The Breakdown: Are the Hobbit movies really that bad? The Desolation of Smaug
Part 2 – The Desolation of Smaug
I ended my previous breakdown (that you can read here) with these words: “At the moment there are very little feelings involved; our wily band of lovable rogues and unkempt rapscallions are on a mission to steal treasure and kill a dragon. It takes very little to buy into this idea and requires no emotional investment beyond sitting in a seat and simply enjoying a movie.”
To be honest, I’m not too sure the same could be said for the second movie in the trilogy, often considered the best of the three (current sitting at 74% on Rotten Tomatoes). While An Unexpected Journey had very little content in it that ventured too far from the path of faithfulness, The Desolation of Smaug rolled up its sleeves and said, “Hold my beer” to the concept of sticking a middle finger up to the story.
In a way, that probably explains its broad appeal; it had action that was miles ahead of the previous movie, it introduced new likable characters (not in the original text), re-introduced us to beloved characters and, let’s be fair, that barrel scene was pretty darn rad.
And yet pockets of resistance to the movie’s existence seem to invade every corner of the internet. When you talk about The Hobbit movies among friends the general consensus is the franchise “Was just a soulless money making cash cow”. But was it really? I mean, aren’t all movies beyond indie cinema just reasons to make money? Is there anything redeemable at all about these movies? Let’s break them down to be sure.
The same issue persists in this movie as did in the first; who the hell am I looking at right now? Instead of names you begin to memorise your own apt descriptions: the fat one, the pirate one, dumbass, Gimli’s dad, the angry Scotsman. We know Thorin, but beyond that their names are mentioned so little that some of the main characters in the movie become completely inconsequential.
In a way it’s understandable. Jackson and co probably understood that audiences don’t have enough of an attention span to last through a single conversation without looking at their phone, so memorising the names of 13 dwarves is a herculean task akin to raising the Titanic.
These problems don’t go away in part 2 of the series, in fact they become compounded by the movie’s insistence on focussing on a love story with one singular dwarf. As a result, very little of the other party get any particular shine of a spotlight at all. I’m pretty sure old mate’s name is Kili, so therefore I’m assuming the blonde one with the moustache is probably Fili. But that’s really all you get in this movie.
Tauriel’s bizarre instant lady-boner
This is a weird one, not because of the inter-species love story (half breeds are common in the lore of the fantasy genre), but more so because of its sudden appearance like a bolt of lightning in a dark room.
We’re meant to believe that within 3.4 seconds of meeting each other, Tauriel and Kili have a bond so strong that the she-elf is willing to risk the wrath of her king to break curfew, battle with a horde of orcs and stick some herbs in his leg.
It’s not a totally unbelievable concept, but it plays into the hands of one of the big issues with this movie – the rapid fire narrative gun that is constantly shooting out new and exciting story elements so quickly that to move the tale along we have to accept every little detail as gospel within 2 seconds of seeing it.
“We’ve got something big planned later!” shouts Jackson, “So you’re going to accept this instant relationship whether you like it or not”.
I mean let’s break down everything that happened up until this point: Hiding from orcs, bear attack! Weird transforming man, Ring Wraiths, lost in Mirkwood, Spider attack! Saved and then captured by elves. All of this is within probably the first 40 mins of a three hour movie. It’s little wonder the audience needed to move on quickly, there was still nearly two and a half hours of movie to get to.
The silliness of prophecy
At some point huge fantasy and sci-fi epics like these always seem to devolve into a “Prophecy fulfilled” type of scenario. The Star Wars prequels instantly spring to mind; there is a prophecy among the Jedi that ‘one will bring balance to the force’, but all this did is for the audience was generate more questions than provide suitable explanations for: How long has this prophecy been around? Where did it come from? The idea of ‘prophecy’ in Star Wars seemingly managed to take us OUT of the Star Wars universe, instead of put us back in it. It’s something usually reserved for second rate children’s movies instead of A-grade Hollywood epics. The notion seemed to be completely unimportant to whether the events occurred or not: Anakin was ALWAYS going to be a Jedi, prophecy or not, because the other three movies already existed and we knew his fate.
So why am I bringing all this up? I mention it because at nearly two hours into this movie the concept of a ‘prophecy’ is suddenly dropped on us like a metric ton of dog turds from heaven. For what reason? I can’t exactly tell. Prophecy being fulfilled or not, the dwarves were ALWAYS going to reach the mountain. The prophecy’s revelation was told to us through the character of Bard, someone that suddenly remembers an ancient tapestry he had once seen at a rug shop.
Truth be told it added nothing to the story. It could easily be argued that it was the prophecy that rationalised Bard’s reluctance for the dwarves to continue on their mission, but it doesn’t take a convoluted plot point about prophecy to understand that waking up a dragon is a bad idea for everyone involved.
To be honest it takes the viewer out of the story and makes the whole narrative seem a little more childish. Quite simply it just didn’t even need to exist.
They ditched the songs
Probably for the best, really.
Legolas is an unfeeling, unstoppable killing machine
Let’s start talking about the good parts of this movie; action. The fluidity of the action is miles ahead of the previous LOTR movies and Legolas is a pretty great example of this. As an unflinching murder machine he simply needs to LOOK in the direction of an orc and it either loses its head or is skewered against a wall squealing in abject pain. His character upped the ante on previous outings and his existence in the latest trilogy I think was merely as a vehicle to provide action to plot devices that previously had nothing in them.
Arguments about faithfulness to text aside, I’m actually quite glad he made an appearance. Tauriel and Legolas’ mission to help the dwarves from orc raiders was the mainstay of action sequences throughout the movie. The dwarves themselves proved absolutely hopeless in a fight, as observed in their battle against the trolls in the first film and against spiders in the second. This was, afterall, the supposed lull period in the original story that featured very little in the way of action and only moved the story along through dialogue.
Arguments supporting Legolas’ exclusion from the trilogy seem to miss this point entirely: how exciting a movie could this be without every action sequence that occurred after the spider attack in Mirkwood? The dwarves would simply jump into some barrels, meet Bard at Laketown and then ferry across to the mountain. It doesn’t really do much for me in the way of excitement.
Bilbo, just put the fucking ring on
I mean, right? At least three quarters of the danger that Bilbo faced squaring off with Smaug could have easily been avoided by putting the damn ring on.
I spent at least 10 minutes sitting and screaming at the screen: “PUT THE FUCKING RING ON AND LEG IT YOU DUNCE”.
Considered the best of the three, I think our reaction to the movie is based largely on the mythos surrounding everyone else’s feelings towards the picture. What I mean is, much like Revenge of the Sith, I think our own reactions are based on the general public’s interpretation of the film. ROTS is universally considered the better of the three Star Wars prequels, but in reality, it’s just as inane and baffling as the other films that came before it.
The Desolation of Smaug exists in 2019 reviewed in the same manner: we’re comfortable with giving it a higher score because it’s generally considered to be the better of the trilogy. I’m not convinced.
While the action is ratcheted up to 11, we’re introduced to some plot points that do very little to drive the overall narrative: Tauriel’s insistence of copping some dwarven D’, a nonsensical prophecy and some uninteresting cloak-and-dagger type story points regarding Bard’s activities.
Like my previous summary of An Unexpected Journey, I don’t think summarising TDOS is going to be as easy as I thought. I honestly don’t agree with the haters that these movies never needed to exist, but I’m genuinely of the belief that some of the corny additions to the narrative made in this movie hinder it more than boost its value.
Unlike the original LOTR film trilogy, I don’t believe that The Hobbit movies will be as fondly remembered or even held to the same standards of the original three. LOTR, for all its cleanliness and awkward dialogue fumbles was genuinely a game changer to the concept of a Hollywood blockbuster. They proved that audiences have no problems with sitting still for upwards of three hours at a time if they’re engrossed into a world deep enough. For this reason LOTR will live forever as an epoch making film series.
So why make a new trilogy that doesn’t hold itself up to the standard of the three films that preceded it? Maybe the haters are right, perhaps it IS a cash cow; however the films are still fun and exciting enough to prove that even cash cows can be a somewhat enjoyable.
I don’t think, even after a second breakdown of the series, that we can truly say whether The Hobbit movies really are as bad as some people claim. Perhaps we just have to accept that more adventures in Tolkien’s world is better than no adventures at all.
For all the shitty aspects of the trilogy, perhaps we just have to come to the ultimate realisation that something is better than nothing. Without the success of The Hobbit, we probably wouldn’t have the momentum building behind a Lord of the Rings television series, something that promises to be as big and bold as the original film trilogy itself.
To be fair there’s still one more film in the series to re-watch and break down, but from what I remember of the movie I’m not too sure my feelings will change drastically from the summary you’re reading right now.
Sure, this movie could have been better or done differently, but it exists and at the end of the day it’s pretty fun. Let’s just roll with that.
- Andrew Archer