This weekend I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I know, no one was more surprised than I. I actually made it to see a long-awaited movie on opening weekend. (I have issues over-committing my time. Who me?) I admit there were some nerves sprinkled in with the excitement as the previews began to roll. As happy as I was with Peter Jackson’s treatment in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I knew there were some big changes coming to this adaptation of my favorite book. (Yes, this one is actually the ultimate favorite, unless you count…okay, never mind.) New characters, characters from Lord of the Rings that weren’t in The Hobbit…I was worried. One of these days, I’m going to actually trust that guy to take care of my favorite stories.
The changes blended so seamlessly with the familiar tale, I left the theater vowing to go back and read the book again, just so I could check my memory. Peter Jackson stayed true to the heart of the story while adding interesting new elements that weren’t necessary for the book, but play well for a modern movie audience.
Legolas makes an appearance, as a woodland elf, and plays a large enough role to get decent screen time (and who really minds looking at Orlando Bloom?). However, his addition doesn’t detract from the original story, and it gives dimension to the character he becomes in Lord of the Rings. It depicts the lack of trust between the Dwarves and Elves that viewers are familiar with from Lord of the Rings, but I could see the seeds being sown for the change of heart he makes when he befriends Gimli. Tauriel, an addition to the story, surprisingly, helps that along.
As much as I like Evangeline Lilly, I was fully prepared to dislike her character, Tauriel. Expanding some of the female roles in Lord of the Rings to give them a larger presence was one thing. They were already there, the movies just gave them a bigger voice. Creating characters out of thin air was pushing it for me. Peter Jackson hasn’t disappointed me yet, so I figured reserving judgement was the least I could do. Tauriel’s role surprised me. Sitting down in that theater, I was convinced I knew what Tauriel was there to do, but she was much more than I expected. The strong, independent female played as expected, but the impact to plot and character development pleasantly surprised me. Again, the script writers wove her into the story incredibly well.
As always, I am impressed with the ability of this team to bring the images embedded in my imagination to the screen. Rarely is a setting unexpected, and, if anything, they exceed my expectations. Although I’ve spent more than half my life creating Tolkien’s vision of Middle Earth in my mind, somehow the film settings solidify those imaginings adding depth and detail, enhancing the plot further. This wanderer bumped New Zealand (and Australia) up her very long list of places to visit. It is Middle Earth for crying out loud!
I’ve lived with this story for a very long time, and I have some strong feelings about these characters. (This is where I’ll gush about the acting.) It would be incredibly disappointing to have someone mangle any of the characters. This cast is…just wow. After moving past the fact that some of the Dwarves were a lot better looking than I imagined. (That may have something to do with that animated version that was done so very long ago.) These actors have disappeared into these roles, which is just perfect. Whether it is Bilbo and Thorin or the Goblin King and Smaug, they are just as I expect them to be. That credit has must be divided between the script writers, actors, and director. However, these actors…just wow. When I’m watching the film I never think about Richard Armitage, Martin Freeman, or Ian McKlellan. All I see are Thorin, Bilbo,and Gandalf. The rest of the cast is the same. Incidental characters enjoyed detailed development as well.
New to the screen this time around are the characters Beorn, Thranduil, and, of course, Smaug. Beorn comes across as both a bit darker and more gentle than I had expected. For whatever reason, Beorn has always stuck in my imagination, but he never came across as particularly menacing. (I think that had a lot to do with things I watched as a kid like Gentle Ben and a movie where a family moves to the mountains and befriends a bear named Samson. I think it was The Adventures of the Wilderness Family maybe. Anyway, bears weren’t nearly as frightening as they should have been.) Beorn was definitely frightening…at first. In fact, their portrayal feel much more true to the character than the character in my imagination. A balance is struck in the film between fierce protector and the gentle soul who appreciates all living things.
Thranduil, the elf king, certainly appears in the book, but for me he came across as a disinterested, removed figure who has no use for the outside world. Truthfully, I gave him little thought as the pages turned. Certainly, I never thought him to be damaged or a little mad. In the film, Lee Pace’s performance was just spectacular, giving life and depth to a character held no lasting memory for be before this movie. The elf king of the Mirkwood is a much more interesting individual than I had ever given him credit for.
It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him. – J.R.R. Tolkien
Of course, this would not be The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug if it weren’t for Smaug. “Always remember, it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.” Sarah Ban Breathnach. Well, there’s certainly a dragon here. A chill went down my spine when the old dragon began shifting beneath his blanket of riches, and I got goosebumps when I heard that rumbling voice speak out.
Well thief! I smell you and I feel your air. I hear your breath. – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
It took an unusual amount of self-control to not bounce around in my seat with the over-brimming enthusiasm of a little kid. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I succeeded on that front at all. The visuals were just stunning. Leading up to the release of the film, I’d read about Benedict Cumberbatch not only voicing Smaug, but also going in to do the movements. Although, I really couldn’t picture how that was all going to mesh. Wow. It was truly a bit scary. Smaug had always lumbered a bit on the ground in my head because he’s so large. I suppose I figured, giant dragon, cramped space. In my mind he was cozy. Snuggled down into his bed of gold like a dog curled on the rug in front of the fire or a fox in a den. Erebor was much larger than I imagined. (Enough headroom for a dragon, obviously.) It gave Smaug the grace of movement on the ground that I imagined in the air. The way he would slither around columns with this sinewy grace, until frustration at the “thief” leads him to…well, lose his temper. Then there is no weaving around a column, it is barreling through. Not even showing off his size and strength so much as taking the most direct route to his prey, fed up with games, riddles, and taunts.
The voice is exactly as I imagined, and although I knew going into the movie who the voice was, other than a split second’s thought during the first line, I never gave it further consideration. The dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug has always been a favorite bit in this story. Partly because this is it. The big showdown with a dragon. The culmination of the quest, the big baddie to defeat, and Bilbo’s chance to shine. The great triumphs of Mr. Baggins of Bag End have been hidden from The Company. Gandalf shines as the hero who defeats the trolls, no one knows about Gollum, and his big successes are defeating the spiders in the Mirkwood (my fear of spiders makes so much more sense after this movie, by the way. That part was just as I imagined…still imagine it, in fact.) and engineering their escape from the woodland elves. The Dwarves have no appreciation for the spiders because almost immediately they’re thrown before Thranuil…and imprisoned. No one is overly impressed with the escape because…apparently Dwarves dislike water. Bilbo’s interactions with both Smaug and Gollum showcase the agility of his mind and his intellect. No matter how he trembles in fear during these moments, his brain earns him a triumph, an escape, a vital bit of information. Bilbo’s brawn may not get him far, but he excels at a game of riddles. Bilbo’s description of himself to Smaug is one of my favorite pieces of both the book and the movie.
I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen. I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number. I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of bag, but no bag went over me. I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ring-winner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider. – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
The whole scene was just awesome. Smaug even more menacing, Bilbo more frightened, and it then it was done. Of course, it ended on a cliff hanger! Now, we have to wait until next December for the final installment, The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Grrr! In the meantime, I think I need to see this one in 3D…well, except for the spiders…I really don’t like spiders.
‘Til next time,
P.S.Also, Ed Sheeran’s song, “I See Fire” plays as the credits roll. I immediately took to my phone to download it.
- The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug (whattoolincoln.wordpress.com)
- ‘Hobbit’ star Benedict Cumberbatch on Smaug, his ‘porn star dragon’ (herocomplex.latimes.com)
- ‘Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’: Ian McKellen talks ‘scruffy’ Gandalf (herocomplex.latimes.com)