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The Hobbit's unreal things

There be dragons

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and your money as Smaug’s hoard.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and your money as Smaug’s hoard.

My favorite moment in The Desolation of Smaug, part two of Peter Jackson’s epic expansion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s book The Hobbit, came when the titular hobbit and his thirteen dwarvish companions were buried under a load of fish. The moment provided humorous relief to a bit of mild tension, but that’s not why I liked it. I liked it because it felt real, unlike so much of the rest of the film. The dead, limp weight of the fish; their cold, slimy bodies; the dark stink of the burial; the simultaneous indignity and ingenuity of it — it all came through.

Jackson used to be quite good at conveying that feeling of reality, which is so crucial when you’re making a movie about trolls and dragons and wizards and other unreal things. It made it easier to bear with his (frequently tedious) flights into CGI-enabled fancy. But as his stay in the airy realms of fantasyland has grown longer, his tether to reality has frayed to the point where a load of fish constitutes the chief thread. It’s a pity.

Movie

Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

thumbnail

Peter Jackson continues his mad quest to transform a ripping children's book into an all-encompassing epic. The result is a road movie with entirely too much baggage, a slog through the mires of exposition and special effects. With all the dwarves, wizards, hobbits, orcs, wargs, elves, spiders, dragons, man-bears, enchanted forests, magic keyholes, prophecies, rings, arrows, gems, political themes, love stories, comic relief, fight scenes, and general spectacle Jackson has managed to cram in, he can hardly be blamed if there's not much room for character or felt life. Getting all the pieces in place, that's the main thing; motive and personality can be adjusted as the occasion warrants, and acting is often optional. But if you look closely, you might notice Martin Freeman doing his best with the titular role. And even if you close your eyes, you won't be able to help noticing Benedict Cumberbatch's booming, growling, rasping take on the dragon Smaug.

Find showtimes

The Desolation of Smaug opens with a bar scene: the wizard Gandalf and the dwarf king Thorin meeting at the Prancing Pony in the rain-soaked town of Bree. There, Gandalf urges Thorin to take back his homeland by uniting the dwarves under his rule; he is the true king, after all. Thorin reminds Gandalf that the dwarves swore allegiance only to the one who held the Arkenstone, which is dumb. You’ll swear allegiance to a guy, but only if he’s got a big fancy jewel? I’m pretty sure that by that point, you’re really swearing allegiance to a big fancy jewel. But dumb is pretty much the order of the day when plot and spectacle are put in charge of character. We need a reason to send a hobbit into a room with a dragon at the end, and so we need a special gewgaw for him to go after.

But never mind plot and spectacle; let’s stick with the Prancing Pony. That way, we can play the Desolation of Smaug drinking game. It’s sure to test your endurance, though not quite in the same way as the movie: every time Gandalf the Grey speaks portentously, take a drink.

Every time things hinge on a special gewgaw — ring, stone, arrow, whatever — instead of a character, take a drink.

Every time orcs are inserted to prop up flagging drama, take a drink. Every time the orcs stop attacking for some reason, take two drinks. (“The ten of you take word back to headquarters. You other two come with me and fight the elvish killing machines.” Makes sense!)

Every time the light looks like something from out of a Thomas Kinkade painting, take a drink.

Every time Jackson makes his camera swoop crazily about just because he can, take a drink to help steady your lurching stomach.

Every time someone mentions that the dwarves need to reach the door in the side of the mountain by Durin’s Day, take a drink.

Every time you see a living space — elvish or dwarvish — where no one would ever want to actually live, take a drink.

Every time the dialogue provides a clear setup for a big one-liner — “You have no right to enter that mountain.” “I have the only right.” “I thought you were an orc.” “If I were an orc, you would already be dead.” etc. — take a drink.

Every time you hear an anachronistic political notion put forward — dangers of isolationism, uprising of oppressed masses, etc. — take a drink.

Every time pretty elf girl Evangeline Lilly gets all actory, take a drink. (Trust me, I’m thinking of you here.)

Every time Legolas the elf fires a bow while rolling or jumping or leaping or running or looking the other way, take a drink.

Every time dwarves transform from bumbling goofs to awesome fighting machines or vice versa, take a drink.

Every time the dragon Smaug transforms from intelligent serpent to dumb, thrashing lizard or vice versa, take a drink.

The end result is that you’ll almost certainly be too damaged to appreciate the effort that Martin Freeman puts into his portrayal of Bilbo or to complain about Smaug’s bizarre decision-making process. All you’ll notice is that the dragon looks pretty darn cool, and he talks like Benedict Cumberbatch, and, yeah, he looks pretty cool.

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The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and your money as Smaug’s hoard.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and your money as Smaug’s hoard.

My favorite moment in The Desolation of Smaug, part two of Peter Jackson’s epic expansion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s book The Hobbit, came when the titular hobbit and his thirteen dwarvish companions were buried under a load of fish. The moment provided humorous relief to a bit of mild tension, but that’s not why I liked it. I liked it because it felt real, unlike so much of the rest of the film. The dead, limp weight of the fish; their cold, slimy bodies; the dark stink of the burial; the simultaneous indignity and ingenuity of it — it all came through.

Jackson used to be quite good at conveying that feeling of reality, which is so crucial when you’re making a movie about trolls and dragons and wizards and other unreal things. It made it easier to bear with his (frequently tedious) flights into CGI-enabled fancy. But as his stay in the airy realms of fantasyland has grown longer, his tether to reality has frayed to the point where a load of fish constitutes the chief thread. It’s a pity.

Movie

Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

thumbnail

Peter Jackson continues his mad quest to transform a ripping children's book into an all-encompassing epic. The result is a road movie with entirely too much baggage, a slog through the mires of exposition and special effects. With all the dwarves, wizards, hobbits, orcs, wargs, elves, spiders, dragons, man-bears, enchanted forests, magic keyholes, prophecies, rings, arrows, gems, political themes, love stories, comic relief, fight scenes, and general spectacle Jackson has managed to cram in, he can hardly be blamed if there's not much room for character or felt life. Getting all the pieces in place, that's the main thing; motive and personality can be adjusted as the occasion warrants, and acting is often optional. But if you look closely, you might notice Martin Freeman doing his best with the titular role. And even if you close your eyes, you won't be able to help noticing Benedict Cumberbatch's booming, growling, rasping take on the dragon Smaug.

Find showtimes

The Desolation of Smaug opens with a bar scene: the wizard Gandalf and the dwarf king Thorin meeting at the Prancing Pony in the rain-soaked town of Bree. There, Gandalf urges Thorin to take back his homeland by uniting the dwarves under his rule; he is the true king, after all. Thorin reminds Gandalf that the dwarves swore allegiance only to the one who held the Arkenstone, which is dumb. You’ll swear allegiance to a guy, but only if he’s got a big fancy jewel? I’m pretty sure that by that point, you’re really swearing allegiance to a big fancy jewel. But dumb is pretty much the order of the day when plot and spectacle are put in charge of character. We need a reason to send a hobbit into a room with a dragon at the end, and so we need a special gewgaw for him to go after.

But never mind plot and spectacle; let’s stick with the Prancing Pony. That way, we can play the Desolation of Smaug drinking game. It’s sure to test your endurance, though not quite in the same way as the movie: every time Gandalf the Grey speaks portentously, take a drink.

Every time things hinge on a special gewgaw — ring, stone, arrow, whatever — instead of a character, take a drink.

Every time orcs are inserted to prop up flagging drama, take a drink. Every time the orcs stop attacking for some reason, take two drinks. (“The ten of you take word back to headquarters. You other two come with me and fight the elvish killing machines.” Makes sense!)

Every time the light looks like something from out of a Thomas Kinkade painting, take a drink.

Every time Jackson makes his camera swoop crazily about just because he can, take a drink to help steady your lurching stomach.

Every time someone mentions that the dwarves need to reach the door in the side of the mountain by Durin’s Day, take a drink.

Every time you see a living space — elvish or dwarvish — where no one would ever want to actually live, take a drink.

Every time the dialogue provides a clear setup for a big one-liner — “You have no right to enter that mountain.” “I have the only right.” “I thought you were an orc.” “If I were an orc, you would already be dead.” etc. — take a drink.

Every time you hear an anachronistic political notion put forward — dangers of isolationism, uprising of oppressed masses, etc. — take a drink.

Every time pretty elf girl Evangeline Lilly gets all actory, take a drink. (Trust me, I’m thinking of you here.)

Every time Legolas the elf fires a bow while rolling or jumping or leaping or running or looking the other way, take a drink.

Every time dwarves transform from bumbling goofs to awesome fighting machines or vice versa, take a drink.

Every time the dragon Smaug transforms from intelligent serpent to dumb, thrashing lizard or vice versa, take a drink.

The end result is that you’ll almost certainly be too damaged to appreciate the effort that Martin Freeman puts into his portrayal of Bilbo or to complain about Smaug’s bizarre decision-making process. All you’ll notice is that the dragon looks pretty darn cool, and he talks like Benedict Cumberbatch, and, yeah, he looks pretty cool.

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Comments
5

It's 13 dwarfish companions. That's why Bilbo -- in the book -- tells Smaug "I'm the lucky number" among other titles.

Dec. 11, 2013

The thing about all of this Jackson-rapes-Tolkien stuff is… books used to be difficult or impossible to adapt into movies, because 2 or 3 hours wasn't enough to tell the story of a great book.

But Jackson gave himself something like ten hours for the Lord of the Rings and still messed it up.

He's giving himself about the same mount of time for The Hobbit, a much simpler, smaller tale than Lord of the Rings. And he's still messing it up!

He's either stupid, or he's a bastard who doesn't mind raping culture for cash. The latter seems more probable.

Dec. 11, 2013

$3 billion is $2 billion more than $1 billion. There, I just did the math. Plus, if you don't jam in the stuff from the appendices, you don't get to show Gandalf making his magic bubble.

Dec. 12, 2013

Sounds like the reviewer would have been happier to just skip the movie and head straight to the bar. No need to even hear about hobbits or dragons or special geegaws or special days named after Durin. Personally, I would love to know how much of the fish scene was actually CGI. Computers are good at taking a little of something and making the appearance of a lot of something, so whenever you see a lot of something in a movie nowadays you should be suspicious that a computer was involved somehow.

I'm not saying that being buried under a load of fish doesn't make a great scene, but I am asking when was the last time in real life that you saw anybody buried under a load of fish? It's not high on my list of common occurrences I can expect to see on any given day. Not only has Jackson lost touch with reality, so has the reviewer. But that's neither here nor there. I go to a fantasy movie to enjoy the surreality of it all, not the reality.

Dec. 12, 2013

I heard that China doesn't want to show the movie, due to their ongoing awful air pollution. They feel that a film with lots of Smaug in it just sends the wrong type of message!

Dec. 12, 2013

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