Reviews
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: A Visual Treat
HobbitTheDesolationofSmaug1

Image: Warner Brothers Studios.

This weekend my family saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug*. We didn’t watch it in IMAX nor did we choose to watch it in 3D, although there are some scenes which would have been more fun in 3D. Unfortunately, we arrived at the theater a little later than we should have and so even in the regular showing, we had to sit in the very front of the auditorium, practically looking straight up at the enormous screen.

*How do you pronounce it? “Smog” or “Smow-g?” After years of simply seeing the word in print, I was somewhat surprised at how many variations there can be to pronouncing the name of the dragon.

I went in to this entire trilogy as a skeptic about Peter Jackson’s decision to convert J.R.R. Tolkien’s shortest novel to a three-part trilogy. I’m a big fan of the books, so since 2001, I’ve been watching the movies while concurrently remembering the books in my mind. I came out of the theater after this movie feeling just as skeptical about the movie adaptation but for slightly different reasons. But, at least, I’m now convinced he can turn this into three movies.

I’ll cover the cinematography, creative liberties taken in the storyline, and then address concerns parents might have about taking their kids to this film.

Cinematography and Design

In terms of the cinematography, it was at least as beautiful as all of its predecessor films in the series. I will never grow tired of seeing that New Zealand landscape in the enormous panoramic scenes. Nor will I tire of Howard Shore’s wonderful music, particularly the flute and violin solos heard in the themes from the Shire.

In the 12 years since Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring came out, the advances in CGI technology are apparent. You will see evidence of this with the stunning detail in Smaug himself, as well as with the visually gorgeous settings in locations such as the Woodland Elves’ city on the edge of Mirkwood.

Smaug is incredible. I think they did an outstanding job conveying the size and incredible details that Tolkien invested in the pages of the original novel. They effectively captured the “red-golden” color, the “wings folded like an immeasurable bat”, and “the large patch on the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell”. For those eagerly awaiting Benedict Cumberbatch’s eloquent voice…well, it’s not going to be what you think.

If you’ve seen and enjoyed the other films in the series thus far, you will certainly not be disappointed in the visuals.

The costumes and makeup continue to absolutely wow me every time as well. It’s no wonder the design teams for these categories are consistently nominated for, and have previously won, Oscars for their artistry.

(Stay tuned for a review of the book The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design, which includes hundreds of accounts by the set and costume designers.)

Things started to diverge as the story progressed in this film. I will need to describe some scenes such that there will be spoilers, but I promise not to include significant story details. Scroll along if you’re okay with this. In the meantime, enjoy a poster of Thorin Oakenshield to bide the time.

thorin

Image: Warner Brothers  Studio

The Spiders

All was well in the movie from Beorn’s house to entering Mirkwood. Then I noticed that the spider scene seemed short, and the barrel scene seemed incredibly long and unrealistic. I’m not completely sure why they chose not to include a larger battle with the spiders that involved all of the dwarves. Instead, it all seemed very hurried, as if they were in a rush to bring Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly into the story.

Is that really Orlando Bloom?

Be prepared for a different kind of Elf than what was experienced in the first three Lord of the Ring movies and the LOTR novels. You saw a glimpse of it when you watched Gimli and Legolas bickering in the original trilogy (although they ultimately became good friends). These Elves aren’t as gracious or quite as elegant as the Rivendell Elves. You’re going to want to toss Thranduil out the window because he’s such a jerk.

The three adults in my party wavered back and forth on whether that was actually Orlando Bloom in the film. I knew he was in the cast, and I knew when he was in a conversation in the movie since he was being called “Legolas”…but it did not look like him. He looked so much older, which got my knickers in such a knot because The Hobbit is a backstory. Why didn’t they CGI the youth back into him?

Legolas isn’t in the original novel at all. So why is he in the movie? If you’ve read the novels, you know that Legolas is the son of Thranduil, the Elvenking of the Woodland Realm. Legolas was serving as a messenger to Rivendell when he became involved in the Fellowship of the Ring. Therefore, Jackson and his team felt that Legolas could fit into the storyline perfectly well and so those of us who loved seeing his nimble feet and lightning-quick archery could continue to swoon.

Tauriel, the Elven Badass

Tauriel, played by Lost star Evangeline Lilly, is an entirely original creation for the movie. It’s no secret that Tauriel was inserted into the storyline for a deliberate strong female lead and I will attest that viewers will not be disappointed in her strength. Pay attention to the dialogue and you will learn that she has a romantic interest in Legolas but Thranduil warns her that she’s a “common soldier” who cannot get involved with the son of the Elvenking. She also has a flirtation with the Dwarf Kili.

Lilly does an awesome job portraying a badass warrior Elf. It was reported that she performed her own stunts, and as I’d said already, you will not be disappointed.

The Eternal Barrel Scene

Chapter 9 of The Hobbit is titled “Barrels Out of Bond”, and it’s about Bilbo rescuing the dwarves from being held as Thranduil’s prisoners. Bilbo devises a genius escape by packing the dwarves into wine barrels and sending them down through a trap door into the Forest River.

In the film version, a pack of Orcs with orders to kill the Dwarves intercepts the barrels in the river and a battle takes place between the Dwarves, Orcs, and Elves. Cinematography-wise, the battle is downright fun to watch: Elves are spritely hopping back and forth across the river on the heads of the Dwarves in the barrels, Orcs’ heads are flying off (that’s a fun scene to see in 3D, since one of the heads flies right towards you!), and the Dwarves are popping in and out of the barrels lopping off Orcs’ limbs. This goes on for several minutes; as fun as it is to watch, this didn’t happen in the book.

Yes, in the novel the Dwarves were cast into the river in barrels, but they were sealed barrels, while Bilbo alone was floating down the river exposed to the water. The book scene is pretty straightforward: the barrels float down the river to the town without incident.

In order to have this great battle, the film version needed all of the Dwarves available to fight. This scene in the book is so mundane, after Bilbo comes ashore, that Tolkien writes, “There is no need to tell you much of his adventures that night, for now we are drawing near the end of the eastward journey and coming to the last and greatest adventure, so we must hurry on.”

Bard the Single Dad

The great hero, Bard, is introduced earlier in the story. He becomes a major player in Lake-town earlier on in the film chronology. Bard (played by Welsh actor Luke Evans) has a well-thought out backstory that includes a considerable amount of ethos for the collapsed economy of the town due to Smaug’s takeover of Lonely Mountain. Bard also is a single father to three children who seem to take care of him as much as he tries to take care of them.

Those who have read the book know what Bard goes on to do, and I do hope Jackson’s team continues to give him the treatment he deserves in the final installment of the trilogy.

Should Kids Go to See This Film?

I brought my 8- and-11-year-old sons to the movie; my 11-year-old has read The Hobbit and my 8-year-old had started it but hasn’t finished. So I felt they would be okay with some of the battle scenes. They enjoyed the movie immensely.

I’m not sure I’d be comfortable taking my sons if they were any younger. If you have concerns about extreme violence or adult themes, here are some thoughts that might help one make a decision, and GeekDad has a review with more details.

  • The spiders toward the beginning of the film are quite large, realistic looking, and vicious. There are vivid, close up scenes of Bilbo killing them, and scenes of all of the Dwarves fighting the spiders in a collective melee. No blood, but there’s no doubt that the spiders are dying.
  • There are Orcs in this movie. Many of them, and they are more vicious than the spiders. They don’t say kind things, they’re grossly scary-looking, and they kill without remorse. You will see multiple instances of the Orcs themselves getting limbs chopped off and decapitated by Elves and Dwarves. If it’s in 3D, prepare kids for the heads flying off the screen towards you.
  • There isn’t any significant romance, such as what you might have seen between Arwen and Aragorn in the original LOTR trilogy. However, be prepared for a flirtation, then compassion, between the female Elf Tauriel and Dwarf Kili. It starts with Tauriel placing the Dwarves in their respective prison cells and Kili suggesting that Tauriel search his trousers. Tauriel’s retort is awesome! As the movie continues, you will see Kili awakening from a fever to see Tauriel looking over him and he’s clearly in love. Other than the dialogue about the trousers, the purported romance is quite harmless.
  • The movie is 161 minutes. This might be the longest movie my sons have ever sat through, yet they did it without complaint. Keep this in mind if you are considering bringing preschoolers.

Conclusions

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a visual treat.

However, if you have read the book, prepare yourself for some divergent plot lines, such as the introduction of Legolas and Tauriel, and Orcs chasing Bilbo and the Dwarves across Middle Earth.

The crew paid significant respect to J.R.R. Tolkien’s descriptions of key settings and characters, and they carried out the storyline adequately—although with quite a bit of creative license. My family enjoyed the movie, despite its deviations from Tolkien’s novel.

Use your judgement when deciding whether to take elementary-school-aged or younger children to the film, it’s appropriately rated PG-13 and can be rather long for younger ones.

Patricia Vollmer

Patricia Vollmer is a geeky meteorologist mother of two emerging geek sons, ages 9 & 11. She is a proud U.S. Air Force wife and part time Air Force Reservist who blogs about her family's military life at Ground Control to Major Mom. Home is always where the Air Force sends her family, which for now is in Colorado Springs, Colorado (her 8th home in 18 years). Hobbies include running, playing her violin, needlecrafts and exploring the world with her boys.

3 Comments
Sarah Pinault

December 27, 2013 2:52 pm Reply

Ah but was the horrid Radagast story featured in the second part?

    Patricia Vollmer
    Patricia Vollmer

    December 29, 2013 10:55 am Reply

    No — it isn’t Radagast that enters Dol Guldur like in the book. (Is that what you meant?) It’s Gandalf. I didn’t delve too deeply into those plot-changes because I still need to re-read those parts of the book to understand the differences completely.

    Or are you asking if Radagast in the film still pulled around by rabbits and has bird poop dripping down his face? If so, the answer is “Yes.”

    :-)

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