Saturday, October 8, 2016

'The Hobbit' extended in a three-day event: part 2

Last year on this date last year I posted the following review (very slightly edited here) on You can read my review of the first movie here: 'The Hobbit' extended in a three-day event: part 1.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug extended edition

Wednesday, Fathom Events continued their special screenings of the "Hobbit" movies, this time showing the extended version of "The Desolation of Smaug" on the big screen in select theaters. The series will culminate in the world premiere of the extended version of "The Battle of the Five Amies" next Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m. local time. For a location near you, visit the Fathom Events website.

Wednesday's movie was the same same version as the DVD and Blu-ray extended edition which was released in November of 2014. The extended version of "Desolation" does not just make the movie longer, but fleshes out some parts which were rather sketchy in the theatrical cut. Jackson doesn’t just wedge in more footage. He rearranges scenes, making this more of a “Director’s Cut” than any of the previous extended Middle-earth films.

The dialog in both versions of the film (before the sneak peak of Smaug waking in his lair) ends with Bilbo's line, "What have we done?" It's easy for fans to imagine Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh , and Philippa Boyens asking themselves that question as they finalized the script for "The Desolation of Smaug." Indeed. What have they done?

In "The Two Towers," after Sam helps Frodo break free from the apparent influence of the Nazgul while they are in Osgiliath, Frodo slumps down in despair and says, “I can’t do this, Sam.” Sam’s response begins with the words which many Tolkien aficionados have taken as a nod to them: "I know. It’s all wrong. By all rights we shouldn’t even be here!"(In the book Frodo and Sam never come close to Osgiliath.) Sam goes on to muse about why the people in the “old stories” kept going even when all seemed lost. He concludes it was because they are holding on to the belief

That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

Fighting seems to be the emphasis in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth. "The Desolation" is basically one big fight from beginning to end—not unexpected from the director whose life-long goal was to direct a film with a huge battle scene. This is very much a divergence from what Jackson's Gandalf says as he tries to give Galadriel a reason for including Frodo in "An Unexpected Journey":

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.

These are not words penned by JRR Tolkien, no matter what you may see on the internet. They were written for the screenplay, but you will find few “small acts of kindness and love” keeping “the darkness at bay” in this second movie (with a notable exception discussed below.) Of course, the dwarves are not exactly about small acts. They seem to think their great acts, wielding weapons to defeat orcs, and using cunning and powerful machines to defeat Smaug, will win the day. Furthermore, they are not even about “the good in this world” that’s “worth fighting for.” They are about the gold in Erebor that they believe is worth fighting for.

That's probably not too far from the dwarves Tolkien created. But the emphasis in the book is not on the dwarves fighting their way through Middle-earth. For the most part, they bungle their way through. Movie Bilbo’s different from the book, too. He isn’t as reliant on the Ring in the movie, playing peek-a-boo with both spiders and dragon. At one point in the movie, Gandalf remarks on how Bilbo has changed. Bilbo is about to tell Gandalf about finding the Ring, but decides to say only that he has found his courage. Whether the screenwriters intended it or not, this exchange points to the difference. He is depending more on “found courage” than the found Ring.

That said, it is not usually a good idea to quibble over the differences between the book and the movie. There is a big difference between telling a story and showing a story, and the best screenwriters do not depend too much on narration, while a novelist has no choice but to use it. Compression of time is also very much a consideration, although it might be argued that in this case time is anything but compressed. Omissions from the book are more due to replacement and expansion than from lack of time.

However, Peter Jackson, in cooperation with the movie studios, had the right to adapt "The Hobbit" pretty much as he saw fit. If he wanted to invent a sleigh-pulling Rhosgobel rabbit (bad idea), he had the right to. If he wanted to include a warrior elf named Tauriel (a much better concept), he may. We can agree or disagree about his choices, but they are his to make, and he must live with them. Instead of being critical about the fact he has changed things, let's examine how well these inventions work in Middle-earth.

The meeting at Bree at the beginning of the book tells more of the back story Tolkien told in other books. Although some of the details are changed to fit Jackson's version of the story, the purpose of telling the more complete story is a good one, and beginning the movie with this scene was a great idea.

Another great idea, in this writer's opinion, was the inclusion of Tauriel. Her compassion for Kili is the impetus for the “act of kindness and love” which saves his life. Her example has the potential to become a positive influence on Legolas and others in the last film. Tolkien certainly was not against strong female characters, and the encouragement of goodwill between the various peoples of Middle-earth is also an emphasis of Tolkien.

Beorn is a character created by Tolkien, and Jackson's version pretty well matches what fans were hoping for, even if the initial encounter with him is a bit over the top. Breaking into the home of such a creature doesn’t seem appropriate or wise. Beorn's home includes everything a Tolkien fan could hope for; the bees especially are fantastic. And the extended cut does give a nod to Tolkien and his fans by re-creating the two-by-two introduction of the company in another way.

The way Smaug is presented is also well done. It was a stroke of genius to gradually reveal him as he slithered out from under the treasure. Martin Freeman’s reaction as the enormity of the Worm is revealed is well-played, as most of his acting in the films. However, the extended dragon sequence is probably the weakest part of the movie. The problem isn't with the dwarves finding their boldness and attempting to take down Smaug. The sequence was obviously extended in order to cut back and forth from The Lonely Mountain to Dol Guldur and Lake Town, in order to build to a climax at the end. This type of cutting back and forth was used to good effect in "The Two Towers," but falls fairly flat here. It seems unreasonable that Samug would have put up with the foolishness so long. We should have had fried Hobbit as soon as Bilbo removed the Ring, and fricasseed dwarf very soon after.

The very idea of a dragon in the story is to provide a virtually impossible obstacle to overcome, not to play games with. You do not toy with a dragon. He may put up with a bit of playful banter in order to get information about a strange unseen intruder, but not with visible dwarves trying to take back their treasure. The interaction with the dragon, as well as the earlier barrel-riding scene, are cartoonish, more of a video game approach than serious battles.

So, what have Peter Jackson and crew done? Judging by the box office number for the theatrical version, the filmmakers have created something people want to see. Most of the critics gave it high marks, and fans of the films were saying very positive things about it. However, some Tolkien devotees, and some film critics, have been rather negative.
It’s all in what you are looking for. If you are looking for a film where you can just shut your mind off and go along for the ride, this movie is better than most out there. But if you are looking for a serious treatment of Middle-earth – even Jackson’s version of Middle-earth – don’t expect your suspension of disbelief to remain uninterrupted.

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