So the other day, we decided to go to see ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ in the actual cinema.
I was hoping we’d get a chance to catch it on the big screen, because let’s be honest here. ‘The Hobbit’ is the sort of movie you need to see splashed all over a massive canvas. I really enjoyed the first Hobbit movie, even though I only saw it on DVD, and I’ve been fangirling about the sequel now for quite some time.
Oh, and before I carry on, I’d better clarify something: I was one of those mumble-grumble ‘The Hobbit shouldn’t be three movies, what on earth is Peter Jackson thinking?’ purists when I first heard about the plan to turn this tiny book into a trilogy of blockbusters. Now, however, I have eaten my words with a side order of humble pie, to go. Peter Jackson is a genius, and I cannot wait for the final movie.
**Please note: I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but consider yourself warned…**
‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is brilliant. I can only sum it up by recounting the fact that my husband remarked ‘that didn’t feel like three hours, did it?’ as we were leaving; he is – as he is in most things, of course – entirely correct. This epic movie zoomed along so quickly that by the end I was left clawing for more, let alone thinking ‘Man. What a painfully obvious money-grabbing, story-padding exercise that was.’
Things I thought would annoy me, like the creation of an entirely new character, Tauriel – who is more important to the plot of the movie than some of the characters from the original book – didn’t end up bothering me at all. Tauriel herself was, I thought, a brilliant character, skilfully portrayed. Tolkien, much as I love him, wasn’t too big on the whole ‘writing parts for women’ thing, so I have no problem with Peter Jackson trying to even up the balance a bit. Tolkien, as a medievalist, wrote his stories in the same vein as the epics – wherein the important thing is the comitatus, or the group of (male) warriors who fight together and the bond between them, not the relationships between men and women – and so it’s to be expected that women don’t do a lot in his canon. Tauriel fights as well as any of the male characters, she’s brave enough to make a choice that genuinely feels conflicted and challenging during the course of the story, and she (potentially) sacrifices something very precious to her in order to remain true to who she is.
The only irritating thing about her is that she is, to an extent, defined by the men in her life – but I don’t want to get too spoilery here.
I was, admittedly, slightly annoyed by another thing, which was the pronunciation of ‘Smaug’. I have been saying this word inside my head for over twenty years now, and I’ve always said it like a Bostonian saying ‘smog’, with a long vowel sound in the middle of the word. Apparently, however, that’s wrong. It should be ‘Smowg,’ according to these guys. Luckily, I got used to it fairly quickly – but he’ll always be ‘Smawwwwwwg’ to me.
The film also drew a lot of criticism for featuring a character from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ who doesn’t appear (as far as I remember, though it has been many years since I last read ‘The Hobbit’) in the original book – I’m talking, of course, about Legolas.
I actually had no problem with this character making a reappearance, mainly because he was always my favourite character anyway – and, yes, this goes back to my reading of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as a twelve-year-old, and has nothing to do with the movies – and I think his portrayal in ‘The Hobbit’ gives a fascinating layer to the character. In ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Legolas is a preternaturally skilled fighter, of course, and a vital member of the Fellowship, but he seems detached and cool and always utterly, remarkably calm. He’s an elf, of course, so this isn’t unusual – they’re not given to huge explosions of emotion – but even so, Legolas seemed a little too graceful and perfect to be relatable or real.
This is not so in ‘The Hobbit.’ In this newer movie, we see a different Legolas – we see him as he originally was, the Prince of Mirkwood, an important character in the ‘LOTR’ universe in his own right. He is rash, impetuous, angry, even arrogant, and I thought that was amazing. He still fights like a whirlwind, but in one excellent scene he comes up against a foe who does not bow before him like a blade of grass in a stiff wind. It was nice, in a strange way, to see Legolas not have everything his own way for once – it’s hard to get behind a hero when all they touch turns to gold. Seeing Legolas struggle made him a far more sympathetic character, and I really enjoyed his portrayal in this film.
Then, of course, there were the dwarves (to use Tolkien’s own spelling!), who are the best part of the movie. Bombur, in particular, was my favourite.
Bumbling but brilliant, and brave to his bones, old Bombur stole the show for me. The dwarves aren’t exactly how I pictured them as a reader of Tolkien – some of them are far too handsome, for a start! – but they work flawlessly in the movie all the same. The scene where they are attempting to escape from Mirkwood by floating down a river hidden in barrels is one of the best things I’ve seen on a cinema screen, ever.
So, anyway. If you do one thing this weekend, yada yada. Check out ‘The Hobbit.’ I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s a slice of cinematic wonder.