Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Smaug descends on Laketown (and Tolkien)

A happy Christmas to one and all.  For my first blog post I thought I would share my thoughts on the Hobbit Two.  

It was not exactly auspicious when I asked for three tickets to The Desolation of Smaug and the cinema cashier was nonplussed.  Apparently he only knew the film as the Hobbit.

Despite reservations - could the slender central section of Tolkien's none too wordy original text really sustain 2 hours and 40 minutes of action - it was undoubtedly an entertaining ride.  In fact ride was definitely a major element of it.

At times I felt I was watching an embedded 1 hour advert for the future Hobbit theme park, complete with "Elven Barrel ride" and "King Under the Mountain Golden Glitter Dragon run."

I knew the film drew on all of Tolkien's works to extend (some might say pad out) the story and wring every drop from this particular golden goose.

There are some aspects I could stomach more readily than others.

The side story about Dol Guldur and the Necromancer was well worth extending.  Gandalf disappearing off and the resolution of that crisis make as useful and valid a bridge to the Lord of the Rings as Bilbo's discovery of the ring.  Though, when Radagast bluntly asks "why am I here, Gandalf"  I thought the answer was obvious.  It was so Gandalf has someone one to talk to and in so doing can explain to the poor audience what was going on.  It was for me, one of those moments where the fabric of the film wore thinnest and the screenwriter's intent showed through.  

The appearance of Legolas is logical.  Though not mentioned in the Hobbit, he must have existed at that time and would be important enough to merit a part in the unfolding events. Though there is a need now retrofit an edit to the council of Elrond, to allow for Legolas having already met Gloin and exchanged some unkind observations with him.

I can cope with a female lead character in the elf Tauriel,  female leads being an omission from much of Tolkien's work (and a fault I try to avoid in my own writing - with four principal female leads).

I can even appreciate the enlargement and adjustment of Bard's back story, though it is a little bit irksome to find him as town conscience and would-be labour councilor, more than William Tell.

There are other bearable plot twists and tweaks in the name of action, epic-ness and modernisation of a story that is nearly a century old. However, Kili being described as tall for a dwarf must have been a tongue in cheek observation by Tauriel, since  when the thirteen are lined up, he is nothing special and the mutable scales of the relative individuals are something I have to close my eyes to.  Such scene by scene height fluctuations haven't been seen since the Sound of Music was filmed during the three months that all the Von Trapp children were putting on a variety of growth spurts. 

However, the thing I can't stomach is the crap under the mountain.  The delightful subtlety of an invisible hobbit in a war of wits with a cunning dragon is completely sacrificed to the Gods of CGI, non-stop action and future theme park franchise as all the dwarves manage to evade a fate that befell all of their thousands of forebears in taking on the dragon in open battle under the mountain.  And, at the end in a bizarre and incomprehensible plot we have an attempt at victory which owes more to the closing scenes of Terminator 2 or Alien 3 than anything that touched the world of Tolkien.

I could swallow it all up until then - and I will watch the final film - for there is enough entertainment there to draw me in.  But Jackson has driven a carthorse through the delicate plot of Tolkien's work and I do not see how the frayed ends could be joined together again. 

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