Disappointment in Middle Earth: A Desolation of Smaug Review

Warning: small spoilers for the film lie ahead, although not of major plot points (honestly though, go read the book if you’re worried about spoilers. It’s awesome)

I’m the first to admit that I am a Tolkien nerd. Case in point:

  • I have managed to read The Silmarillion without dissolving into tears or spontaneously passing out from boredom
  • For the entire cinematic release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I dragged my friends to see each movie on my birthday (my birthday is in late December) and then ended up seeing each movie at least two more times by myself
  • I have marathoned the extended edition DVDs
  • I sometimes find myself chanting The Black Speech of Mordor at people who irritate me

    TAKE THAT GUY WHO CUT ME OFF IN TRAFFIC

    TAKE THAT GUY WHO CUT ME OFF IN TRAFFIC

  • I can speak a little Elvish and enjoy yelling it at unwitting passerby and/or my dogs
  • I have been told that my Gollum impression is both terrifyingly accurate and terrifying. I once made my former pastor’s small daughter cry because she heard me do it. I may be going to Hell for this act
  • I own The One Ring and I do my Gollum impression each and every time I put it on. EACH AND EVERY TIME

My love for Tolkien doesn’t stop at The Lord of the Rings though and I did actually read the books before the movies came out so my obsession isn’t exclusively tied to the film versions.

I’ve been in love with Middle Earth since I was a five-year old sitting at the end of my Dad’s bed and listening to him read me The Hobbit, forcing him to skip to the parts that featured Smaug the Dragon. I’ve read the book many times on my own since then and I’ve never really stopped loving it. It was my first introduction into the world of sci-fi and fantasy, my first step into a world inhabited by Ray Bradbury and C.S. Lewis. In turn, I obviously adored Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. I still do and I’m still irritate friends and family alike by reciting the lines as the actors on-screen speak them. Needless to say, I’ve had many pillows launched at my face while watching the movies with other people.

With all of this in mind, I was thrilled when I first heard that there would be an adaptation of The Hobbit. I was equally excited by the original attachment of Guillermo del Toro to the project because, come on, I adore him. I was still excited when I heard Peter Jackson would be directing instead. I was excited when I walked in to see the first film. I was mildly upset but still kind of happy when I walked out. Now, having just finished watching the second film in the completely needless trilogy, I’m pissed off and world-weary.

It’s not that The Desolation of Smaug is a bad movie. It’s not. It’s got all the usual awesome trappings of a Jackson film. Middle Earth (or New Zealand) is still as beautiful as ever. Our characters are still as convincingly outfitted. The chain mail is still beautifully intricate. Howard Shore’s score still makes me want to hunt some orc. I still have a mild crush on Orlando Bloom. In some ways, all is well in Middle Earth.

Me and Leggy here go way back.

Me and Leggy here go way back.

However, there is a lot more about this film that disappointed and angered me. This entire trilogy feels like such a lost opportunity on Jackson’s part it makes me want to cry.

First of all, I was very wary when I heard they were going to make it a trilogy. It seemed like a cash grab and I knew there was no way the thin plot of The Hobbit could be turned into a loyal adaptation. I had some hope that whatever the screenwriters came up with would still be great and Tolkienesque. I had hope that they would draw from Tolkien’s extensive writings on Middle Earth and still make the trilogy idea work.

It seems as though my hope was for naught. Oddly enough, this movie felt too busy even as it drew so little from the actual book it’s based on. There are some awesome parts of the book brought to life to be sure. Mirkwood is beautiful. Smaug is amazing and glorious and everything my five-year-old mind imagined. The spiders were scary. The Necromancer is terrifying and the big reveal as to his real identity is both well done and fills in the gaps Tolkien left as a result of this book being a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. I also really like the addition of Azog the Defiler.

However, more often than not, the plot lines and stories the screenwriters have come up with to fill up space and stretch the book’s plot felt useless and busy. Because characters that weren’t in the book are a part of this movie and because characters are forced into situations they weren’t in the book (cough cough Legolas) everything ends up feeling forced and fake. It seems as though there are fourteen plots playing out at once and, in an attempt to stretch a children’s book over three movies, audience interest and the story alike unravel.

Characters make weird decisions that make no sense in the context of the plot itself. The new character I was most excited about, Tauriel, is at least somewhat reduced into a way to introduce romance into a story that doesn’t need it. I got to see an awesome female elf kick-ass sure, but I was also forced to watch her participate in a really pointless and badly executed love triangle.

This movie thrives on introducing conflict just for the sake of conflict. There’s class struggle in Laketown. There’s a sick dwarf who might die. There’s an evil guy with a unibrow. Legolas doesn’t want to lose his crush to a dwarf. It’s all kind of pointless.

One of the many reasons I loved The Lord of the Rings is because I cared so much about the characters and their quest. Tolkien’s work was handled gracefully and clearly and adapted more or less loyally. This movie, however, doesn’t do that. Because so much has been added to the plot that wasn’t written by Tolkien, the shoddiness of that writing is so much clearer when compared to scenes actually adapted from the book. It almost feels like watching two different movies at the same time. It’s evident when something doesn’t belong, when something wasn’t written by Tolkien.

It’s most evident in the drawn out and kind of dull fight scenes littered throughout the movie. The famous barrel scene from the book becomes one more fight scene. Legolas fights a giant orc for no apparent reason and five minutes of screen time is taken off on watching him do this. Tolkien’s clever scenes with Smaug boil down into a sometimes confusing, over dramatic scene where the dwarves throw molten gold and giant rocks at the dragon.

In the midst of Jackson attempting to recreate the feel of the original trilogy, it feels as though all the childish whimsy and genuine fun that is a huge part of the book’s appeal is getting lost. It’s becoming just one more action film, just one more big budget CGI blowout. There’s some missing here and I’d say it’s Tolkien himself. His hand, so evident in the adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is almost non-existent here. And that pisses me off.

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4 thoughts on “Disappointment in Middle Earth: A Desolation of Smaug Review

    • I would still go if I were you. While it made me mad as a Tolkien fan, it’s still a somewhat enjoyable movie. Like I said, it’s not bad. It’s just not really loyal to the book in a lot of ways. And I’ve talked to Tolkien fans who really liked it too. I have read Farmer Giles and a few of the other extended Middle Earth tales. He was such a great world builder!

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