The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug First Impressions…It’s Complicated

So I’m shocked…and giddy…and outraged. To be honest, I really don’t know how I’m going to review The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but as these are supposed to be my first impressions, I will take that as my guide. No need to worry if you have not seen it yet, no real spoilers here.

Why am I shocked? Simply because I actually enjoyed the film; I was genuinely entertained, and the two and an half hours passed like nothing. That also explains a bit of my giddiness, which I fear will wear off in time. The movie is fast-paced, beautifully imaged and generally cohesive. It makes for a great tale. It was a glossy, extravagant, action-packed adventure, which though exciting and thrilling, I still hesitate to say if I really liked it.

The trouble is the frame of reference which allowed me to enjoy it, not because it is the wrong one, but precisely because it is the right one.

The film reads well as a glorified fan-fiction, which isn’t all bad, but worse smacks of Hollywood tropes all over it. So many scenes, particularly the barrels out of bond, the wood elves, Bard, the Black Arrow, and Dul Guldor, display the excesses of a mind at play, exploring the possibilities further and further afield. Generally, these ‘explorations’ are interesting and thought provoking, but would I include them? No. The world of J.R.R. Tolkien is hard to glimpse behind the lens of Peter Jackson and Co., but as this is their interpretation I can live with it; particularly as some of these divergences begin to tie each of their films more tightly together. The world and mythology is becoming its own mythology, in many ways wholly outside of Tolkien’s.

Hollywood’s need for constant action, tasteless comic-relief, and the ubiquitous love triangle mar everything this film may have achieved. I had great fun viewing it, and I probably will again and again, but it is superficial and only skin deep. The heart and soul of Tolkien’s Hobbit is almost completely gone. Yes, there are moments that shine greatly. There are scenes I loved and felt were executed beautifully. Yet there were also entire swaths of film which could have been (should have been) wholly excised for how they pervert the story, the characters and the world.

Though the superficiality and token themes of Hollywood pervaded the film, it could have been saved if not for the last hour. So much of that had me scratching my head at the completely ludicrous nature of what was unfolding onscreen.

Did I enjoy it?

Yes, immensely.

Would I recommend it?

Yes. It’s an immensely entertaining action adventure. It brought me back to the original trilogy. I was on the edge of my seat. I was enthralled, amused and diverted.

But is it Tolkien?

I wish it were otherwise, but only just barely. In this sense the movie fails, and fills me with a certain sadness. I know the written word cannot be translated directly to the cinematic media, but the heart can…and, tragically, that was mostly gone.

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