Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Deeper Look: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Three brave warriors -- Heath, Mike and Patrick -- journey through the Desolation of Smaug to the Lonely Mountain. Was it worth the trip or should they have stayed back home in Hobbiton? Beware, o reader, for spoilers abound. Proceed at your own peril!

Heath: I had a pretty complicated reaction to my first viewing of Desolation of Smaug. It was not at all what I was expecting, having read the book, and it didn't feel like it was the story I knew, but it was still Peter Jackson's Middle-earth.  What were your thoughts when you walked out of the theater?

Mike: I was scared entering into The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. When I saw Star Wars: Episode I  (and this is well documented on the site), I was high from it. It was new Star Wars for Christ’s sake, and I think at that time in my life it was impossible for me to NOT like it. Fast forward to me sitting in the theater for Star Wars: Episode II. I don’t remember if there was a specific moment in the movie that this happened, but I know it was early on that all of a sudden I got a big splash of reality thrown into my face: these movies are not very good. It took the second prequel to show me this, and I feared H2 might do the same. I was aware right off the bat that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wasn’t as good as the LotR trilogy, but I was so happy to be back in Middle-earth that I didn’t care. I had fun. H2 was going to be the big test, and I’m happy to report it didn’t suck and it didn’t make me reevaluate the previous movie. Relief.

As for the movie itself, I think I like it more than the first movie. I’m sure we’ll get into specifics a little later, but I can say that I walked out of the theater thinking, “Boy, this movie has some real problems. I can’t wait to see it again.”

How about you gentlemen?

Patrick: Well, I'm not in the same spot as both of you. I am in as much as I didn't love The Desolation of Smaug -- I just mean that my relationship to these movies is different. I'm a big fan of Peter Jackson's original LotR trilogy, but I've never read any of the books (bookworms!) and just being back in Middle-earth wasn't enough for me to get on board with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I think there's a lot to be learned about Peter Jackson's decline as a filmmaker as evidenced by these movies (and I do kind of suspect that's what's happening), but my problem is that I just don't have the passion to really explore it. These two Hobbit movies have made it difficult for me to give enough of a shit to think about them at all.

I think I had an easier time getting through Smaug than Journey because there was some actual immediacy (though not much), but the two movies have a LOT of problems -- badly defined characters, stakes that I don't care about, meandering, shapeless storytelling, a disappointing reliance on CGI effects and "business" -- I could go on and on. Like, whose story is The Desolation of Smaug? Is it Thorin's? Am I supposed to give a shit if he reclaims his kingdom? I was happy to see Aragorn become King because I had spent three movies with him and watched him behave bravely and selflessly for the good of everyone in the face of unstoppable evil. Thorin, on the other hand, is a dick. Again, I haven't read the book, but if you told me he turned evil or pulled a Boromir in the last movie, I would TOTALLY BELIEVE YOU. He seems to be heading in that direction in Smaug.
But maybe that's too specific, since I think these new movies suffer from bigger story and structure issues. Maybe we should stick to those. But let me ask you guys this: has Peter Jackson lost it? Will we ever see the LotR (or, even better, the pre-LotR) Peter Jackson again?

Heath: I hate to say it, but I fear that maybe Peter Jackson HAS lost it. I really did not like King Kong, and so little of what I loved about his work on The Lord of the Rings is present in these movies. Look, I made a big defense for An Unexpected Journey last year, and I still really love a lot of that movie. I'm not backing down on my feelings about it and I still can't believe the drubbing it got from people (like Elizabeth Banks saying that Peter Jackson tricked people). Like they walked into the movie and it was two and a half hours of hobbits making cheese and pruning the shrubs (which I'd kind of be okay with...unless they were CGI cheeses and shrubs).

But what I appreciate about the first movie is the level of detail that I found in it and how much of that detail seemed to be grounded in the characters. I know Mike doesn't dig on dwarves, but I thought they were all really individual personalities. It wasn't like 13 little Gimlis running around. They were separate. They spent time establishing who each character was. They didn't go into great detail, but we spent enough time with them to say, okay, that dude's a mama's boy who doesn't like green food and that other dude with the long white beard seems really even tempered and should maybe run for president one day. I find NONE of that individuality in Desolation of Smaug. In fact, I don't find much of ANYTHING in it.

There's no story. It's nearly three hours of empty avatars running over hills and floating down rivers, punctuated by action scenes that I don't care about because none of it has anything to do with the (lack of) story. Where are the little touches that make us care? Where is the love of the characters themselves? I have no idea how this film can be the work of the same man. Wait! Do you guys think Guillermo del Toro secretly directed this movie, like Spielberg really directed Poltergeist? 'Cuz that would explain a lot.

I don't feel like Peter Jackson or Fran Walsh or Phillipa Boyens even like their characters in this movie because they invest almost nothing into any of them. Do they think they did enough of that in the last installment, so this one gets a pass on being interesting? The first movie was largely set up and establishment, but this movie is a bike going downhill with no brakes. And as it turns out, no seat either.

But I also have to wonder how much freedom Peter Jackson had in making these films. There's such a massive amount of story fabrication here (I'm thinking about 60% of the running time is just completely made up for this movie-which is a problem), and it feels like big studio interference. You guys remember Kevin Smith's story about being told that Superman needed to fight a giant spider? So much of this movie feels like people sat at a table and said "Well...how about...hmmmm....a giant statue made of gold that turns back into molten ore as soon as the dragon gets all up on it. We've invested in these sets, we've got to use them. Bilbo can't just walk into Smaug's lair and it not turn into a ride at Disneyland. This is 3D! There's got to be hanging and jumping. How about a carousel? Can we work that in? And can Smaug be playing with a yo-yo? We'll get to the story in the last movie."
I found myself asking "why" so many times in this movie. Why is this here? Why did they skip that awesome part of the book? It feels so far from the Peter Jackson I'm used to and the guy who made me believe in his vision, I just can't reconcile it. All I can come up with is that he is a victim of his own success, and that the studios had very large expectations and demands (such as three films instead of two) to justify their reported $600 million investment. Once you've birthed a mega-franchise, are you ever free from expectations to do it again? And CAN you if you try? It looks like no, you can't. Why, Peter? My sweet, sweet Peter.
Mike: I'm not ready to declare just yet that Peter Jackson has lost it, but it's hard to argue that he isn't on his way. I actually really like King Kong, so his decline for me starts with The Lovely Bones. That was terrible and at the time I was hoping it was just a hiccup. A lot of great filmmakers have missteps and maybe TLB was his. Now after two subpar Hobbit movies, you have to wonder.

For me though, I'm torn on how to judge him based on these movies. I watched The Appendices Part 7 on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition Blu-ray special features, and in the making-of documentary Peter Jackson and company detail how the film came to be. After Guillermo del Toro had to leave the project, I got the impression that PJ felt he had to direct these movies to ensure that they got made and that all the time and money already spent of preproduction didn't go to waste. He had always said that he had no desire to return to Middle-earth and I feel that may have a lot to do with the problems. ANY movie would be difficult to make if you're not 100% onboard, let alone movies like The Hobbit trilogy. Now PJ says all the right things and that once he started working on the films he regained his passion for the story, but I can't help but think that his heart isn't totally in it.

As for The Desolation of Smaug itself, it's impossible to argue with anything you guys have said. The movie feels bloated and much of it unnecessary, especially the Legolas/Tauriel stuff. For everyone questioning why they would turn The Hobbit into three movies, I feel The Desolation of Smaug confirmed their doubts. All of the story that was added on to pad these movies FELT like story crowbarred into the trilogy and that's a big problem. And I agree with Patrick that it's difficult to care when we're on a journey to see someone get their home back. I know Bilbo's speech towards the end of An Unexpected Journey about why he wants to help the dwarves find their home is telling us exactly why we should care, but it doesn't quite work.

On New Year's Day, TNT ran all three LoTR movies, so naturally that was on in our house most of the day. I was once again reminded how much I love the entire Fellowship. From Pippin to Boromir, I have affection for them all. The dwarves in The Hobbit, not so much. I'm with you, Heath, that there is an attempt to separate the dwarves and to give them individual personalities. I feel they do as good a job as possible in that regard, but for whatever reason I never quite connect with them, save maybe Balin. He's great. I also feel Martin Freeman is fantastic as Bilbo, but he's unfortunately not given a ton to do in DoS. That may have been what I was most disappointed in.
I could go on with things that I had a problem with, but like I said before I still liked it so I'd rather turn positive. I'm curious what, if anything, did work for you guys. Did you like Smaug himself (I did)?

Heath: I thought Smaug was really great. He may be my favorite digital creation, and I liked him even more than Gollum, who I struggle with due to the intensity of Andy Serkis' performance. It's good, but sometimes it wears me out. Smaug does not wear me out, and is completely realized and engaging to me, and I love how charismatic he is; he's a charming conversationalist, as dragons are, and Benny (we're mates) Cumberbatch really gave him a lot of personality. It's all there: the arrogance and laziness, but also the attractiveness and cunning that makes you think he's almost safe to be around. It's a remarkable creation. Every scene with Smaug captivates my attention completely. He just comes so late in the movie for such an integral part of this story.

I'm really hard pressed to think of anything else that really connected with me. At some point we're going to have to talk about the fact that Gandalf took on Sauron one on one. Because I can't get past that and the implications it has retroactively for Lord of the Rings.

Patrick, you've said that as much as you want to like it, you have to accept that The Hobbit is not Lord of the Rings. But everyone involved here in these new films have bent over backwards to make you think that it is. The book of The Hobbit was written years before The Lord of the Rings ever saw the light of day and was never meant to foreshadow anything at all, certainly not the rise of Sauron or the stage being set for what's to come. But that story has been completely reworked for these movies so that it serves as a direct prequel to Lord of the Rings in the same sense that the prequel trilogy tries to connect every single thread to Star Wars. They've rewritten Tolkien and added HOURS of their own material to create connections that never existed.  I will not be surprised if we meet a young Aragorn in the final chapter. They already brought Frodo and Legolas in for no good reason other than to make people say "ah, look, it's that guy", so I expect them to continue this in the final film.
That's one of the things that I'm curious to hear more about from you. Studio executives sat in rooms for long hours fabricating plot strands to make this movie appeal to you, the Lord of the Rings fan. They had vertebrae removed from their spines so that they could bend over backwards to accomplish this. Can we talk about that? Clearly they've failed, but I'm curious about why. You seem to be their target audience: a fan of the previous films with no attachment to the written source material.

Patrick: If nothing else, I think these new Hobbit movies prove that the first LotR trilogy really was a case of catching lightning in a bottle. There is no formula for what made those movies so special -- no steps that can be easily repeated. Lord knows everyone seems to be trying. I don't want to say that Jackson has "lost it" either, but he does seem lost. I actually really liked King Kong (though I rarely want to revisit it), but between these Hobbit movies and the disaster that was The Lovely Bones, something is definitely wrong. I'm with Mike in that I can't help but feel that had Guillermo del Toro actually made these movies, we wouldn't be having a lot of these conversations. I'm not suggesting that they would have been great -- they might not have even been any better -- but at least they would have been different and felt like their own thing. One of the problems with Smaug is that it feels like a bad imitation of a previous success.

For one, it tries to elevate some way more minor stakes to the import of those in Lord of the Rings. Both plots are simple: take this ring, throw it in the mountain/get to this mountain and get this thing back. But the former matters because the fate of all Middle Earth is at stake. The latter matters because...the dwarves want respect? It's their right? Ok, that's fine. I'm ok with lesser stakes. From what I understand, that's the kind of book The Hobbit is. But then Jackson makes the movie into something EPIC and ACTION-PACKED and forgets the fact that it's meant to be smaller and lighter. And in trying to turn a small story into a huge epic, he hasn't actually bothered to fix the spine of the thing -- it's still "get to this mountain, get this thing back" -- so instead it just bounces around through a bunch of set pieces.
I agree that Smaug is a cool character and maybe the only special effect in the first two movies that actually feels special. But I also don't think the scene really works. It's way too long, for one, without enough happening to justify the length. And while Smaug feels threatening, nothing about the scene actually feels dangerous. Don't get me wrong -- it was one of the best parts of the movie  -- but to me felt like more digital flab on a movie that's already very digital and flabby. Heath, I know you said you felt like the dwarves were all well-developed in the first movie. I don't know how much of that has to do with already being familiar with them from the book, but I'm with Mike. I'm not a dwarf fan, and after two of these movies I know very, very little about these guys. One looks like a regular person, I guess so Evangeline Lily can maybe like him. One appears to be the Splinter. Thorin is a prick. And...I'm out. The rest, to me, all seem like variations on the same makeup and the same bug-eyed comic relief performance. They're about as well sketched as The Spice Girls.

All of this sounds like I'm really down on The Hobbit. I'm not. It's fine. More than anything, it's forgettable, and that's its greatest sin. I don't love it, but I can't get worked up enough about it to dislike it because it's already out of my head. It's too bad.

Heath: As much as I've railed against the decisions made in this film, I still don't hate it, either. Mike, is there any redemption we can come up with for Desolation of Smaug? You tried to steer us into positive waters many paragraphs ago. I know movies are different from books (thank goodness), and I'm not taking my annotated copy of the book into the movie theater expecting word for word adaptations. I think this story was particularly hard to adapt, given the previous film history of the series and the expectations of audiences. In many ways, it's lose/lose.

One thing I should say is that I think that these movies do seem to preserve some of the themes of the book. It does feel like great care was taken to retain the overall ideas of the movie. The Tauriel/Legolas/Kili storyline, when you dig into it, represents the walls that the elves had erected between them and all other races crumbling down. That's a theme from the books, and popped up multiple times in Tolkien. The elite society that isolated themselves inevitably intermingled with more common people. This film seems to be using it as a metaphor for equality among races, genders, and social groups. I can absolutely get on board with the message of that even though I don't like the execution.
The same message was in the scene with Beorn, the bear-man (who needed more screen time), as he condemned the dwarves for thinking they were better than smaller creatures. It's also the same idea behind The Force in Star Wars. We are all made of the same stuff, but how we live and treat others around us determines the kind of people we are. You could even look at Thorin in those terms: he seems noble and upright, but his behavior indicates otherwise. His titles, accolades, and victories in battle do not make him a good person. This movie doesn't hit that very hard, but I think it's there, if you look.

Also, ultimately I think we're going to see that Bilbo's adventure is going to have a profound impact on the lives around him. I've read ahead, so I know where the story is going. The decisions we make have far reaching implications and nothing that we do occurs in a vacuum.

Those are a few things I've had to dig for; honestly, the first image that comes to my mind when I think of the film is Legolas standing on two hobbit heads floating down a river while he shoots bad guys, and that may be how I remember it in the future. I wonder if things would have been any different if this had come before Lord of the Rings and not a decade after it. This territory is now well trod. Like Patrick, I wonder if a different director would have done things in a drastically different way. Perhaps then it wouldn't have been more of the same.

And furthermore, Tolkien's work is not perfect. Some of the limitations of the movie come from the limitations of the original story. Patrick talked about how it's yet another quest to go to a mountain and do a thing and then come back. He's right, and I don't think I've ever looked at it quite that way before. Lord of the Rings seems to repeat many of the events of The Hobbit on a grander scale. We go to a lot of the same places and do a lot of the same things. The reason that the book feels different for me is because the tone is aimed at children and you can read the whole thing in an afternoon. It's a breezy, whimsical adventure with a ton of humor in it. But when you try to make that same story fall in line with the more adult tone of it's successor, it loses a lot of the whimsy and feels like a lot more of the same.

Sorry it took me so long to find some more positives, Mike. Those are some things in addition to Smaug that I like. What else really works for you? Let's put this thing to bed on a hopeful note. After all, we're not done and this story isn't over. We still have the conclusion coming at the end of the year, and I have a feeling that the last installment will having us looking back at the first two to see what seeds were planted along the way.

Mike: I admit that a lot of what works for me, or what puts a smile on my face, is stuff that reminds me that we're in the same world created by Peter Jackson and company for The Lord of the Rings movies. Between familiar faces and revisiting places like Bag End and Rivendell, it felt like home. You wrote about this feeling in your original piece about An Unexpected Journey, Heath, and I couldn't agree more. That feeling continued for me in The Desolation of Smaug. Maybe not as much as An Unexpected Journey, but as long as the films have Ian McKellan and Howard Shore's score, I'll be at peace.
Although her storyline wasn't my favorite, I really liked Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. Like Martin Freeman's Bilbo, I wanted more of her. Or at the very least I wanted something else for her to do. What you said, Heath, about the point of the love triangle in Desolation of Smaug makes a lot of sense, and makes me like that stuff more, but while watching it I couldn't help but feel like this is precisely the stuff added to the story to stretch it from two movies to three. I think Tauriel deserves more. Maybe the third movie will correct that.

Like I said before, I thought the Smaug scenes were great. I've always been a little cold towards the book version of Smaug, so I wasn't looking forward to seeing him in DoS that much. Maybe my lack of enthusiasm for the character had a lot to do with my surprise by how much he worked. You both described him perfectly, so I won't repeat that here. I'll just say that he's worth the build-up.

One of the things that I enjoy most about DoS, and really all of the Middle-earth movies, are the creature, clothes, environment and weapons designs by Weta. The amount of thought and detail that goes into every stitch of clothing and every sword handle is remarkable. For anyone interested, you can purchase books published by Weta filled with sketches and design philosophies (like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art & Design). They are some of my favorite books on the subject and despite how you may feel about the movies as a whole, they should help you appreciate the artistry behind the world they visually created.

Heath: I know what you mean about being back in that world. New Zealand, man! It's amazing. It's just breathtakingly beautiful, and now that you mention it, Evangeline Lilly/Tauriel is, too. I never thought much about her when she was on Lost, but she sure makes an attractive elf. I could say the same about most of the lady elves in these movies: Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler are attractive in real life, but put pointy ears on them and whoa. I did really like the character of Tauriel, come to think of it. She's an interesting character, and it's a shame that her storyline is so shoehorned in. Most people aren't complaining, though.

Speaking of not complaining, I have to tell you that my wife has many of the same complaints as I do about this movie, and she's a fan of the book as well. But one thing she does NOT have a problem with is the addition of Legolas to the story. So if nothing else good comes from this Legolas/Tauriel thing, we each get an elf to look at. Is elf fetishism a thing? I might have that.

Also, I'm glad that you brought up the work of WETA workshop. There's a lot of publicity for the CGI in the movie, and we've talked about how cool you and I thought Smaug turned out, but you're also dead on with your comments about the clothes, weapons, and environments of Middle Earth. Those are all made by hand, and that's one of the things I love seeing the most when I watch the appendices. I know that even though I didn't really care for much of this movie, I will have a tremendous time poring over the hours of special features showing how they created Lake Town on a sound stage, or mechanical spiders, or carefully sculpted Beorn's bear buttocks. WETA still does tons of practical effects, and as much as Desolation of Smaug feels like a video game at times, there's a ton of practical model work and things that were hand-crafted.
I think we've redeemed the movie as much as we can for ourselves. We talk a lot about the Star Wars prequel trilogy and how they aren't very good movies (especially not when compared to the originals), but whenever I watch them I still find myself caught up in them. Those also had some incredible models, miniatures, and practical sets made on massive scales, and I still find myself sticking up for those films in spite of their flaws. The worlds that they created and exist in are incredible place to visit. I feel exactly the same way about Middle-earth, and I can see myself also sticking up for these movies in the years to come. Now I know what Peter Jackson is doing and I can prepare myself for the last chapter of this story with the awareness and understanding of their failings. I can let go of my expectations for the movie to soar to the heights of Lord of the Rings and can allow it to be what it is.

Patrick: I'll just add that I'm still on board for There and Back Again, even if I have to concede that my heart really isn't in seeing how this all wraps up. The wait between The Two Towers and Return of the King seemed like FOREVER. I know this wait won't. It's going to be more like "Oh, right, it's December. That new Hobbit movie is coming out this week." Maybe it's just because I'm busier now and time goes faster. I suspect that it's not. I'm ok with this new trilogy being just "fine." It doesn't take away from Lord of the Rings and it's not going to have any larger effect on movies in general -- unless, of course, 48fps catches on (it won't). So really I'm excited for Peter Jackson to put Middle Earth behind him and to go back to making original movies. Maybe even smaller movies -- something like Heavenly Creatures. He needs to get back in touch with that guy, and he's never going to get there while fighting the dragon.

Mike: F, Marry, Kill: Arwen (Liv Tyler), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) or Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly)? I'd F Tauriel, Marry Arwyn and ATTEMPT to kill Galadriel, however I'm sure I'd be the one to wind up dead.

Patrick: Kill Tauriel (sorry), marry Arwen and definitely F Galadriel. She's, like, elf queen for crying out loud.

Mike: I would have gone the same way if ELils and I didn't have a history.

Heath: I'd F Arwen ("If you want it, come and claim it" is what I'd say, and she totally would), marry Tauriel and kill Galadriel, because she's got issues with power and calls herself great and terrible. Plus, she's like, thousands of years old, so she'd probably just want to watch Murder She Wrote and talk about the good old days before men and dwarfs moved in and made all the Lothlorien property values go down.


  1. Marry Tauriel, F Arwen, Kill Galdriel (and then maybe F her)

    I just watched this last night so I'm glad for the opportunity to join in on this great discussion amongst you movie and Tolkien fans. I'll start with my positives: it's beautiful as always - I love spending time in Middle Earth, I'll never get sick of the score, I love Martin Freeman's Bilbo and I thought Smaug was fantastic (both the effect and Benny's performance). The 3D was decent. Those things alone were enough for me to have a satisfactory movie-going experience.

    The things that kept it from being a great one: Repetition - god, all or most of them are captured or almost captured like 3 or 4 times. And if people make fun of The Lord of the Rings being about people WALKING somewhere, at least they're all RUNNING in this one I guess - so much running. Like you say, people's pre-complaints about the story being stretched thin really came true in this one. And the shoehorned trilogy-bridging crap - why does Legolas need to be in this and whatever F'ed up effect they're trying to use to make him look younger (?) just made him look creepy. And older. The Sauron stuff is too much - in The Fellowship isn't the force behind the growing evil a mystery? Doesn't Gandolf go off on a little journey to read an old book or something to discover that it's Sauron returned? It's not going to make sense watching these trilogies back-to-back unless we're to assume that Gandolf smoked so much weed in the interim that he forgot his little one-on-one with Sauron (I kinda liked the scene but still)? And I'm sorry but I just can't care about the majority of these characters like I did in Lord of the Rings - I can get down with dwarves and everything and though from a practical perspective I find them distinguishable from each other at least, but I just don't care about them and the danger never feels as real as it did in LotR.

    Again, I did mostly kinda like it overall (enough qualifiers there?), there just seems to be a lot of avoidable missteps that keep it from being nearly as great as LotR, which it wouldn't have to be except for the fact that they force the comparison by making it more of a prequel than a standalone story.

    1. You wrote, " in The Fellowship isn't the force behind the growing evil a mystery? Doesn't Gandolf go off on a little journey to read an old book or something to discover that it's Sauron returned?", yes he does, it has been like 60 years since the Gandalf and the White Council faced Sauron in Dol Guldur where they thought they took care of him.
      Sorry I am Tolkien nerd. But if it does not work for you in the film, it does not work. From one perspective the films need to stand on their own in the universe they create so I feel your criticisms.

    2. Hey, thanks Tom - I appreciate you filling in that gap for me - is that detail something I should have picked up on in LotR? The movie opens with Galdriel talking about time passing and legend becoming myth and all that and I just assumed that was the first Sauron was being heard of in thousands of years. If I'm wrong, my bad, and I'm glad the trilogies will flow together better than I thought!

    3. As far as a detail in the film, I don't think so. The Galdriel voice over is only referring to the ancient battle with him that occurred as you stated thousands of years ago.
      You have to respect Sauron, the dude is like 0-2 by LotR, but he keeps trying. Not to mention seeing his boss taken down several times.

    4. Sauron has a boss!? Heheh - I don't know much about this stuff, but damned if I'm not a bit interested!

    5. You should totally look into it. Then you can go into that comic shop where you were looking into Dark Knight Returns and casually drop the name "Morgoth" and see if anyone gives you a knowing, appreciative look.

    6. *Gives Tom that knowing, appreciative look*

    7. Thanks guys - this is the kind of nerd ammo I need to have the courage to go in there. Especially after I slipped and asked for "The Dark Knight Rises" comic that first time in there - this Morgoth shit will show them who's a nerd!

      Btw Heath, have I told you lately how much I love "The Dark Knight Returns"?! - had it qualified, the movie would have easily been in the top of my Top 10 this year (and the comic is one of the best things on my bookshelf). Thanks again for that!

    8. Just don't say anything about Tom Bombadil, and you'll be fine. *Gives Heath's butt that knowing, appreciative look.*

    9. Sol, did you ever get the re-release blu ray or DVD of DKR with the Frank Miller documentary? I still haven't double dipped on that one, but I am so curious about that documentary. I don't think I could sit through 2 1/2 hours of animated Dark Knight, but it would be worth it if the documentary is any good.

    10. I did! I didn't have the separate releases so for me it was a no-brainer - I can sit through THAT 2 1/2 hours of animated Dark Knight any day. The Frank Miller doc is good but unless you can find a real bargain I wouldn't say it's worth the double-dip. I'd love to lend it to you but not sure the cross-border shipping costs make it worthwhile...

    11. Okay, cool, thanks for the heads up. Maybe I'll pick it up down the road.

  2. Great conversation guys.

    I walked away from this installment feeling that there was too much action, not enough story. Action for action sake. My initial thought was that they punched up the action in this one since many complained that the first Hobbit was boring or took to long to get started. But then, weren't they made at the same time? I mean I guess they could have heard reaction to the first first than reedited the second to turn up the action. It would be a very fast turn around though. Do you guys know?

    As far as the threads tying it to LoTR; I enjoyed those, and they are sort of in the book. (off stage) That is, Sauron is mentioned several times though called "the necromancer". Sauron is "in" the Hobbit. When Gandalf leaves the party in the book he is investigating the necromancer/Sauron. And what he does is detailed in the appendices of LoTR and The Silmarillion. Personally, I am glad I got to see that story and found those scene very engaging. I am also looking forward to hopefully seeing the white council face him in the siege of Dol Guldur which occurs timeline wise concurrently with the battle of the five armies in the next film. It discussed by Tolkien fans/scholars (Corey Olsen) that it was all Gandalf's plan for the party to face Smaug and engage him/take care of him so that he, Gandalf and the white council, could face Sauron without having to worry about Smaug showing up to help Sauron.

    Additionally, grievances with the dwarves characters is hard. Stating that they are thin characters than complaining that Jackson had to invent material is counterproductive. In the books the dwarves are all the same, interchangeable with the exception of Balin and Thorin. They are all very two dimensional. I like how Jackson fleshed them out, he had to do something.

    Oh and; F Arwen, K Tauriel, M Galadriel (a queen has her benefits)

    1. I think I referenced not taking my annotated copy of the book into the movie. I still stick to that, I went into the movie as blank of a canvas as I could be (though admittedly as someone who loves Tolkien...not just his work but the man himself. He was stunningly intelligent and a seeker of knowledge), but I am NOW reading my annotated book of the Hobbit and it's made some things clearer to me that I don't think I'd ever picked up on before. I'm still in the middle of it because it's slow going, but it's definitely illuminating.

      But one thing that I think the Peter Jackson movies do to their detriment is try to shrink the timeline down. It feels like the events in The Hobbit happen really soon before LOTR. Especially with them constantly connecting things, and adding Legolas, Frodo, and who knows what else they'll throw in for part 3. All those things make it feel like these movies happened really recently, instead of decades. And though Gandalf did stand against the necromancer in the book, in the world of movies it cheapens and changes a lot of the threat and menace established around Sauron in LoTR. It's like if they made a bunch of Star Wars movies and showed us Darth Vader before he was at full power and showed Obi-Wan fighting him. Who would anyone want to do that?

      But I'm still really torn, because I love the idea behind trying to flesh out The Hobbit. It's a great story and it totally lends itself to being examined and expanded. This just isn't the way I think it should have been done.

    2. Heath,

      Yeah, I hear you about the timeline thing. I thought the feeling of time compression was also every strong in LoTR; Fellowship. The time between Frodo getting the ring from Bilbo and actually setting out to destroy it has a gap of something like 30 years in the book, at least a few decades; while in the film it feels like a just few days later, at most next week. I don't think that particular film really suffered for that, it was just odd.

      The Gandalf vs Sauron thing does not bother me in the least. Maybe it will later on but for now I actually enjoy it. The thing is, and I will admit, I am partly swayed by my love of Gandalf. He is by far my favorite character in Tolkien's works and any chance to see him in action plus Ian McKellens amazing portrayal, well. Even while reading the book for the first time at 9-10 years of age, I always wanted to know what Gandalf was doing, where he went, when he would leave Bilbo and the dwarves. And as far as all of that working, who can say I guess it is personal opinion. Then again I will venture that you are right, perhaps it does not belong in there at all. For Tolkien himself relegated it to the appendices, that alone shows that even he at least thought it interrupted the story.

      I also agree with your assessment as to the detriment of shoehorning other characters like Legolas into the film. Honestly, Legolas sort of took me out of the film for a moment. For me it was too much of a throwback to LoTR. It was like traveling to city on the opposite side of the world and bumping into an old friend. While on one hand it is nice to see the old friend, it also removes the grandness, and exotic newness of the experience. It also makes the world feel so much smaller. At least with the Frodo shots it was a flashforward or the whole Hobbit series is flashback or whatever. They are not required however in the least.

      If you have not already you should go over to the Tolkien Professor website and check out his podcast "Reactions to viewing the Desolation of Smaug" (it is in the "news" section) he has many interesting insights as usual. And since you are re-reading The Hobbit if you have not also already done so check out his guided reading of it, his Hobbit lecture. I followed along with it when I re-read the Hobbit last year and it really elevated my experience and appreciation of the work. (which was already very high) Just last week I started re-reading The Silmarillion (first time in almost 20 years) while following along with the Tolkien Professor's lecture series on it. I have to say it is an amazing work. I really did not understand it when I was 16 or so last time I read it, now it is like a veil has been lifted. The Silmarillion, like Labowski's rug, really ties everything together.

      Overall, and quibbling aside, I did enjoyed the film and look forward to the final installment. Time and revisits to this version of Middle-Earth show how it finally stands.

    3. I think that when movie Bilbo gives the ring to movie Frodo, that Frodo should be Elijah Wood. Then, after 30 years have passed and when Gandalf returns and is all "is it secret, is it safe," that Frodo should be Abe Vigoda. Then we'd just have Abe Vigoda for the rest of the three movies.

      I have listened to the Tolkien Professor's podcast you mentioned. It was fine...GOOD, even. it gave me a lot to think about. It actually made things tougher for me, because writing here for this site required me to suspend my love of the book and try my best to judge the movie based just on the movie. When I did that I found these newer films to be unjustifiable in many of the decisions they make. And I have to wonder if his love and familiarity of the books has led him to give these screenwriters *too much* credit. I don't think they thought about them nearly as much as he has. Also, I listened to some of his Hobbit lectures last year, but I should re-listen to them as I go through the book again. I'm going to try to read The Silmarillion again this year. I tried last year, made it about 50 pages, then gave up. It's HARD! (that what she said)

    4. Don't know if this helps, but when I got The Silmarillion, I sort of started reading in the middle because the short stories are not necessarily exactly tied together. It sort of helped me want to go backward to understand where things came from, and by that time, I had enough momentum to keep going. I'd try reading "Beren and Luthien" first if you want the satisfaction of reading a story completely before wanting to tackle the Ainulindale. Have fun.

  3. I really would like to see these dwarves in a time travel comedy where they come to present day NY.

    I know that's not the point but it would be a way to "humanize" them before There and Back Again.

    1. Like Time Bandits meets Enchanted?

    2. I was thinking like Bill & Ted. But yours works too :-)

  4. I ranked "Desolation of Smaug" as my 30th favorite movie of 2013, and that should be a problem because, while this and "An Unexpected Journey" entertain me while they're on, they don't leave me with the slightest desire to go back and revisit. I wasn't a huge fan of the "LOTR" movies but I've seen each a few times and enjoy returning to those places, meeting these characters and rekindling the memory of those adventures. "Desolation of Smaug" only had the barrel chase scene (which is amazing, almost "Lone Ranger" ending worthy) and the Smaug scenes toward the end, the rest I'm struggling to even remember. Perhaps the knowledge by all involved (including us, the paying audience) that this is a naked cash grab to squeeze nerd money out of the herd by turning a small-scale adventure into an epic three-picture narrative makes us all more sensitive to the made-up filler, unnecessary cameos and slow patches that on a less-known intellectual property we'd be marveling at how Jackson can apply 2013 movie-making technology to a decade-old "LOTR" film style that couldn't be replicated again even if they tried.

    In Peter Jackson's defense though (and, like Patrick, I'm at a disadvantage because I haven't read the books) maybe he felt he didn't need to dedicate time to the dwarfs in "Smaug" because he already spent time setting them up and introducing them in "Unexpected Journey." Just picture what these new "Hobbit" movies would be like without Ian McKellen or Martin Freeman (underused as he was in "Smaug") anchoring the narrative, and you have to realize that even with the CG overkill and absurd lengths (none of these movies should exceed 105 min., let alone come close to three hours each) the reason these average-at-best movies are still cleaning house worldwide is (a) we love seeing and spending time with these characters (come on, don't tell me a nerdy part of your being didn't swoon when Orlando Bloom started firing arrows left and right) and (b) our residue of affection for the original "LORT" trilogy is still that strong and powerful.

    Of course expect Disney to buy the film rights to the Tolkien estate and serialize these movies within a decade or two. Then you'll look back at "Desolation of Smaug" the way we look back at 80's action movies or 70's disaster films. :-(

  5. Fantastic discussion guys! Really puts into the words what many of us are thinking.

    On topic, but off.

    I know these Hobbit films were shot with state of the art digital cameras, but during that barrel river chase scene there are two shots (which perhaps last 1.5 sec total) that look like they were shot with a Best Buy handycam.

    Why on earth are they in there? It is such a huge jump in camera quality that I thought the projectionist spliced in some Youtube footage of the Jurassic Park ride at Universal.

    1. Yes! I noticed that too (and then completely forgot about it until you reminded me). Clearly it was supposed to bring us "closer to the action," but was really just home video footage from someone's first time white water rafting.

  6. Three things:

    1) SPOILERS: I was really bothered by the fact that both Thorin and Bilbo came off as moronic. The review above already addressed that Thorin is actively becoming dickish, and I actively hate it, even though I'm a giant Tolkien nerd so I should know where this is heading. Dickish could be understandable, but stupid seems unnecessary.

    2) I appreciate that Jackson tried to give all of the dwarves their own little character nuances in the first movie, but what I'm losing trust in his sense of humor. I never really enjoyed Gimli's application as broad humor in the LOTR movies, and there's too much of that continuing here. I pictured the dwarves being more old-man-cranky, rather than frat-boy-douchey, but perhaps that just comes down to the difference in my sense of humor and Jackson's.

    3) I don't want to defend the choice of making this book into 3 movies, but I think it's more than JUST the simple motivation of "cash-grab" which has become the popular explanation. The avalanche starts from the fact that THE HOBBIT as a book is written in a very different tone than the LOTR trilogy. The filmmakers are running into the obstacle of matching the tone of THE HOBBIT movie to that of the LOTR movies, which led to the decision of adding the extra material from the LOTR appendices to flesh out THE HOBBIT movies (eg. Thorin's back story). They're ret-conning THE HOBBIT to make it work as a prequel to the LOTR trilogy. Not that I necessarily agree with that choice, but I think that's a little more conscientious than just "they're trying to make more money." I mean, they are, but there's more to it than that.

    My two cents.

    1. Good points. I find a lot of the humor in these movies to be lacking, too. One of the most "Peter Jackson-y" moments in this movie is one that I hate the most, too. It's when (spoilers) 8 dwarves pull the legs off one of the spiders at the same time. I can't explain it, but that really bothers me. It's overly cruel. You're asking me to find amusement in the death of this creature? And the movie is full of that, too. I'm also thinking of the orc that gets beheaded by Legolas after being catapulted straight up into the air. His head is resting on Legolas' two crossed swords. Oh, so hilarious. That guy died! Ha ha.

      I also agree with point #3. Which reminds me of the sad fact that prequels so rarely work. Also, if this were one 3 hour movie, or even two 2 hour movies, I think it would translate better. There's not enough material here to be much of a prequel (IMO), especially not when the story you're prequeling is so effin' awesome. They should make prequels to awful movies. Like Howard the Duck. Where's the prequel to that?