The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Second Impressions

Yesterday, I attempted to see The Desolation of Smaug a second time, only to be greeted by a sold-out theater. Instead, I watched the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey yesterday and went to see DoS again earlier today. As you may have observed in my review of that edition of AUJ, it all turned out for the best.

Seeing The Desolation of Smaug again, particularly after seeing AUJ again, I can state without qualms that it is the better movie. As a film alone, it is awesome. In particular, I noticed this time around the truly superlative acting and visuals. There is so much beauty expressed in this film; in the dark, creepiness of Mirkwood, the graceful Woodland realm, even the relative squalor of Lake Town.

I also noted many of the subtleties I overlooked in my first viewing, which are superbly done. I took great pleasure in the understated nods to the text, where lines of dialogue were lifted verbatim or even narrator exposition turned to dialogue.

One thing this second viewing has accomplished is to allow me to view the film a bit more objectively, rather than succumbing to emotion (immediately). Knowing what to expect, what I liked, what bugged me, made me a bit more contemplative and focused during these particular scenes; which in some cases has changed my views on them completely.

During Bilbo’s initial rescue attempt from the spiders, he removes his Ring and continues to hear and understand their speech. Whether this is an inconsistency overlooked or an indication of the Ring’s growing power over him is debatable. The latter possibility is intriguing, especially given the thralldom expressed by the next scene.

I continue to abhor the next scene, where Bilbo loses the Ring momentarily and brutally kills a crustacean-like creature. It still feels out of place, like a card played too soon. On the other hand, Bilbo more than makes up for this with his reaction; upon realizing what he has done, for a simple ring, he is horrified, sickened to the point of vomiting even. This is what one might expect of Bilbo, and it is magnificently portrayed by Martin Freeman.

I was again awed by the Woodland realm, which is a wonder of playful natural and slightly gothic architecture. It is stunningly beautiful, though I still think it befits the grandeur of Nargothrond, or even Menegroth, rather than the latter-day realm of Thranduil.

Thorin’s audience with Thranduil makes a lot more sense after seeing the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey. The ransom of white gems, returning what is his, makes sense, and would obviously strike a nerve with both parties. Again, why did they cut that from the AUJ prologue, especially when it was only a few seconds long? It adds such a keen level of nuance to this scene. Also of note here, is Lee Pace’s portrayal of Thranduil, which is elegant, with an undertone of regality and barely hidden scorn; he is quite aristocratic, which suits his character well.

Given our recent discussion at the Grey Havens Group, regarding gender swapping in children’s novels, Tauriel struck a new chord in this viewing. The captain of the guard is a small and undeveloped role in the novel, which expands naturally into the role Tauriel fills. It is interesting and fitting, giving her the stature and authority to function as a foil for the isolationism of Thranduil and a model for Legolas of empathy.

My view of the barrel escape softened somewhat the second time around. Though it takes Thorin’s urging to get the dwarves into the barrels, it is his trust in Bilbo that causes him to give the order in the first place. Bilbo does look to Thorin, after their initial protests, which grants further credence to this view. Bilbo and Thorin should have a close friendship, though it is often hard to see (both in the book and in the film, though more so in the film), which works to make the final acts of their friendship incredibly powerful.

After a second viewing, I have a much more favorable view of Bard. His role as the bargeman, retrieving the empty barrels of the wood elves fits him, giving a plausible way to expand his character and get the dwarves to Esgaroth at the same time. He seems secretive and crafty, but given his demotion to town scapegoat, it works.

The ‘Thrice Welcome’ scene was still a moment akin to nails on chalkboard. Bard’s role in it seemed natural, as did the Master’s, but Thorin’s is an abomination. Every word from Thorin’s mouth in this scene completely ignores all we know of dwarves or of him. Unless this is meant to be a deception, which I very much doubt, there is no explanation for Thorin giving such a speech. Given the nature of the film, something of the sort was necessary, but this is implausibly excessive. Mention of the return of the King Under the Mountain and the lake flowing with gold has been made by this point. I would think it should be fairly easy to return to the fear of the Mob instigating the Master’s action, rather than the promise of gold. It would also have been simple enough to show the scheming of the Master, planning either rich reward should the dwarves succeed or simply ridding himself of a nuisance honorably before a restless populace. Maybe something like this will be in the extended edition; one can only hope.

The dwarves knowledge of athelas also continues to gall me. If Tauriel must heal Kili, she could have shared this knowledge. Though it is still somewhat improbable, she would be much more likely to know of its existence than the dwarves. On the other hand, there is also the secondary problem that athelas is found where the Numenorean’s once dwelt, as it was cultivated and maintained by them, so it would be unlikely any would be found in this area of the world.

At the Ford of Bruinen, before falling unconscious, Frodo sees “a shining figure of white light” (LR 209). That figure is Glorfindel, revealed as “one of the mighty of the Firstborn…an Elf-lord of the house of princes” (LR 217). In The Silmarillion, the elves who have seen the light of the Trees are called the Calaquendi, the Elves of the Light, “for the light of Aman was not dimmed in their eyes, and they were strong and swift, and deadly in anger” (Sil. 106). Of Melian it is said, “the light of Aman was in her face;” and from the union of Melian and Thingol comes the “fairest of all the Children of Ilúvatar” (Sil. 55-6). The light of Aman is visible for those fallen into the wraith-world, as Frodo does. It makes sense that Arwen would appear in this manner when healing Frodo, as she is descended from Thingol and Melian and the Noldor. For Tauriel, as one of the Avari (neither she or her ancestors beheld the light of the Trees), to appear this way, however, makes no sense at all.

As for the ‘On the Doorstep’ scene, I still contend it could have been done better, though I did notice they initially do look for a keyhole before banging away. Knowing the date of Durin’s day streamlines that element of the plot, and this time around did not bother me overmuch. I think the scene could have been improved instantly by simply eliminating Thorin’s restatement of the rune letters’ clue both before and after their failed attempts. The dwarves would leave disheartened, and then Bilbo would be left alone to remember the clue and search for its meaning.

Bilbo’s purpose in the quest, namely to retrieve the Arkenstone seemed more natural this time around; largely, I think, due to watching AUJ again. It also lends credence to the idea that the dwarves would come to the mountain with no plans for dealing with Smaug. If the quest is to retrieve the Arkenstone, gain the allegiance of all the dwarves and then retake the mountain, everything falls into place. Incidentally, this also begs the question why the fool-hardy ‘let’s kill Smaug with gold’ plan needed to happen at all.

At this point, as there has been no better place before, I’d like to state that I love the way Balin has been portrayed in these films.

Bilbo enters the treasuries of Erebor, and it is somewhat gloomier than I recall. One of the benefits of the vast, cavernous nature of the Erebor of the films is that the light could be streaming in from some point above, as it appears to be, and is reflected and magnified by the gold. Though I still don’t like the overall conception of Erebor; this does redeem it somewhat and circumvent the question of how to see in the darkness without a glowing dragon, which probably would have looked ridiculous.

When Smaug initially wakes and displays himself, he actually does have a golden waistcoat. It is not as impressive or apparent as in the book. It also makes sense, given the now hard underbellies of dragons, that he would shed this coating of gold and jewels as he moves.

The dwarves’ plan is just as imbecilic as ever, and difficult to watch, though still visually stunning (particularly the visual of the gilded Smaug). I did notice an ingenious way they could have logically attacked Smaug, and possibly inflict real damage. After the forges are lit, and Smaug breaks through into the chamber, Bilbo opens the sluice gates, pouring what is likely ice-cold lake water on Smaug, before calming and powering the water wheels. At this moment, Smaug’s inner fire is visibly dimmed, steam in apparent and he is obviously (at least temporarily) impaired. This should have been the primary attack of the dwarves. In the book, Smaug fears the waters of the lake, “which [are] mightier than he, [they] would quench him before he could pass through” (TH 287). Minimally, therefore it could be argued that Smaug’s ability to breath fire should be significantly impaired by such a dousing. It may not be as visually arresting as depicted, but it could have been, with the added bonus of being clever and perfectly plausible. Why would anyone fight fire with fire after all?

Gandalf’s scenes in Dol Guldor took on new meaning in the second viewing. I still disliked much of it, but saw how it fit into the movies and easily sets things up for the final installment. If the armies of orcs, wargs and goblins originate from Sauron and Dol Guldor, Gandalf needs to be captured. The armies need to have time to reach Erebor for the Battle of Five Armies. Gandalf, conceivably, could have stopped them. Also, this gives further impetus for the White Council to attack Dol Guldor and drive Sauron out, while also freeing Gandalf. This all fits rather neatly together to build up the plot for the third film.

This time, the battle between Sauron and Gandalf bothered me even more, due to one line. Sauron says something to the effect that ‘no light can conquer the darkness,’ a statement which blithely contradicts everything I (at least think) I know about Tolkien.

On a side note, the design of Smaug’s eyes is very intriguing. They highly resemble the Eye of Sauron. There is much food for thought and debate in that visual link. I wonder if it was intentional?


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