Review: The desolation of Smaug

One of the first questions my friends asked me as we left the theatre was, “I saw Smaug, but where was the desolation?” I couldn’t see it then, and I don’t see it now. A movie whose title promised acreage of burnt fields and collapsed buildings showed naught but a taste of the wrath of the dragon it promised to unleash on audiences.

 

Minor Spoiler Alert ahead!

The movie starts with the beginnings of Thorin’s quest. It shows him meeting Gandalf, talking to him and being granted his help. Gandalf suggests taking a burglar on their quest, and hence sets the stage for the events of the first movie to occur. We fast-forward to the end of the second movie. We see our heroes, the thirteen dwarves, our favourite Hobbit and Gandalf running across the screen, trying to shake off their orc pursuers. Of course, they’re not able to using conventional means. However, a house Gandalf knows of happens to be conveniently nearby. It’s occupied by a shape-shifter who hates dwarves, but luckily, he hates orcs more. He decides to help them.

This is no more than the first 15 minutes of the movie, and yet it shows something Peter Jackson seems to have missed while filming this trilogy. The Hobbit is a children’s book. Tolkien himself intended it to be such. Just like in any children’s fable, things magically occur at times. From the random coincidence of finding Beorn and his house to finding Bard, to finding the Arkenstone, a tiny jewel the size of a fist, among piles of gold that dwarf even Smaug himself, the movie is filled with ridiculous happenings which only the mind of a child can ignore.

Giving credit to Jackson, however, he manages to not let those coincidences overwhelm the movie. While they are jarring when they occur, they occur infrequently enough for them to have been ignored had the other parts of the movie been great. However, there are other flaws to this movie.

A common gripe about this movie is that it lacks depth. There are very few meaningful interactions between characters. In other words, in no part of this story is there any character development whatsoever. The potential was there, with a younger Legolas and a female elf named Tauriel. However, the greatest bit of character development occurred when the possibility of a romantic relationship between an elf and a dwarf was touched upon. Jackson, unfortunately, could not capitalise on that and moved on to a part of the movie which, thankfully, was not as bad as the rest. An action sequence.

The action sequences were epic, to say the least. Legolas and Tauriel seemed to have been dunked in Getafix’s magic potion (from Asterix and Obelix) when they were babies. Either that, or Jackson bestowed God Mode upon them. Arrows were fired from point blank range, orc bodies were being used to slide around and knives seemed to materialise from nowhere as two elves began the systematic slaughter of a company of orcs. With some help from the barrel-riding dwarves, a group the size which took down Boromir in The Fellowship was easily dispatched by the duo. Hence, when the dialogue, “You can’t chase down thirty orcs by yourself!” was uttered, all of us could only roll our eyes. You can, sister. You just did.

The presence of Azog the defiler also seemed unremarkable and unnecessary. Jackson, in his bid to fill up the plot, made flat characters with as much depth as a piece of paper. His rivalry with Oakenshield or with Beorn is only a filler which serves no purpose than to increase the length of the movie by a few minutes. The movie is filled with scenes like that. Many of them make no sense, or rather, they seem extraneous. They contribute little to the plot of the film and yet take up screen time.

Apart from this, the movie also lacks the same sweeping cinematography which made the original world of the Lord of the Rings seem so large. While a lot of action occurs in closed spaces, the lack of such panoramic shots makes the movie seem less grandiose and smaller in scale. The combination of such shots with an amazing score by Howard Shore (read the charge of the Rohirrim during the battle of Minas Tirith or Theoden’s last stand during the battle of Helms’ Deep) led to the most memorable scenes of the LOTR trilogy. To have both taken away by Jackson in making the Hobbit seems cruel, almost a travesty.

Howard Shore himself seems uninspired in this series. The music of the Lord of the Rings is on my hard disk today and it often plays when I tinker around with my system or mess around with some equation. However, I can’t remember the score of the Hobbit seven hours after having watched the film. I do remember it being present, but it never seemed to inspire the same sense of hope as the theme of the Rohirrim did, nor does it instil the same majesty the Gondor theme did. It manages to inspire none of the same fierceness of Theoden’s last stand nor does it manage to give rise to the gooseflesh-inspiring theme of the Rohirrim’s ride upon Minas Tirith.

The acting, however is top-notch. Martin Freeman, however one-dimensional his role is here, manages to bring back that same spark which makes him such a great Watson in the BBC Sherlock series, and Armitage manages to make Thorin majestic despite his height. Gandalf is played to perfection by Sir Ian McKellan and even Smaug gains a personality through some superb voice-acting by Benedict Cumberbatch. Luke Evans plays Bard beautifully and Orlando Bloom is as good as he ever was playing Legolas. However, the real star of the show was Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. She manages to bring both poise and grace to an original character (she is not there in the book) and remains a significant addition we should praise Jackson for. Her presence manages to give the movie some much-needed depth and takes away from the testosterone surrounding the film.

The animation of Smaug, while brilliant, was wasted, I feel, because most of his scenes simply involved him speaking. There were few scenes in which he breathed fire, or laid waste to a city, or simply flew around. The true might of the dragon is showcased only in the last few minutes of the movie. That is unacceptable for a movie titled “The Desolation of Smaug”.

If I had to rate the movie, I would rate the movie a 6. Barely watchable. If it weren’t for the great action sequences or the fact that this movie is part of “The Hobbit” series, it would have been unwatchable. It manages to have less depth than the first part of the series with an excellent cast and bad direction. Go watch it, for I know you will, but go with no expectations of awesomeness.

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