The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Just before Christmas J and I went to see the new Hobbit film. The rest of this post is pretty spoilery (and doesn’t include a plot summary so may not make much sense if you haven’t seen the film yet). The unspoilery version is “it was good! you should probably go see it! (providing you like such films)” 🙂

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on post page:

I’ll start briefly with the techy side of it – this time we saw the high frame rate 3D version, rather than the IMAX one. When we saw the first Hobbit film (post) it was a little spoilt by us being seated right under one of the rear speaker stacks, so that was part of why we avoided the IMAX showing. The other reason was that during some of the faster moving sequences in the last one like the goblin sequence we thought it was a bit blurry. That wasn’t an issue with any of the bits in this film, so I think the HFR version was worth going for. Although it did look a touch unreal – I’d forgotten that was a common thing said about HFR films, so it was niggling at me during the film, but J said he got used to it pretty quick (given he was expecting it). It still niggles at me a bit coz it doesn’t make sense that it should look unreal but there you go.

Moving on to the film – the dragon Smaug was awesome 😀 I particularly loved the scene where Bilbo is in the hoard and first figures out just how big Smaug is. Some of the chase segments afterwards did feel a bit contrived, but I think I buy into the idea that the dragon was playing with his food – he did seem to have that sort of personality, particularly after the “you can’t fool me” conversation with Bilbo in the hoard. I did wonder what the dwarves were thinking, trying to kill a fire breathing dragon with molten gold – surely neither heat nor gold should cause him a problem. Maybe they hoped he’d drown? Maybe they were just clutching at straws …

I guess one of the tough things about adapting the Hobbit for a modern audience is that Tolkein didn’t bother to write any female characters into the story, and Peter Jackson et al have clearly decided not to gender flip any of the existing characters. So for the last film Galadriel gets a speaking part so there’s at least one woman, and in this one we have Tauriel the wood elf. In some ways it’s a shame she gets tacked on as “the love interest”, but I don’t think it’s entirely as shallow as it seems on the surface. She’s the only elf we see that sees past her people’s prejudice against dwarves to treat any of them as people, and I think blindness/seeing is one of the things this part of the story is about. She also isn’t a damsel in distress needing rescuing – she’s the one who goes out to shoot the orcs threatening the dwarves, and not just in her own lands but chasing them across the route the dwarves travel. She saves Kili’s life, rather than him rescuing her.

I think Gandalf (again) gets one of the lines that states a theme of the film – “We have been blind, and that has let the Enemy come back” (possibly not the exact words, I’m writing this a week after seeing the film). He says this just after he and Radagast realise that the Necromancer is more than just a rumour, and just before he goes into the orc stronghold that’s under a spell to cloud one’s sight. But it fits into a wider context than that – he also says it after he’s not followed up on Bilbo being awfully … odd about something he found earlier. We know it’s the Ring, and Peter Jackson et al have the advantage here in adapting the Hobbit as a true prequel to the Lord of the Rings rather than retro-fitting it into the story like Tolkein did. We know what that ring is, and we know where this is going – and in not following it up, going instead to do “more important things” is Gandalf being blind again, and allowing the Enemy another step on the way to victory. And to narrow the context again – even in this film alone we see Gandalf setting things in motion (setting Thorin off on this path, leaving the dwarves & hobbit to their own devices) that ultimately end in Smaug waking up and flying off to burn Laketown. Bilbo, of course, gets the final word on that – “what have we done!”.

I think Thorin gets fewer framed hero shots than before, and his flaws are highlighted more than I remember them being in the first film. He still believes (mistakenly) that he’s the hero of this story, and we see where that gets him – he’s too proud to bargain with the wood elves, he’s willing to dangle promises in front of people to do what he wants even when it’s not in their interests. He sends others in to do his dirty work, or sends them away if they’re not useful any more, without caring about them as other than tools. If it wasn’t for Bilbo he wouldn’t’ve got anywhere, let alone as far as he’s got – but when Bilbo’s running from Smaug all Thorin cares about is whether he’s got the Arkenstone. (We don’t see if he did or not, so I’m assuming he did – he never tells Thorin he doesn’t have it, he just doesn’t tell him he does).

It’s been a long time since I last read the book, so I can’t really remember what’s been changed – though I’m told that it’s rather a lot. Other than Tauriel I did notice that Bard gets more (any?) of a role at this point of the story, rather than appearing after Smaug has been set free. And the sequence with Beorn wasn’t quite what I remembered either. Still I’m not so attached to the book that I mind it being retold in a different way 🙂

As I said at the start of this post – it was good! 🙂