Before I begin, I have to admit I have only ever read one of Tolkien’s books, and that was “Fellowship.” I read it because there was a girl I was seeing when the first movie came out and she was a huge fan. You know, one of those people who are actually able to memorize the names of all of the characters in the books. So, only having read one book, I’m easy to impress when watching the movies, since I have no point of reference. I loved the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and so far, I’m really enjoying The Hobbit.
Desolation of Smaug picks up where An Unexpected Journey leaves off. Bilbo has his talking ring, which acts as his deus ex machina and conveniently gets him out of any jam by turning him invisible. The band of dwarves with which he has tagged along are still using him to steal yet another piece of jewelry which would help Thorin, the handsomer of all of the dwarves, become king. Apparently on Middle Earth, the only way to accomplish anything is to collect relics. It’s like some kind of RPG that I don’t have to go through the frustration of actually playing!
We are finally given a little more insight into why the dwarves and elves hate each other, and it’s not because the dwarves have some kind of collective Napoleon complex. It seems that the elves’ isolationist policies when the dwarves needed their help when attacked generations ago has led to centuries of resentment on the part of the dwarves. We do get to see a budding reluctant reliance when a common enemy resurfaces.
The movie is visually stunning, although the 3D is unnesessary. The sets are very impressive, but I keep getting distracted by how impractical the people of Middle Earth are. There is a scene in which Gandalf is on his way to meet Radagast, who still hasn’t washed the bird shit out of his hair. The meeting takes place in a small room on the side of a mountain. Half way UP the mountain, and a random stone staircase leads Gandalf to this room. There are abandoned temples and giant statues and Stonehenge- style monuments that are ALL built at the top of mountains! There are collumns INSIDE of buildings that “dwarf” anything you’ll see in Washington DC or the Great Pyramids. We’re finally introduced the Smaug, the archetypal fire-breathing dragon, and it might be some of the best use of CGI I’ve ever seen. A little less impressive, visually, in Peter Jackson’s series of Norwegian Death Metal videos without the music is the green screen effects. It’s use is very obvious at times. The other thing that Jackson’s effects people seem to have a hard time with is making the Hobbits and Dwarves believable as little people. When the Dwarves and “regular” sized people are in a room together it almost looks like two completely different scenes were being filmed. When body doubles are used, it’s almost laughable.
The Lord of the Rings movies and The Hobbit prequels have fantastic character development. Every character in the series has his or her own motivations and face their own challenges. We witness a turning point for Bilbo in this movie, as he takes a very drastic action to protect the ring and must immediately deal with the emotional consequences of what he has just done. Maybe I’m missing something, but the only person in this story whose motives I can’t seem to grasp is Gandalf. What is it with this guy convincing everyone he knows to go into battle against hellish armies and almost impossible odds? Why does he keep getting his friends into these dangerous situations and then runs off to do some wizardy shit? Then he always just appears out of nowhere at the end to help out! Maybe it’s his Miyagi-type way of teaching his friends how to fight battles for themselves.
If you haven’t already watched this movie, be prepared… this is the mother of all cliffhangers!