The Hobbit: The Desperation of Story
I just got back from seeing part two of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit (never-should-have-been-a) trilogy. I was surprised to find the show not sold out, despite being in a prime Saturday night slot. I was less surprised that the audience was visibly (and audibly) disappointed when the movie was done. It may be the first time I’ve heard a movie booed in a theater (by more than one person). And I saw the Star Wars prequels in the theater. All of them.
I have to say, I was quite disappointed in the film. Actually, more disappointed in the film maker, Peter Jackson. The first Hobbit movie was overlong and bloated, but I was somewhat able to be hopeful about this one. The main reason the first one seemed so long was that it took forever for the story to get going. Once everyone began their journey, the film picked up a bit and moved at a reasonable pace (mostly). I’d hoped that would carry over to The Desolation of Smaug. Nope.
I can’t really say more about this movie without going into details, so the obligatory **SPOILER** tag applies from here on out.
Peter Jackson showed a lot of wisdom with his structure of the three Lord of the Rings movies. The Fellowship of the Ring was about the fellowship and it ended with the breaking of the fellowship. The Two Towers was about Saruman’s alliance with Sauron and it ended with Saruman defeated. The Return of the King was about Aragorn’s rise to the throne as the leader of men he was born to be and the destruction of the Ring. It ended with a bunch of things but I don’t have as big a problem with that as a lot of people do.
In each case, Jackson restructured events from the books to give each movie its own complete narrative. Everything served the metanarrative of the destruction of the Ring, but each movie also had a beginning, middle, and end that told its own story.
These Hobbit movies are a mess. This should have been Smaug’s movie. It’s right there in the title. This movie should have been about the journey to, battle with, and defeat of Smaug. It is not. It is very much about the journey to Smaug. It is too much about the battle with Smaug. And it is not at all about the defeat of Smaug. The movie basically cuts to black before we get to that part. And that’s why I, and I suspect the boobirds in the audience, felt cheated by this movie.
It’s not just that we were left with a not-so-subtle version of ‘to be continued’ (horribly executed by the way - perhaps worse than ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ which is saying something). It’s that the time that could have been used to wrap up this chapter of the story was utterly wasted. And this is almost a three-hour movie. The showdown with Smaug (which dominates probably the last hour of the film) is filled with nonsensical action, which ultimately achieves nothing. It ends with half an hour of the dwarves executing a master plan (which is never explained) that leads up to a dramatic conclusion (which doesn’t work) and ends with Smaug literally flying away into the night (which is maddeningly anti-climactic).
To top it off, the battle is rage-inducingly interrupted by cutaways to one of the dwarves (who we don’t really care about), his elf girlfriend (a made-up character who we certainly don’t care about), Legolas (who we used to care about but have no reason to anymore) and their fight with CGI orcs in Laketown (which is of no consequence, and thus, not worth caring about). It’s filler at its worst and, worst of all, feels like time that could have been used to give the movie its proper ending.
Peter Jackson has lost his way. There are, I’d say, four major plots set up in this movie: Bilbo and the dwarves’ battle against Smaug, Gandalf’s investigation into the return of Sauron (a stupid thing to waste time on, because surprise! he’s back!), Bard the Bowman’s quest to redeem his ancestors and kill Smaug, and the completely made-up love triangle between Legolas, Kate elf, and Kili (or Fili - I cared so little, that I don’t even want to look it up). At movie’s end, a whopping ZERO of these plotlines are wrapped up in any way. Smaug flies away into the next movie, Bard and Gandalf both end the movie captured (in different locations), and Legolas chases a forgettable Orc henchman into the night.
Imagine if The Two Towers had ended with that Olympic torch orc blowing up the wall at Helm’s Deep, followed by a dramatic zoom in to Aragorn saying “Oh no! How will we survive this?” And then a cut to black. That’s how this movie feels.
Peter Jackson either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about how to tell this story. The sad thing is, watched on Blu Ray back-to-back-to-back, The Hobbit might be a decent movie. But theatrically, it’s a massively frustrating experience. I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me, but, two movies in, I think it’s obvious that these movies are a massive missed opportunity. They’re sloppier, lazier (I guarantee that 90% of this film was shot on green screen, which contrasts immensely with the miniatures and amazing full-scale sets of Lord of the Rings) and more poorly constructed than the Lord of the Rings films. Which I love.
I pine for the two movies Guillermo del Toro could have given us. Instead, we get three movies that are 40% the story of The Hobbit, 30% useless tertiary stories from tertiary appendices, and 30% made-up characters who are included for absolutely no reason other than to justify making three movies instead of two.
I imagined many times how awesome a Hobbit movie with the original cast/crew of Lord of the Rings would be. Now that I see it in front of me, I’m not sure how happy I am that my wish came true.