Remember last year when I was less than thrilled about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, at least in terms of how it held up as an adaptation of Tolkien’s book. Well, as it turns out, I didn’t know a good thing when I had it.
This is my Desolation of Smaug rant. I’m not going to divide it into categories, I’m just going to proceed more or less chronologically through the plot and, well, mostly rant. I will of course mention the things that I liked, because that happened too. But mostly I was frustrated. To say the least. The reasons for these frustrations run the gamut from “yes I’m a massive Tolkien nerd and you have my permission to be amused that such-and-such bothered me” to “as an intelligent, aware fan of epic fantasy movies in general, HOW ABOUT YOU DON’T DO THAT” with dashes of feminism sprinkled throughout. Whee.
In case it wasn’t already clear, this is going to be brimming with spoilers, both for the movie and for the entire plot of the book, aka events yet to come. You have been warned.
Also, sarcasm. Lots and lots of sarcasm. If you’re wondering whether I’m being sarcastic, err on the side of you bet your butt I’m being sarcastic because that’s what I do when I’m frustrated. Anyway.
OK, let’s start with the Orcs. Running around in daylight like it’s no big deal. With no explanation whatsoever for this behavior. Which means it took less than five minutes for me to be really annoyed at this movie, so we were off to a SUPER GREAT START.
Next we meet Beorn. Mixed feelings here: on the one hand, he was properly terrifying, and his house was great, with all his animals living there and just hanging out. On the other hand, as with so much in these movies, they cut out all the lightheartedness of the Company’s interactions with him that were present in the book. I realize that they probably couldn’t have done the introduction from the book just like it was, because the pace would’ve been too slow, but would it have been too much to ask for them to at least match the TONE of the source material? (Hint: yes, apparently, asking these movies to even remotely resemble the lighthearted romp tone of the books is way too much to ask. AUGH.)
Also, by this point a trend had begun that would continue throughout the entire movie: MAJOR TIMELINE COMPRESSION. Now, I understand that in a movie you have to maintain a certain pace. I get that, I really do. But the thing is, it takes TIME to travel the distances the Company traveled ON FOOT. TOLKIEN KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING AND I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THAT COULDN’T BE RESPECTED. Have characters reference that they’ve been doing such-and-such for days (or weeks). Do montages. Do ANYTHING EXCEPT WHAT YOU DID, which was pretend like all the events of the movie happened in a matter of days, when in the book it was weeks or possibly months (I don’t remember off the top of my head).
Before we head to Mirkwood with the Company, I’m going to address Gandalf’s side adventure in Dol Guldur. It wasn’t what I was expecting, in terms of building up to the siege, but I liked it. I liked the Necromancer as creepy black smoke. I liked that the glamors on the place were so powerful that Gandalf by himself was not enough to overcome them, thus setting up the need for a major Team Effort in the third movie. The Dol Guldur stuff wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t my least favorite either. I think my only major complaint is that there wasn’t enough Radagast. Because there is no such thing as too much Radagast.
But back to Bilbo and the Dwarves and Mirkwood. More time compression. Leaving out of things like the whole adventure with the river and having to lug Bomber around because he got knocked out by the bad-magic-water. But still decently scary, and they did their best to convey how suffocating it was to be in there, which is admittedly difficult with a purely a/v medium.
The spiders were pretty good. I would’ve said great, but I’ve read the book. And in the book the whole misadventure with the spiders is SO MUCH FUNNIER. AND I WANTED THE FUNNY. I WANTED BILBO SAVING THE DAY (no badass Elven help required) BY SASSING THE SPIDERS. I WANTED “ATTERCOP.” But once again, heaven FORBID that the movie put in things from the book that will lighten the tone.
But, on the bright side, here we meet Tauriel. Who is AWESOME. If I’m going to stick with my plan to discuss things as they happened, then my Tauriel analysis is going to have to happen piecemeal, but suffice it to say, I LIKE.
So, off to the Mirkwood Elves’ kingdom. I liked Thranduil, but I was really hoping for some dwarf-racist party dad action (stuff like this is why the Internet exists, just FYI), so that was disappointing. Also the lack of drunken, partying Mirkwood Elves, because I REALLY wanted to see that. But no. Elves must be VERY SERIOUS about ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME. *grumblegrumblegrumble*
Aaand we have the introduction of the romantic-ish subplot(s?). About which I have very mixed feelings.
The HOW ABOUT NO: Legolas having feelings for Tauriel. It’s completely unnecessary, although I do love that her behavior towards him throughout the movie shows that she really, truly, honestly doesn’t see him That Way, which is lovely: media does not have enough portrayals of non-romantic partnerships between the genders, so I like that this is sort of that.
The I’d Kind of Rather Not but after reading other people’s opinions on the Internet I guess my feelings are Decidedly Mixed: oh, yay, a female character who has a personality and agency and, and . . . oh. Oh, of course you gave us a female character and then also had to put in a romance plot to accompany her. Heaven forbid we have a significant female character without a romance. *headdesk* BUT, on the other hand (thanks to the above Internet people for this point), Tauriel is not DEFINED by the romantic subplots, and female characters who have romance but are not defined by it are also in short supply, so this is a good thing. Also, on the other other hand, this random Internet person makes the point that Tauriel’s words and actions are ambiguous at best: the dudes might be into her (and given her high level of awesomeness, can we really blame them?), but she is not into them. I mean, who has time for that when she needs to go save Middle Earth?
The I Can See Why Other People Are Into It But I’m Just Not: Tauriel and Kili. On the one hand, I like that it is one of the things that shows how she’s open-minded (I would REALLY like to know the backstory on how she got that way; I wonder if there’s fanfiction yet? who am I kidding, OF COURSE there’s already fanfiction the movie came out a week ago!). I like that SHE saves HIM multiple times, and that that is one of the things that he likes about her. On the other hand, I honestly feel like the whole reason this particular subplot exists is an attempt to make it that much more heartbreaking when Kili dies, as if we aren’t all going to be ugly-crying messes anyway. Like, given their backgrounds, it’s just hard for me to believe that they could overcome so much cultural prejudice so quickly; it just, to me, felt like something the writers forced on the characters, rather than something the characters showed the writers would of course happen (I know that that sentence at the very least makes sense to my fellow writers out there).
The GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU JUST DID: OK, so Kili looks like he’s going to be flirty with the badass female elf who saved his life and is now locking him in a jail cell. I wonder what he’s going to say, and how she’ll respond. . . oh. Oh no. No, I’m sure that wasn’t. . . Yes it was. That was a penis joke. A penis joke that fell into neither of the two acceptable categories of penis jokes, which are 1) a penis joke that, while still being a penis joke, simultaneously mocks the existence of penis jokes, a la Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog and 2) dick puns, a la season 7 of Supernatural, in which the main bad guy’s name was Dick Roman, and the writers had neither qualms nor shame in taking full advantage of that fact. *slams head repeatedly against wall asking WHY*
So, moving right along. Where was I? Oh, right, Mirkwood. So, in another instance of aforementioned Illogically Condensed Timeline, the Dwarves are imprisoned for several hours instead of several weeks, and it’s time to put them in barrels and escape. Whee!
Oh, look, Orcs who are not only out in daylight, but are apparently able to infiltrate an Elven stronghold. Right. HOW ABOUT NO.
Now, I’m pretty sure everything that happened with the barrels defies the laws of physics, but I’m more than willing to forgive it because it was just FUN. I mean, I was frustrated at first, but I reminded myself that they probably couldn’t get away with hiding the Dwarves from view like in the book, and then Thorin started being Extra Majestic, and then Bombur did the thing, and Legolas make sure to jump on as many Dwarven heads as he possibly could, and I was laughing and enjoying the fact that, FINALLY, there was a scene that was almost purely lighthearted and fun. So yes to the barrel shenanigans.
But ALL THE NOPE IN THE UNIVERSE TO THE MORGUL ARROW LIKE THERE IS NOTHING ABOUT THAT SITUATION THAT IS OK.
Peter Jackson and Co., lemme explain you a thing: the reason the Witch King’s blade was so dastardly was BECAUSE IT WAS WIELDED BY THE WITCH KING. I mean, it was still scary and evil even on its own, which is why they had to handle it carefully, but it could never have done what it did to Frodo if it had not been wielded by a Nazgûl. And even if it WAS the weapon itself, THE RINGWRAITHS DID NOT GO AROUND MAKING SPECIAL ARROWHEADS AND THEN PASSING THEM OUT TO RANDOM ORCS.
And then they have athelas growing in a part of Middle-Earth where (I’m pretty sure) it DOES NOT ACTUALLY GROW, not to mention Bofur somehow knowing what it was and that it could help when in fact the frelling HEALERS OF GONDOR DIDN’T KNOW.
In sum, this subplot turns me into a giant squid of anger because it is completely lacking in in-universe logic. One of the keys to successful speculative fiction is establishing the rules of your universe AND THEN FOLLOWING THEM. I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO EXPLAIN THIS TO THE PEOPLE WHO MADE LORD OF THE RINGS. WHAT. EVEN.
OK, so back with the plot, the Company escapes the Elves, and then we meet Bard. I LOVED Bard. I loved that they introduced him early, gave him a backstory and a personality. That was lovely. That is the kind of book-to-movie change that is 100% a good thing. All the awards. I also really liked the way they portrayed Laketown, even though that was also different from the book. I like that they emphasized how hard it is for the people to get by, between the Master being a selfish asshat and there just not being enough trade without Dale and the Mountain. Good stuff.
They also did a good job setting up the tensions that are going to lead to the Battle of Five Armies: Thorin wants the treasure because it’s his birthright, Thranduil wants some because. . . well, they didn’t actually explain that, and from the movie pretty much the only conclusion is that he likes bling (nevermind that pesky history between Elves and Dwarves or any of that business with the Nauglamir, which I’m pretty sure Thranduil was alive for; never mind that at all). The Master wants treasure because he’s a selfish, greedy, asshat, and the people of Laketown want commerce that will result from the treasure, because then they can feed their families and have nice things again.
By this point in the movie, I was so desperate to NOT hate stuff that I’m even kinda-sorta willing to give them a pass on the change to the way the Arkenstone is treated. I mean, we’re clearly going to end up where we need to with that, so I don’t mind (much, compared with the amount that I minded other stuff) that they gave it Dwarvish Cultural Significance in addition to the Personal Significance of Epic Proportions it had for Thorin. I mean, after all, it is the SHINIEST JEWEL THEY EVER SAW SHINE. I’m sorry, that was slightly uncalled for, but this rant has taken way longer than I meant it to (both in how long it is and in how long it’s taken me to write it), also it’s Friday, I’m tired, so the extra snark is apparently coming out to play. My blog, my rules.
Also on the list of tolerable changes: the Dwarves splitting up. That kinda-sorta happened in the book, and like I said, I really only had the energy to be angry at egregious sins (and one thing that you can mock me for which I will get to shortly) at this point, so whatever.
Naturally getting to the door had to be an Epic Race Against Time, and then be As Dramatic as Possible. It’s not like secret doors are already cool by themselves or anything. Personally I would have liked to see the Dwarves getting bored and trying to entertain themselves while they wait for Durin’s Day (like they had to in the book), but we’ve already seen how this movie feels about comic relief (something along the lines of: why be funny when we can have Daylight Orc Chase Scenes until the end of time?!).
So Bilbo goes in, and it’s not the one small tunnel that leads straight to where Smaug has made his Bed of ALL THE TREASURE like in the book; instead Bilbo has to, I don’t know, go exploring or something. Whatever. (Just kidding, more like WTF, but again, by this point I was/am so done that it was too much energy to be sufficiently, eloquently upset.)
With Smaug, let’s do the good stuff first: BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH DO YOU HAVE THE VOICE OF GOD?!? I mean REALLY, sounding that magnificent is just NOT NICE. And all the non-sarcastic gold stars to Martin Freeman as well, because his acting was, as always, perfect. All the one-on-one interactions between Bilbo and Smaug were excellent. I wonder if that could have anything to do with it being one of the few scenes left relatively unchanged from book to movie. . .
And now I’m going to be a dork and complain about something that nobody else cares about: Smaug only had two legs instead of four, and also in what universe is that color “red-gold”? This one I checked the book on: Smaug DEFINITELY is supposed to have four legs and two wings, not two legs and then use his wings like legs when he needs to. And the color on him? COME ON. I’m going to swear now. Like, with the f-word. If you don’t want to read the f-word, skip ahead to the next paragraph and then go tattle to my mom that I have a potty-mouth. OK, here goes: FIRST YOU COMPLETELY FUCK UP THE STORY, AND THEN YOU DESTROY THE PICTURE OF SMAUG I’VE HAD IN MY HEAD SINCE I WAS LIKE 9. AFTER THE DISASTER THAT IS THE PLOT OF THIS MOVIE, WAS QUALITY VISUALS ON THE DRAGON REALLY TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR? (Apologies, sort of, to the visual effects team, because Smaug’s movement and stuff was really cool. But for the legs and the color I cannot forgive you. Sorry.)
Meanwhile, back in Laketown where several things that I was already pissed at were converging: quick, we have to heal Kili! (See earlier rant about Morgul weapons and athelas.) Oh no, Orcs are attacking! (See earlier earlier rant about Orcs, who are not known for their sneakiness, suddenly being able to infiltrate ALL THE PLACES.) The healing scene was ridiculous and melodramatic and just NO. Even so, there were a couple of good things to come out of it: 1) We see that, like any good commander, Tauriel knows the people she fights with, both those under her command and those, like Legolas, who are her superiors. Therefore, she knows Legolas can handle the remaining Orcs without her help and trusts that he will do so. She is compassionate and values the lives of others, not to mention recognizing that a live ally, even if a member of a species generally disliked by her species, is better than a dead one. Thus, she stays to heal Kili. (Obviously if you ship them then you can add other reasons for why she did so, but I don’t so I’m not.) 2) That one Dwarf’s line about it being a privilege to witness Elvish healing. This is cool because it shows that, at least when away from Thorin’s prejudicial influence, the Dwarves are also capable of overcoming their history and making new friends, or at least allies, and learning to respect the way other species do things. I like. But the weird stuff with the light, especially since Tauriel is a Silvan elf, was just melodramatic overkill. Ugh.
Oh, I almost forgot to rant about the Super Special Black Arrows and the EVEN MORE Super Special Dwarven Weapon From Which We Shoot Them. NOT EVERY EFFECTUAL WEAPON IN THIS WORLD IS SPECIAL. (Admittedly, most of them are, but NOT IN THIS CASE.) In the book, Bard used a REGULAR BOW. And yeah, OK, it was his super-special lucky arrow, and he does refer to it as his black arrow, and the narrator speculates that it MIGHT have been forged in the Mountain. But mostly it’s just Ordinary Bard with his Ordinary Bow and his Personal Lucky Arrow and his Slightly-Above-Average Courage. Also help from the thrush, which as it turns out he can understand. Still, you get my point.
And then, back at the Mountain. I’m sorry, did you expect me to believe that DWARVES, who have HISTORY both PERSONAL and AS A SPECIES with dragons, thought that MOLTEN GOLD was going to slow Smaug down for more than five seconds?! DID YOU?!? Not to mention all the ridiculousness of them being able to work the forge, all that gold just conveniently being there, THORIN SURFING DOWN A RIVER OF MOLTEN GOLD I’M SORRY HOW ABOUT NO.
And then, as Smaug takes off to raze Laketown to the ground, this monstrosity was FINALLY over and I could go outside and scream the frustrated scream of a disappointed fangirl who really, really WANTED to like this movie and just COULD NOT.
Is it ridiculous that even after all that I still have hope for the third movie, because BATTLE OF FIVE ARMIES, Y’ALL.