Monday, December 16, 2013

A Few Thoughts about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

...So, if you're interested in some grumping, some self-pitying, a little bit about the newest Hunger Games movie, and my patented brand of semi-coherence, you can find it below the break.

What are my thoughts on The Desolation of Smaug?  Well, I haven't seen it.

I had a chance to this weekend; one of my friends asked if I wanted to go to the theater and watch it, and I said no.  I'm not really sure how to express what a big deal that is to me; I had the chance to go see the new Hobbit movie, and I said no.  And I meant it, too; the more I think about it, the more I realize that I don't want to see this movie.

It's not just that I think it will be bad, or that I won't like it; Bakshi's animated take on  The Lord of the Rings does maybe six things well over the course of two hours, and I've watched it multiple times.  It's not just that I'm getting too old for midnight showings; we were talking about going to the Sunday matinee.  And it's certainly not that I've lost my interest in the source material; for reasons both personal and literary, Tolkien's writings remain something that I return to, time and again, and his tales of Middle-Earth resonate with me as strongly today as they did before I'd ever heard the name "Peter Jackson."

But when I think about what he did with An Unexpected Journey, I find that I can't even hate it.  It was a muddled mess with no discernible connection to The Hobbit besides some names.  The people putting that movie together didn't get it wrong; they simply didn't get it.  Well, not the it that matters to me, anyway--the it which is Tolkien's love of words in all their forms, his faith in his readers (and attendant lack of pandering), and his ability to write about adventure, action, and battle without ever reveling in violence, or forgetting what's most important--the characters caught up in all of the above, and the costs which they bear.

So I'm not mad.  When I started seeing reviews which praised The Desolation of Smaug as being better than its predecessor because it's not so slavishly devoted to the source material, I gave a mirthless chuckle (if the first movie was "slavishly devoted" by comparison to this one, then I imagine it would be easier to count the ways in which it doesn't stray from the tone, plot, values, and so on), but I didn't pop a vein in my forehead like I might have a couple of years ago.  When I saw trailer after trailer full of Dramatic CGI Excitement, albino orc, and Tauriel (because what this story really needed was a fiery, anti-authoritarian stereotype  Pixar ripoff  okay, she made me a little angry at first, but I'm over it redhead who's somehow the Head of the Guard (and has a romantic subplot with Kili, because why not?)), it didn't make me angry; it just made me sad.

Together with Tolkien's other writings about Middle Earth, The Hobbit is one of the most important books--for me, personally--which I have ever read.  They're making a movie about it.  And I don't want to see it.

We went and saw the new Hunger Games movie instead, by the way.  Neither the books nor the movies really wowed me, but then I'm outside the target demographic, and that makes a difference.  Catching Fire was, as I had heard, better than the first movie--which surprised me, because I thought the books got progressively worse through the trilogy.  It was pretty faithful to the book, too; it had a fair bit of compression, even at almost three hours long, and there was some simplification of character roles, but it was very much in the tone of the original.

I really wish someone would make a movie version of The Hobbit with the same attitude that went into Catching Fire.  I would still find plenty to grouse about, of course, but I think I'd genuinely enjoy the end result.  At the very least--even if it was an absolute train wreck--I'd still want to go see it.


  1. I miss you more then Michael Bay missed the mark
    When he made Pearl Harbor
    I miss you more than that movie missed the point
    And that's an awful lot girl
    And now, now you've gone away
    And all I'm trying to say is
    Pearl Harbor sucked, and I miss you

    I need u like Ben Affleck needs acting school
    He was terrible in that film
    I need u like Cuba Gooding needed a bigger part
    He's way better than Ben Affleck
    And now all I can think about is your smile
    and that shitty movie too
    Pearl Harbor sucked and I miss you

    Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?
    I guess Pearl Harbor sucked
    Just a little bit more than I miss you

    --Pear Harbour Sucked, Team America.

  2. Well, the thing about book to film adaptations is that they really only work well when the book isn't particularly good.

    1. Fight Club and Jurassic Park are two examples that immediately come to mind where I enjoyed both the book and film. I also saw the films before reading the books, so that could have something to do with it. I did read the Harry Potter books well before the movies came out, and while I did hate - and I mean hate - the first film, the others weren't too bad. Azkaban was actually quite good!

  3. Not even remotely true. Just going over the Oscars for adapted screenplays from the last fifteen years, you get "The Cider House Rules", "Sideways", "Brokeback Mountain" (adapted from a short story), "No Country for Old Men", "Slumdog Millionaire", "Precious", and "The Descendants" (plus "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"), and that's not even counting the non-fiction ones like "Argo" or "The Social Network". Going back a little further, there are gems like "A Place in the Sun" (adapted from Dreiser's "An American Tragedy"), "The Bridge on the River Kwai", "Gigi", "Elmer Gantry", "To Kill a Mockingbird", "Doctor Zhivago", "The Godfather" - and that's only the winners, the nominees list shows even more clearly just how many really great movies were made from good books.

    There are authors that are notoriously difficult to adapt to the screen (Roger Ebert named Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Saul Bellow, for starters), but that generalization doesn't begin to hold water. (It also doesn't work in reverse - "Twilight", anyone?)

  4. I thought that I was the only one feeling this way. Tolkien has a feel to his prose, and a purpose to his writing, that seems to be lost on the filmmakers. I dearly want to be able to enjoy these films as what they are but, they're just not the same. Not even close.

  5. "Tolkien's love of words in all their forms, his faith in his readers (and attendant lack of pandering), and his ability to write about adventure, action, and battle without ever reveling in violence, or forgetting what's most important--the characters caught up in all of the above, and the costs which they bear."

    Thank you for getting it. I remember that what upset me most about the first movie was not Jackson's arrogance in thinking he could improve on that hack Tolkien, but that the diehard Tolkien fans I went to see it with, people who argue over the Silmarillion, didn't care that the film had entirely the wrong feeling. They mainly noticed things like inconsistencies with the source material regarding distances between towns.

    I reviewed the first movie here.

    1. That's a great review of the first movie. In fact, it sounds pretty similar to my own thoughts (with a few exceptions--I thought making the trolls a gross-out gag may not have been as big a stretch as some of the other changes/additions, but it still felt like lowest-common-denominator flubbery).

      I think we all know "fans" like your Tokien-buddies. Sadly, we too often let them define what it means to be a fan, and trivia and memorization replace insight and passion as the yardsticks for determining how much one enjoys something.

    2. Let's not pretend pony fans are all that different.

    3. I didn't get the impression Chris was suggesting we were any different. We may be worse in a way, due to that bastardized mantra