes do align with the source material!  The originalHobbit’s claim that there’s a “darkness” rising in Mirkwood? Check.(we saw Radagast confronting dying animals & giant spiders in AUJ).  A strange wizard called the Necromancer causing problems in the forest?  Check.  (We saw both the return of the Witch-King of Angmar and the Necromancer in AUJ, with Ring-Wraith/Nazgûl & Sauron reveals in DOS.) Wood-Elves on their heels from loss of dwarf- and human allies caused by living in the “desolation of Smaug?” Check. (Jackson covered the wood-elves pretty thoroughly, & even had Thranduil’s son, Legolas, appear, and finally added a kick-ass female elf to Tolkien lore with the invention of Tauriel.)  Respecting the dragon, Smaug, and Bilbo’s bravery in confronting & eluding him? Check.  (We got plenty of breath-taking views of this scene, as well the addition of the dwarves participating in the eviction of Smaug from the Lonely Mountain…).  So for all the apparent “failings” that some see in this film adaptation, I still think Jackson’s nailing so many marks in respecting Tolkien’s work that I think the big problem most people have is that these films aren’t line-by-line explications of one of their favorite fantasy books.”

And we’re now caught up — time to go pop a couple Robitussin pills, crash for a few hours, & then drag my sorry self to my daughter, Adriana’s, musical performance at school tonight.

Again, to all of those now following me on Twitter, thank you for taking an interest; I’ve only been active for a few weeks, & as a newbie I do appreciate your “follows!”

Next time:  Final Thoughts on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Part 2)

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