Friday, January 03, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - My Review


Bilbo's journey continues in Peter Jackson's second installment of the new "Hobbit" movies, "The Desolation of Smaug".

Interestingly, devout fans of Tolkien will relish the fact that most of Jackson's "embellishments" are still in line with the main story. With the inclusion of the "Pale Orc" in the the first movie, along with this new elvish character, Tauriel (meaning "Daughter of the Forest"), in this movie, although she isn't in the book, I was apprehensive at first.

Jackson's inclusions are not invasive to the central story has told in the book... At least not like the atrocious changes to the Narnia stories in their subsequent movie adaptions. Although Disney's and Fox's changes to those stories are blasphemous and perverse caricatures of the original, Tauriel was not an unwelcome addition. We assume, in the book, that more elves than was actually named were present in the scene with the wood elves. All Jackson did was name one, create a three-way love story between her, our beloved Legolas, and Kili the Dwarf, the dwarf that already had female Tolkienians swooning where they stood. Nothing like a love triangle to up the ante.

See, not invasive at all? But if that off tangent plotline in the periphery of what hard-core Tolkienians regard as "central" did offend you, his inclusion and depiction of "Beorn" more than made up for it. I cannot believe, after his sacrifice of Bombadil and Goldberry from the original "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy, that such a controversial and minor character would be included. So amazed was I that I temporarily forgot about him being in the book at all. My friend whom I seen this movie with leaned over and whispered, "Ooh, I bet that is the 'Carrock'".

I said, "The what?"

He said, "You know... Beorn's house." I knew he was talking about then. Beorn, the skin changer, who could change into a bear... A huge, raging bear, based on Jackson's adaption, who looked eerily like Gmork from "The Neverending Story", when we saw his face pushing through the door.

In human form, Beorn could have really stood a good eyebrow plucking.

Leaving Beorn, this movie was the status quo of what we come to expect from Jackson. He excels at taking books that are mainly narrative, and converting them into high-action movies that leave you breathless by the time it is over, without sacrificing much of the depth narrative plots provide. There is plenty of taboo surrounding the Necromancer, but Jackson finally gives us definitive evidence that the Necromancer is actually Sauron, and is setting up for "The Lord of the Rings".

Sauron, as he was in Middle-Earth's first age
and how I would have liked to have
seen him depicted in these movies.
I was hoping we'd see Sauron as he was, instead of the veiled and dark Sauron we acclimated to in the first trilogy. From a Christian perspective, Sauron would have been like a fallen angel who served under Morgoth, who would have been Middle-Earth's equivalent of Satan. A fallen "Maiar", in Tolkien's legendarium. I was hoping that Jackson might leave off all the armor and darkness to give us a glimpse of the Sauron as he would appear uncloaked. Beautiful. A icon of perfection. To put it in Scriptural language, Sauron would appear as "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). No such luck though. We see the familiar shadow of the Sauron we already know. Clothed in darkness, violent, wretched, faithless, and accursed.

But I don't expect theologically sound heads among most movie-makers. Darkness remains darkness, and light remains light. What will such a preconceived, and well embedded, notion mean to the Church when Satan does decide to come on the scene. With evil so cleverly defined as darkness by our media and culture, what will happen when Satan appears, robbed in white, and speaking only benevolence and who "by peace shall destroy many" (Daniel 8:24-25)?

But I am not here to preach.

I was glad to see the thrush was included. Such seemingly innocuous details are very important to us who demand consistency between the book and the movie.

While the original "Rings" trilogy exploited the symantic and linguistic capabilities of the elves to the fullest, Jackson uses the barrel ride scene to exploit the acclaimed physical dexterity of the elvish race. Watching Legolas play hopscotch on the heads of dwarves was a humorous twist, not to mention seeing more of his amazing talents with a bow.

Interesting how Jackson is taking the concept that even elves can become greedy and subject to avarice found in the book to extremes. The elvish king comes off as unlikable as any character I've met in Jackson's movies to date, which will come to fruition in the third film, if Jackson stays true to the book in any capacity.

Smaug was perfect. What else can I say? Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is quickly rising in my personal ranks as one of the best actors I have ever seen. I first saw Cumberbatch when he played William Pitt in the movie "Amazing Grace". He is also a grand Sherlock Holmes, another literary favorite of mine, and played a much younger Khan in "Star Trek: Into Darkness". He also voiced the Necromancer as well as Smaug, and will reprise the role of the Necromancer in the final installment of "The Hobbit", subtitled "There and Back Again". In fact, if Jackson had decided to depict Sauron in a more demonic, but less familiar, light, why not use Cumberbatch?

An older title for dragons was the title "Wyrm", which is dragon with four legs, not to be confused with "Wyvern", which is a dragon with two legs. Smaug was a wyrm, and the CG animators have finally nailed how a dragon should move. The thing I thought profound about this depiction of Smaug is that he was EXTREMELY reptilian in this movie. Most movies give dragons scales and reptilian eyes, but still make them very mammalian and rigid in their movement and behavior. Until he took to flight toward laketown, Smaug slithered with very fluid movements like a snake. It might even prove disconcerting to those with a innate fear of all things reptilian to see Smaug on the screen. Very serpentine in its movements. It looked like it could slither right off the screen and into the auditorium. Kudos to the Smaug's conception artists for allowing us to see a glimpse of his fire being generated in his chest before he breathes it. Lots of spiritual allegories and metaphors could be contrived by that seemingly benign detail. Like how fiery and destructive words we breathe find their origin in our hearts. Very well done. Also, Smaug was very verbose, in both the book and the movie, and exudes all the raw malevolence that has become the mark of draconian influences in ancient, as well as modern culture. I think perhaps he has been starved for companionship lying there in the mountain. He certainly loves to talk. I am sure both John Howe's and Alan Lee's artwork, who also depicts Smaug as very serpentine, influenced Smaug's cinematic conception as well.

What else can I say? The movie was great, and probably Jackson's best adaption to date. It makes me anxious to see next year's final movie.