For this post, we’ve decided to do something a bit different. Wolff, frequent contributor to the blog, reviewed An Unexpected Journey last year, so this year she’s back to help me out with The Desolation of Smaug. At the end of the last installment, Biblo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and the dwarves all barely escaped death with the goal of their quest in sight. Still fleeing the Orcs they continue on their quest which leads them to Beorn (Mikael Persbrant) the skin-walker, the spiders of Mirkwood, the woodland Elves (some of whom may look familiar), Laketown, and eventually to Erebor where Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) awaits.
Hunter: So, first off, I’ll ask you the question that I don’t have an answer to, how does the film compare to the book?
Wolff: Well plot-wise the movie follows pretty well, but there are a lot more action sequences that are tacked on to both extend the movie and make it more interesting. They’ve added Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and we see more “adventures of Gandalf” that was not in the original book. Not that I’m complaining too loudly, they did a fair job with it considering they had to extend roughly 100 pages into a 3 hour movie.
Hunter: Yeah, I really don’t get why they have to make these things so long. That really is my biggest complaint with them. They try my patience a bit. The first one took me three or four days to finish, and it was hard to keep awake towards the end of this one (I saw it at midnight so that’s why). It’s not like the films are devoid of action or plot/character development so there is something to pay attention to, they succeed in making them all three hours but I’m not sure if it’s justified? I like long movies in general, but what are they accomplishing by lengthening these that makes them preferable to a regular two hour film?
Wolff: Well the first and most realistic answer I can give is money. Money makes the world go ‘round after all. But they are most likely going for an epic scale, like Lord of the Rings was on, working on drawing comparisons between the two to sell more tickets and more DVDs if they can get more people into the franchise. Though, seeing where they ended this film and looking at the additional plot that they have to wrap up, it really seems to me like they are going to have to compress in the third movie rather than expand. There is a lot of action that takes place in the last part that I have the sneaking suspicion they are not going to glaze over like Tolkien did.
Hunter: Well, yeah, money of course. That’s interesting, because I’m sure they’ll still be able to make it three hours so unless you read the book you wouldn’t necessarily know that they had taken stuff out. If they don’t end up making a five hour movie of course.
They do stuff a lot of plot lines into these movies, though, and I think that ends up crowding Bilbo somewhat. I feel like he’s the only character who really develops. I suppose the dwarves do as well to some extent, but to be honest, I’d rather the films focused on Bilbo more.
Wolff: Well that’s an interesting point, what did you think of the relationship that seems to be developing between Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel?
Hunter: Yeah, I definitely would have taken some of that out. When he was in prison and they were talking and pissing off Legolas (Orlando Bloom), I would have kept that in because it was funny, but the story really doesn’t need the two of them to follow the dwarves and have Kili get injured etc etc… If I was going to cut something out that’s the first thing that would go. Probably some the politics of Laketown would go out as well, even though that had Stephen Fry who was pretty hilarious, but that didn’t seem as necessary. Maybe cut out Gandalf’s side adventures which were not in the book, but Gandalf’s my favorite so I probably wouldn’t want to do that! I gotta say that image near the end with him in the cage was pretty powerful.
Wolff: Well funnily enough, everything you just talked about cutting was not in the original book. I think the Gandalf bits are part of the effort to connect this series with the Lord of the Rings movies, obviously Sauron was the baddie in those and this is supposed to be the prequel. And I really feel that Tauriel and Kili was supposed to be in an effort to reach a female audience, though they did manage to get in another LotR reference (Kingsfoil? That’s a weed!). If we’re going to talk about extensions, what did you think of the confrontation with Smaug?
Hunter: Now, I’m glad you mentioned that because Benedict Cumberbatch providing the voice (and the motion capture!) for the dragon is the biggest reason why I tried to get into these movies! Unfortunately, it’s not why I’m going to stay with them though, that’s more because of Bilbo and Gandalf. But back to your question, I thought that confrontation scene was way too long. I should have put that in the list of things I would have cut out, but obviously I would have cut it down and not out completely. Really pretentious experimental film analogy for a second: I went to the MFA once and saw this film thing where the artist took the climax of some old movie and lengthened it out until it became meaningless. That’s kind of what happened here. Especially after showing Smaug for only a few seconds in the trailer, and waiting to hear his voice for so long. They gave us too much once it finally came. And I felt like what he was saying for the most part was pretty ridiculous, so I lost interest in that confrontation pretty fast. This could also be because this was like 2 in the morning though.
Wolff: I absolutely get where you’re coming from, they did draw that out a bit, then to the battle sequence etc. But of course even though it’s been drawn out, everyone is left hanging at the end still! Peter Jackson I see what you’re doing! But on to different things. One of my complaints with the last film was what I felt was gratuitous use of CGI. In this one it didn’t bother me as much, either because I didn’t notice it or because there were less CG characters (probably a little of both), but the animation I did see, Smaug and the spiders, looked really, really good. What did you think?
Hunter: A lot of people I saw it with were complaining about the CGI, but I thought it was great. I wasn’t distracted by it at all, and I thought it looked as natural as it could, given that it’s a fantasy film. It’s not supposed to look real, you know? I thought the film looked great, and I might be wrong, but I think in using CGI they were able to (I’m not entirely sure how this works; I’m sort of going out on a limb here) simulate more shots where the camera moves into the action in really interesting ways. David Fincher did this in Panic Room when he moved the camera through keyholes, but obviously it was all CGI because the camera can’t fit! I think Jackson was doing some of that here and in the first film, but no matter how it was achieved I really liked the effect.
Wolff: I agree with you on that, some of the camera shots obviously couldn’t have been achieved with a real camera, but were incredibly awesome when pulled off, so no complaints there. One last item, before we run the risk of this post being as long as the movie, the theme of corruption and greed in this film. There were a couple scenes that really set up a certain action that Bilbo takes in the last part in a way that the book never did, and I must once again give credit to Martin Freeman’s incredible ability to convey his thoughts without saying a word. That, ladies and gentlemen, is acting done right. I’m specifically talking about the scene in Mirkwood, when Bilbo realizes what the ring is turning him into, and his conversation with Smaug in which Bilbo begins to realize the possible detriments of actually giving Thorin (Richard Armitage) the Arkenstone.
Hunter: Yeah, that goes back to what I was saying about how they should make Bilbo more of the main character, because he’s getting all of this development and it’s getting crowded with other stuff that is not as powerful or interesting. Both of those moments you mentioned are pretty great, and every time he gets into a fight you can see him questioning his actions a bit. And he didn’t even want to go on the quest at first! Freeman’s doing a great job with the part, I agree.
Final thoughts: the picture ran a bit too long, but not long enough to sink it. The length comes with the territory, as well as the lengthy action and dialogue scenes. The extra plot lines get in the way a bit, but the film looks amazing and is acted well, so you’re not going to be wasting your time on this one. It’s clearly set up for the third film, and we’re both waiting anxiously until next year.
“I found something in the goblin tunnels…my courage.”
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