PG-13 for lots and lots of decapitations. Like, pushing our luck with all of the decapitations. There's also some ribald humor. I can't remember what it is, but I know its full of ribaldry. The Necromancer can also get pretty scary. Honestly, Gandalf's whole side plot takes this from being a fun adventure story into the realm where Peter Jackson really shines: horror. Admittedly, it's fantasy horror, but it's still there. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
And this is where it starts to lose me. I'd like to apologize for not writing more often. One of the side-effects of it not being mandatory to write everyday is that I no longer feel the pressure to write everyday. Life has been hard on this front. There's been a bunch of emotional stuff that I've been going through, so any prayers would be welcomed. But one of the things that I thought might keep my brain busy is writing about a movie that I watched about a week ago. So here's me, writing about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
If you read my stuff on An Unexpected Journey, you'll know that I'm a hardcore apologist for that movie. I really like that film. In the same way that I adore The Fellowship of the Ring as my favorite entry in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I adore An Unexpected Journey. I may have shifted to a love of The Two Towers after the last viewing, but I'll stand by what I said about Fellowship. But while I like The Two Towers a lot more after the most recent viewing, The Desolation of Smaug really showed some of its weakness given some time to step away. I knew where a lot of it came from. It's why I'm terrified to start The Battle of Five Armies. It's not the only mistake, but I cannot stand the politics of Laketown. I'm sorry, Stephen Fry. But the Laketown stuff drives the film to a grinding halt. The Desolation of Smaug is already padded with too much stuff that causes some major pacing issues, but then dismounting with the politics of Laketown is just a drag. When I talked about An Unexpected Journey, I mentioned that the extra stuff, while probably being unnecessary, often contributed to the tone of the film. Those little side stories about Azog the Defiler kept the tension up. We get to know more about Middle Earth and the scary place that it can often be. Even the stuff at Rivendell in the first film was a welcome world-building contributing to the fact that this Hobbit trilogy was acting as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. But the politics of Laketown is a mess of an obstacle.
I know why it is all there. It makes perfect sense. This is unfair of Tolkien because the book was never meant to be adapted into three epic films, but Bard in the books is really a program running in the background of the story. Tolkien is almost using him to stress that many pieces make the story work and the dwarves shouldn't do everything. But in a series of movies that are meant to develop a sense of grandeur, Bard needs to have a storyline explaining his contributions to greater tapestry of the series. Hence, the little things have to get Bard down. Let me explain. The reason that Bard works as a hero in The Hobbit is that he isn't really a warrior. Laketown is sleepy. It is the actions of an average man who was unaffected by greed and fear for his own life to take down Smaug. Well, if he's an average man, he needs to have average problems. In the book, it kind of just is. We find out that Bard did all these things while the dwarves are away. But in the movie, something needs to be stopping Bard from being heroic from moment one. So he needs to have an adversary. Imagine shoehorning Office Space into The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. I don't really want to see the bureaucracy and the inner office politics of the Death Star. Even more so, and Rogue One almost touched on this, look at the Rebels. What if, while Luke was on board the Death Star with the Emperor and we kept cutting away to a first-year X-Wing pilot who kept failing his emissions tests on his fighter because his supervisor kept taking kickbacks. That's a really boring sideplot.
But the politics of Laketown aren't really the only problem. It's the idea that the movies somehow have to get bigger. There's a scene that every time I watch it, I just get depressed by. It's my favorite scene in the books, but it runs super long. I'm referring to the chapter of the book named "Barrels Out of Bond". This is the scene I really wanted to see adapting. It's pretty adventurous. But it's also where Bilbo kind of comes into his own, at least in the book. He's unabashedly the hero and is an adventurer by this scene. But Jackson...did too much with it. I suppose it is better than not-enough. There are so many rad movies in the Middle Earth movies that I get why. I still talk about Legolas reverse jumping on to a horse mid-gallup. I don't even mentally process it, but it's great. It's these moments that we're supposed to talk about because they are rad. But something gets really tiresome about amazing fight choreograpy after a certain amount of time. "Barrels Out of Bond" is my moment of too far. The dwarves have shown themselves to constantly shift skill levels. Think back to An Unexpected Journey with the trolls. They are easily overcome. Part of it is because they have Bilbo. But they aren't doing flips and tricks to take down the trolls. Then compare them to Barrels. Barrels should be when they are least effective. The should suck at everything when it comes to being in barrels. The rapids should be knocking them around and they should be completely disoriented. But there they are, taking out scores of orcs in really clever ways. There's one moment, in particular, that really irks me. It's Bombur. Bombur is incompetent for a lot of the movie. It's silly that he's part of this quest because he's known for eating and sleeping. It's actually weird that anyone can comment on Bilbo and his abilities because Bombur is almost worse. But Bombur's barrel accidentally takes out a legion of orcs. It's funny as a joke and I kind of dig it, until the dismount. After taking out, through a series of Rube Goldbergian incidents, packs of orcs, Bombur stands up. His arms burst through the barrel and he's yielding axes. He starts executing orcs, using his barrel as armor, with a series of spin attacks. The barrel is wrecked, so Bombur jumps into another barrel. First of all, Bilbo is clinging onto someone else's barrel. Why is no one, in this game of tossing things with great prowess, tossing Bilbo into a barrel as he's being waterboarded on the side of a barrel. Bombur can't just be good at things.
...which leads me to the thing I never thought I would say. People complain about Tauriel. She's fine. She's actually great. But the guy who sticks out like a sore thumb is...Legolas. He's too much for this movie. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Legolas doesn't belong here. He's too epic. Legolas is an unkillable tank, especially considering that he's in The Lord of the Rings. The thing about teasing large characters from a sequel series is that they need to be used sparingly, Star Wars prequels excluded. (They shouldn't be used at all.) But adding Legolas to the story is glaring. He's got all of this other baggage and yet he's all of the sudden surgically put into this movie. I know. The dwarves encounter the Woodland elves. I'm not surprised that Jackson was tempted to bring back a major character. But what is fundamentally a story about dwarves bumbling their ways through adventures becomes about expert tacticians and war the entire way. The Hobbit shouldn't be The Lord of the Rings. I know. I said that they are structurally the same. But The Lord of the Rings gets a sense of scale because we get the sense that never before has such a capable team been put together like the Fellowship of the Ring. The Fellowship is meant to be the Avengers of Middle Earth. The Dwarves are the survivors of a purging. Some of them come across as really dumb. But they end up being so effective at their jobs that they simply become a stand-in for the Fellowship. Legolas reminds us of that. He's just taking this team to a new height because he's a bit of a Mary Sue. (I don't use that as a gender attack. I use that as a character that is way too overpowered for anyone's good.) The fact that he's coupled against Azog the Defiler's twin shows that the movie wasn't ready for him. They needed to create another Great White Orc to give him a bit of a challenge and that's just watering down the threat altogether. Azog loses something in this movie because we have an Azog clone right next to him.
But I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. While I found myself a little more bored with this one, I still love a lot of it. I actually really like the Gandalf and Radagast stuff. I know. I shouldn't be that excited to find out that Sauron is back and standing in for the Necromancer. In fact, it almost makes no sense, considering how lackadaisical Gandalf is about the One Ring at the beginning of Fellowship. But I don't care. I never understood why Gandalf kept leaving the main story lines in Tolkien's books. But this quest actually gives the story a sense of scale. Perhaps the movie protests a bit too much, but I think that Jackson nails down why Gandalf would be motivated to be involved in Thorin Oakenshield's quest to return to Erebor. Gandalf, for all of his love of pipeweed and fireworks, seems to be connected to the great mythology of Middle Earth. I don't think that's how Tolkien imagined him to begin with, but I like his sense of watchfulness, especially when it comes to threats on the horizon. That scene that he has with Thorin is effective. It's a huge bummer, to be sure, but it is still a pretty great scene and one that contributes to the narrative in great ways. Also, there are moment to moment things that are also pretty gorgeous that make my heart smile. Bilbo, climbing to the top of the treeline, does something to me that makes me forgive a lot of the movie. If Gandalf says its the little things that can defeat evil, I think that's true about filmmaking too. It's those moments that seem loving that undo some of the corporate nonsense that Jackson probably faced.
The Desolation of Smaug is way too overpacked. But I still somehow still like it. It's a big step back from the first film. The Smaug stuff is fun, but it also seems like a bit of a video game level. I don't know. I know that The Battle of Five Armies is going to be a chore. But I'm not completely unopposed from completing that chore. If asked, I'd probably still say that I like this movie. I'll even say that I like this movie, despite its faults. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe. But I can't explain it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.