Tuesday, December 17, 2013

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013) – Film Review

Having loved the first Hobbit movie, and knowing that The Desolation of Smaug would include scenes from my favorite parts of the book, I entered the theater with great expectations. To put it bluntly, I left the theater with great disappointments. In fact, even before the end credits rolled, I was morosely nursing the wounds—the desolation, so to speak—that Peter Jackson had inflicted upon me.

I wish I could say watching the movie was only as bad as eating lembas bread. Unfortunately, it was more distasteful than that.* In the review below, I will refer to the movie as Desolation—and not just because it’s good shorthand. As a reminder, I rate my movies based on three criteria: morally objectionable content (C), artistic merit (A), and my personal opinions (P).

CONTENT (C): 7 out of 10
Desolation has the dishonorable privilege of being the first Middle Earth movie with a couple lines of sexual innuendo between a male and female character. It’s sad when Tolkien’s source material is soiled by such content, even if it is “minor.” On another occasion, one dwarf reports that he told an elf to “go [Dwarvish word] himself.” Other than that, the most potentially objectionable content—from a moral standpoint, that is—is the violence. As with An Unexpected Journey, Desolation has a few instances of what I would consider unnecessary gore. Finally, certain characters make questionable moral choices regarding their treatment of others.

ARTISTRY (A): 5 out of 10
Both the cinematography and editing take a turn for the worse with Desolation. In George Lucas fashion, Jackson relies heavily on CGI shots. Many of these pan and swirl into oblique angles. The effect is distracting, not impressive. The battle scenes are littered with close-up shots, blurry action, and quick cuts, making it hard to discern who is doing what to whom. This isn’t supposed to be another entry into the Jason Bourne franchise.

This film strays more from Tolkien’s source material than any of Jackson’s previous efforts. Some of these choices, such as fleshing out the character of Bard, are laudable. Other additions, such as giving the Dwarves a more active role in the confrontation with Smaug, are understandable, if not entirely successful. Still other embellishments, which involve the inclusion of new characters, are both needless and sometimes cringe-worthy.

Understandably, the filmmakers are more confident in their work, considering their enormous artistic and financial success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This success may be part of the reason why Jackson feels comfortable branching out, but it is this very branching out that weakens the narrative. The Lord of the Rings comprised three movies based on three volumes—or, in Tolkien’s mind, one incredibly large volume. I can’t imagine trying to fit that story into one or two movies.

The Hobbit, on the other hand, is just one book, and a smaller one at that. It appears fairly obvious at this point that The Hobbit should have been split into no more than two movies. The source material is being stretched too thin—like butter scraped over too much bread.

PREFERENCE (P): 4 out of 10
I never expected The Hobbit to cater to all my personal preferences. However, the movie did me no favors by simultaneously condensing and embellishing my favorite part of the book—the Mirkwood section (especially the spider sequence). It’s one thing to use artistic license with the Mirkwood material, but it’s another to gut a large portion of it and replace it with utterly superfluous.

Without going into details, I will say the romantic tension inserted into the story is implausible at best. I did finally warm up to the character of Tauriel, but her role in the narrative is sometimes frustrating. She can act recklessly from time to time. Whenever I responded negatively to a rash decision Tauriel made, Shannon just reminded me, “Hey, it’s Kate. What did you expect?” (To be fair to actress Evangeline Lilly, she’s a fine thespian. In fact, she only agreed to play the part of Tauriel on the stipulation that there would be no love triangles. The filmmakers evidently agreed and then went back on their word later in the process. As it stands, the character of Tauriel, like Kate from the TV series Lost, tends to lean toward the impetuous side of things.)

Many of the embellishments just didn’t work for me, including the added material with Bard and Lake-town. And while I enjoyed the official introduction of Smaug, the dragon’s extended role only served to eventually drag the film down into the realm of the ridiculous. I’m sad to say that one of the highlights of the film for me was making fun of it with our friends after it was over. That’s certainly not how The Desolation of Smaug should have ended.

CAP score: 53%

* Disclaimer: I have never actually eaten lembas bread. My statement is based solely on assumptions formed by watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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