‘Desolation’ Double Take

Taylor Weik: In the dimply lit Inn of the Prancing Pony –– just one of the many tributes Peter Jackson pays to the LOTR trilogy –– Gandalf sits with Thorin Oakenshield for the first time and suggests a way for him to unite all the dwarves once more: by stealing the Arkenstone back from the dragon, Smaug. The intimate flashback is one of few non-action scenes. For the next three hours, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” snowballs as battle scenes with dwarves, orcs and elves pile high, while character development is nowhere in sight.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

It’s no surprise that the middle chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel focuses less on the growth of Bilbo, Gandalf and the band of dwarves and more on their many adventures whilst traveling to the Lonely Mountain. “An Unexpected Journey” did a great job introducing audiences to a stubbornly ordinary Bilbo, and “There and Back Again” will surely slow things down once more for the characters. Thus, “The Desolation of Smaug” is where the bulk of the chase takes place (think Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas in “The Two Towers” tracing the whereabouts of Merry and Pippin).

One particularly memorable escape has the dwarves hiding in barrels as they attempt to ride the river current out of Mirkwood, only to be confronted by a group of furious orcs. In a moment of comic relief, Bombour –– one of the dwarves –– bounces on land, still in his barrel, and takes out multiple orcs simply by rolling over them.

Hardcore fans of the novel be warned: Jackson strays a bit from Tolkien in terms of the plot and even adds his own content, including a Woodland Elf not previously mentioned in “The Hobbit” named Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly. Though at first Tauriel’s purpose as the head of the Mirkwood Elven guard appears to be not much more than serving as one point in the love triangle with the dwarf Kili and fellow elf Legolas (that’s right, folks, our fair-haired prince has returned),  she’s the one who begins chipping away at the notorious feud between the dwarves and elves when she ventures outside of Mirkwood to aid Kili. Jackson has also mentioned he has big plans for Tauriel in the final chapter of “The Hobbit.”

Ryan M. Cady: And Tauriel was wonderful. She shone like the stars. I loved Lilly’s portrayal of the sylvan elf … but her inclusion is one of the many elements of “Desolation of Smaug” that abandons Tolkein’s novel completely.

It was a good movie, alright? I enjoyed it. But at the end of the day, it was certainly the worst of the Jackson-Tolkein films, and director Peter Jackson worked so hard to shove references to the LOTR trilogy and expand on minor details that the plot of the book felt stretched thin.

All whimsy was abandoned as the idyllic human settlement of Dale was transformed into the setting of Occupy Laketown, granting Stephens Fry and Colbert edgy cameos to apparently add depth to the story ¾ but really only unnecessarily complicated.

The Necromancer (which only merits a single paragraph in the entirety of the novel) becomes a total resurrection of the Dark Lord Sauron, complete with armies of orcs, escaped ringwraiths, and very un-Gandalf wizard battles.

Most disappointing of all was the great dragon Smaug ¾ voiced by the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch. And don’t get me wrong; Cumberbatch himself killed it. The writing of his scene, however, totally missed the mark.

What could’ve (and should’ve) been a witty back and forth between his Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins was a quick, stuttery escape scene. Where Bilbo should’ve been invisible under the One Ring, riddling back and forth in a downright amazing display of the interplay between the two devolved to a weak exchange of references to Bilbo’s earlier adventures.

Of course, that’s probably the real way that the film fails ¾  Freeman’s acting as Bilbo is solid, but the character is written so … not like a hobbit. He doesn’t discover bravery, or display stubborn laziness, or use his wit and pacifism to save the day (or at least hide). Instead, we find the erstwhile Baggins displaying a vicious sense of greed over the Ring, a need to display his growth with bloodlust, and an utter and complete lack of the adventurous and whimsical spirit that formulates the character,

I know Bilbo wanted to wear a sword instead of a walking stick, but Sting was meant to do just that ¾  show that a small person could, with courage and confidence, fend off wickedness with light, not by repeatedly bludgeoning it to death with a dull Elven blade.