Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Left Me Feeling Desolated

Let me start by saying how badly I wanted to like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I had been counting down the days for the last few months and it was with bated breath that I went to see it on Saturday, only to be crushingly disappointed by the end results. Warning: minor spoilers ahead as I state the many beefs with the movie I have below.

Like many other reviews have pointed out, this installment of the Hobbit trilogy is vastly superior to the first Hobbit movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. However, sometimes it feels that such an assessment gives the movie more praise than it warrants.

Like the first movie, this movie continues to be bloated, overlong and in this instance, suffers from middle narrative issues as well. Not much progress seems to be made by our band of dwarves and one hobbit, as they get into scrape after scrape as they try to reach the mountain where Smaug now dwells in order to retrieve the Arkenstone, which will give Thorin Oakenshield, the exiled king of the dwarves the right to call on his kinsmen to battle or some such, as explained at the beginning of the movie in a meeting between Gandalf and Thorin 12 months before the events of the second Hobbit movie really begins.

There is a strong sense of unwelcome deja vu as one watches the first Hobbit movie, and the problem persists here as well. As with The Two Towers (the second movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), where the characters have been separated and have to continue on different quests and journeys, this happens as well in this movie. Unfortunately, unlike in The Two Towers where the disparate journeys have been edited almost seamlessly to weave a tight narrative, here the effort is jarringly jerky, making the movie seem very very disjointed. While I do understand that music plays an integral role in telling us how to feel when watching a movie, as in the first Hobbit movie, I felt endlessly manipulated when themes used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy are reused to try to evoke happy memories and feelings associated with a particular character or object, which instead of successfully evoking whatever emotion I am supposed to feel, just ends up leaving a very sour taste in my mouth.

Along their journey, they are met by faces old and new. Beorn the shapeshifting bear is disappointingly underwhelming in his short interaction with Gandalf and the dwarves, being much more fascinating and charismatic in the book. I am a fan of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit books, but I am by no means a strict purist. I was fine with Arwen turning into a sword-wielding Elf-maiden in The Fellowship of the Ring (first Lord of the Rings movie), and was nonplussed by the angry outrage of many fans. And so, I was fine with Orlando Bloom reprising his role as Legolas even though he never actually appears in the Hobbit book. His father Thranduil is the elvenking in the Hobbit, it does make a certain sort of sense that his son Legolas would be hanging around in Mirkwood when the dwarves are captured by Thranduil's elves. Similarly, I was fine with the complete creation of the elven warrior maiden Tauriel by the movie's scriptwriters to create some sort of female presence in the very very male-dominated Hobbit Middle-earth universe. That being said, weaving an inter-species love triangle amongst Legolas, Tauriel and a dwarf does beggar belief and stretches things too far into the realm of fan fiction. Likewise, the expansion of the characterization of Luke Evans' Bard the Bowman, who in the movie is demoted to being just Bard the Bargeman, while understandable since Bard is pretty much a cipher in the book, takes the expansion too far and cause the movie to unreasonably drag.

With the addition of new characters and the expansion of existing ones, where does that leave the characters in the title, the titular hobbit Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins and his nemesis the dragon Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug? Apart from moments where Bilbo begins to get corrupted by the ring and the many times he has to get the dwarves out of the scrapes that they have gotten themselves into, poor Bilbo seems to have been relegated to the background of the film and it feels like for most of it, he is just standing around not really doing much as the dwarves try to figure out their next move.

The encounter between Bilbo and Smaug, while a delight in the film that almost reaches the giddy heights of Bilbo's encounter with Gollum in the first movie, nevertheless gets ruined when, rather than have this encounter continue to play out between the two of them, brings the dwarves into the equation. The result? Long tedious chase scenes where Smaug (despite his professed ability to smell dwarves) fails to eat or fry any of the dwarves. And then it gets worse; the dwarves then try to pull off a MacGyveresque plot to kill the dragon which laughably and predictably fails. Then, before you know it, the movie abruptly ends, causing the guy sitting in front of me to start shouting at the screen. Usually when a middle movie ends, at least something has been resolved and then we are left with some other danger that looms on the horizon. Not so here. None, and I mean NONE, of the many different story threads get resolved one way or another and the audience as a whole is left hanging over a wide precipice, with no resolution to be had anywhere.

All this being said, would I recommend that people go and see the movie? By all means, they should if they have been waiting all year to see it. The movie, despite its many many flaws, still manages to be mildly entertaining, is good value for your movie money, and is not a bad way to while away nearly three hours of your time. You might however, end up coming out of the cinema more frustrated than satisfied though, like I did.

Two out of five stars for me.

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