Having just finished a midnight showing of the latest Tolkien movie by Peter Jackson, and having smoked my trusty pipe of course, I’m ready to give you The Desolation of Smaug first impressions piece. First, some background on my relationship to The Hobbit. I love The Hobbit much more than The Lord of the Rings. The story is a to-the-point adventure that the average reader could fully consume in one day. I found a paperback copy in High School and immediately remembered reading an excerpt in a Grade School English book. (The particular excerpt was Bilbo and Smaug’s conversation in Erebor, which is featured in this latest movie.) I faithfully re-read The Hobbit every couple years because it is just that good. Knowing the story and its pacing so well, I thought that the original option for two movies was a good idea, but that the addition of a third might be stretching things quite a bit. Well, that’s enough background, let’s get on to the real review here…
The Desolation of Smaug First Impressions … or
The main heroes have some funny misadventures (featuring The Legolas Show and Gandalf versus The Army of Darkness)
It becomes quickly apparent that the writers and director desperately wanted Orlando Bloom to be in this movie. So, in pops Legolas, weighing about 75 pounds more than he did during The Lord of the Rings. I am not convinced this was the best casting choice for the character.
I’m somehow supposed to believe that Legolas is going to lose weight, look younger, and have a younger disposition over the next 60 years. Right. Don’t get me wrong, Legolas belongs in the movie. He was definitely there during the events, but he didn’t need to try to steal the movie from the actual heroes and he didn’t necessarily have to be portrayed by Orlando Bloom.
Before I move on to Gandalf versus the Army of Darkness, I should mention that I was one of those whining fans irritated that Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Wight dens weren’t in the Fellowship of the Ring movie. The excuses used for Old Tom were: “The main reason is not just time or pace, but one of simple narrative focus … the Bombadil sequence has so little to do with Sauron or the Ring, it is difficult to justify the screen time.” – Peter Jackson and “Tom Bombadil is part of several false starts to Frodo’s journey, and you cannot have things happening quite so episodically; that’s not what storytelling is all about.” – Philippa Boyens (I’ll come back to those statements)
Gandalf versus the Army of Darkness
One of the most distracting things about the second half of the movie was that we had to follow Gandalf’s story in addition to our main heroes. You remember the main heroes, right? Bilbo, Thorin, and his company of dwarves. The Necromancer of Dol Guldur is in fact Sauron, but it is certainly not revealed in the Hobbit. And yet, we get constantly torn away from the main story to find out that Gandalf is discovering and fighting Sauron. The fight scene is one of those scenes where you just know that they put it in to show off some cool special effects.
So, despite those statements that Jackson and Boyens made regarding The Lord of the Rings, they seem to have overcome their adversity to episodic storytelling and thrown off the shackles of simple narrative focus. Worry not, my review isn’t all negative. Remember that Grade School connection to The Hobbit? Well, that dialogue scene between Bilbo and Smaug was pure magic. I was on the edge of my seat being washed over with emotion and memory. Oh yeah, and Smaug? Gorgeous! Very well voiced too. Other than Treebeard, Smaug may be the best of Tolkiens characters to come to life.
I highly recommend reading The Hobbit, if you haven’t already, before the next movie hits theaters next summer. You’ll find a simple, straight forward adventure that isn’t confusing or riddled with several subplots. As far as my The Desolation of Smaug first impressions are concerned, stay away unless you’re a Tolkien fan. My family are pretty big Tolkienites and we won’t be seeing it in theaters again. Instead, we’ll be waiting for some super extended blu-ray edition of all three movies next year for a marathon watching session. If you’ve seen the movie, tell us what you think in the comments below.