It’s no news to anyone by now that I freaking love Tolkien. I am sure you can imagine that I am pretty stoked for the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this Friday, December 13. To help the rest of the world get as excited as I am, I thought it may be a good idea to get a little recap of the first film up here. Y’know, help get everyone in the Hobbitday spirit!
The Hobbit opens as perfectly as I could have hoped. There is a beautiful prologue that details how the fortunes of Erebor accumulated, spurred by rich dwarven culture and talent, and how the wretched Smaug the Terrible came to claim it as his own, destroying a large majority of the dwarf population, ransacking the nearby city of Dale, and driving a wedge between the alliance of elves and dwarves when the elves of Mirkwood failed to come to the aid of Erebor. Smaug settles into his new pile of gold, and director Peter Jackson takes us forward through time, back to the Shire that lovers of his first film trilogy loved.
Ian Holmes reprises his role of Bilbo Baggins beautifully, sitting down to write There and Back Again after bustling about in preparation for his 111th birthdya party. Bilbo wants to ensure that his nephew Frodo (reprised by a clearly aged, but still loveably dull, Elijah Wood) would know how Bilbo’s marvelous tale of the Lonely Mountain really happened, since he had never truly told anyone the full thing before. This segment transitions into the proper opening of the film, which is the best part in the movie. (I say it’s the best part because the dialogue is almost word-for-word copied from the book).
A youthful Bilbo (played by the ultimate perfectly relatable British straight-man, Martin Freeman) is enjoying some of his fine pipe-leaf on his front porch when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) mosies by and strikes up a delightfully confrontational non-confrontational conversation with Bilbo. After complimenting Gandalf’s fireworks, fondly remembered by Bilbo in his childhood, Bilbo become flustered when Gandalf explains he is in search of someone for an adventure. Hobbits traditionally shun such activities, you see, and Bilbo becomes quite flummoxed that Gandalf would think he may be interested in such nonsense. Bilbo rushes back into his hobbit hole to escape any association with adventure-seeking, but not before inviting Gandalf to tea the next day in his panic. (What a gentleman!)
Cue: Dwarves. Thirteen of them trickle into Bilbo’s lovely hobbit hole, uninvited by him, that evening. (Or the next evening? In the book it’s specified to occur the next day, but the film is less clear) The dwarves seem to take advantage of poor Bilbo, eating him out of house and home (which is a difficult thing to do, as you’d know if you ever saw a hobbit’s pantries!) and leaving muck and mud all over his fine floors and furniture. There is even a burping contest, which I found tasteless and unnecessary (I know it’s a kids movie, Jackson, but you don’t have to dumb it down just because you can! This novel deserves more dignity than that. As do the dwarves; I will never forgive you for making Gimli the comic relief, Peter Jackson. Dwarves are a strong and hardy people, and you’ve reduced them to the goofiness and crassness of Snow White’s cartoon roommates. Shame on you.) They have the decency to help with the dishes, at least. After dinner, and the late arrival of Thorin Oakenshield (the leader of their party and heir to the Kingdom of Erebor), Bilbo learns that the mission of this party is to return to Erebor and reclaim their fortunes.
Smaug the Magnificent hasn’t been seen, or even heard, in many years, and the dwarves suspect he may have died among their former jewels and riches. Thorin warns that if they have seen the signs indicating their riches may be up for grabs again, then so have others. He explains he met with their northern kin, dwarves from the Iron Hills, who refused to come with them to reclaim the Lonely Mountain. The dwarves are disheartened by the news, but ultimately decide to go on with their plan, especially now that they have a map and key to the kingdom, supplied by Gandalf, as well as a burglar. And by “burglar,” they mean Bilbo, which understandably puts him in quite a flummox.
Thorin and Bilbo agree that he can’t possibly be a good fit for this mission. That is, until Gandalf goes all Wizard Mode on them and says that he hand selected Bilbo for this mission, he has his reasons for doing so, and they are damn good reasons. Citing the resilience and hidden strength of hobbits, and the fact that Smaug would probably not recognize the scent of hobbit (giving them a much needed advantage), Gandalf essentially tells Thorin and his gang to STFU and play nice with Bilbo. Naturally, that means the dwarves tease Bilbo, who tries to put on a brave show and claims he could be their burglar… until one of the dwarves mentions a clause in his contract about what to do with his riches should he die before returning home. Bilbo faints at the thought.
Upon waking, Bilbo is blissfully pleased to learnt he dwarves have left, and he is home alone in the safety, comfort, and security of his hobbit hole. Until that safety and security begins to seem confining, and dull, and the contract the dwarves left for him on his mantle reminds him of where he could be right then: running off into the Blue for an adventure like no hobbit has ever had. Bilbo tears off, taking the contract and little else with him, to meet the dwarves. I’m pleased as punch Jackson and his crew included the bit where Bilbo forgets a handkerchief and freaks out; I hope to see Bilbo bemoan his lack of hankies more in the next two films. (Side bar: why are there still two more films?! I love Tolkien, but I am firmly in the camp of making the Hobbit a one-film adaptation. Two at the most. But three is right out.)
The dwarves travel on, with nothing very remarkable happening until they stumble across a mysterious firelight in the woods. They are in need of supplies, and since Gandalf has sauntered off for some kind of wizarding nonsense, the dwarves decide to send the burglar in to scope out the situation. Bilbo finds three monstrous trolls around the fire, lamenting their meal options. Filled with a sudden insane desire to make the dwarves like him, Bilbo decides to try and pick one of their pockets, because how could that go wrong? Well, it goes wrong because trolls apparently carry magic wallets that speak out to warn their owner if someone tries to steal them. (Can I haz one?) The trolls freak out, and try to capture Bilbo to eat him. The dwarves come to his rescue and there is a brief scuffle before the trolls grab Bilbo and threaten to squash him unless the dwarves lay down their arms; which they do, in a surprisingly heartwarming moment.
With all the dwarves and Bilbo trussed up for cookin’, the trolls argue over how the best way to cook them. Bilbo sees an opportunity to delay the meal, so to speak, and chimes in with his own thoughts on the best way to cook dwarf and causing an argument between their captors. Eventually the trolls catch onto it, and are preparing to eat them whole when Gandalf shows up in the knick of time, smashing a rock to allow the dawning sun to illuminate the trolls, turning them into stone. Like you do.
From there, the dwarves find the troll’s cave and scrounge for supplies. They don’t find much useful stuff, except for three bad ass swords; two longer ones, which Gandalf and Thorin take by virtue of being the baddest of asses (and y’know, a king), and one shorter blade that Bilbo gets, by virtue of being the only one previously without any weapons. The party continues on.
Around this time is when we come to what I think is the most egregious error in the films so far. And I’m not talking about Azog the Defiler being alive in the movie hundreds of years after he should have died, though that’s a damn close second. No, I’m talking about the inclusion of Radagast the Glob-damn Brown.
Radagast is only briefly mentioned in the Tolkien’s actual work (Gandalf refers to him as a cousin in the the Hobbit) and is never actually met. In the film, however, we are forced to watch a cartoonishly awkward, fidgety wizard rushing through a dark, grim forest and trying to save a hedgehog that seems to have been poisoned. Dark shadow encroaches on his cottage as he tries to heal the animal, and we see the spindly legs of creepy, giant-seeming spiders teased along the edges of the screen. Radagast successfully heals his spiny buddy, and hurries to find the Lonely Mountain Party (now that’s a band name!) and tell Gandalf about a darkness filling Mirkwood.
And this is my peeve: it would not have been news to anyone in Middle-earth at the time that Mirkwood was, let’s just say, mirky. Originally called Greenwood the Great, a shadow began to fall on Mirkwood in TA 1050 (“Third Age”) which would earn it it’s new moniker. The shadow is eventually learned to be the remnant of Sauron, an enemy of Middle-earth long ago thought to be vanquished, who disguised himself as the Necromancer and spent his time in Mirkwood mustering his strength and power in preparation for the events that would unfold in the Tolkien’s later trilogy. So, that was in TA 1050. The Hobbit takes place in TA 2941. That is a 1,891 year span of time in which the Necromancer has been busy mirking up Mirkwood. Radagast, Gandalf, the entire White Council, and really everyone in the region was well freakin’ aware that there was some evil badness going down in the woods (though not everyone knew/believed it was actually Sauron, but that’s literally a different story).
I know it may seem minor, especially compared to the egregious changes Jackson allowed with the Azog story line (it is so not necessary for there to be yet another villain in this story; the dwarves and Bilbo already have a Maier-be-damned dragon, horde of goblins in the Misty Mountains, clan of wargs, skin-changers, Mirkwood monsters, mislead elves, and the elements to contend with. They don’t need a goblin who is also supposed to have been dead centuries before the story took place added into the mix). Minor or not, this transgression has just irked me to no end since I saw the film the first time. By including this inaccurate history and incorporating a character who never appeared in the story, Jackson has officially over-cluttered the film and disappointed fans who had faith in him to make the Hobbit as accurate an adaptation as The Fellowship of the Ring film was. Maybe my issue is really that he could have gotten away with one or the other: include Azog and his rewritten history or Radagast and the rewritten history of an entire region of Middle-earth. Not both. You can’t have your wizards and orcs too, PJ!
Okay. Glad we can all agree on that hot mess being a hot mess.
Radagast shows up for some stupid reason at just about the same time the Lonely Mountain Party (as I will be calling them from now on) is being pursued by Azog and his gang. Radagast bravely offers to be a decoy and distract them, and thank the Valar Gandalf accepts because it means he is out of the movie now! (Well, for awhile) The Lonely Mountain Party is pursued by orcs until Gandalf leads them to a convenient secret passage that leads to Rivendell, the Middle-earthian home of the High Elves– and the last place that Thorin wants to be, since he is still all butt-hurt over the Mirkwood elves abandoning his people when Smaug attacked (like they could have done anything anyway. Also, that’s racist Thorin; not all elves are the same, man! If you’re gonna hate on any elves, just keep it to the Silvan elves. F those guys.). Gandalf convinces them to go, since Elrond of Rivendell is probably the only person who can read the map’s directions to Erebor’s “back door.”
Cue another frustration of mine: the elves of Rivendell are a jolly, singing, happy folk when the dwarves arrive in the Hobbit. I wish the film would have let us see some of that. I think we, the audience, have earned some screen time with Hugo Weaving singing about dwarves having goofy long beards and drinking mead. Plus, this movie implies the elves are poor hosts to the dwarves (they complain about the food, the hospitality [what is with elves insisting to speak elvish to everyone?!], and just generally whine about the elves), which I don’t think was necessary to highlight the wedge driven between those two people by Smaug.
Anyway. Gandalf tries to get the dwarves to chill out and give the elves a chance. Thorin agrees for the time being, and in return Elrond does in fact read the map for them so the dwarves learn how to access a secret back door to the Mountain (“Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light on Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole”). Afterwards, there is a meeting of the White Concil; Saruman, Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf meet to discuss the dangers posed by the dwarves mission- after all, if they fail and do nothing but anger Smaug, there would be serious consequences for other regions of Middle-earth. Especially if it’s learned that Rivendell helped them out). Gandalf tries to warn his colleagues about Radagast’s “discoveries” (*huff*) in Mirkwood but is quickly by Saruman, who is totally not evil. While Gandalf delays the Council meeting, the dwarves sneak out of Rivendell likes BAMFs, since it’s pretty hard to sneak around elves.
From here, they begin to travel through the Misty Mountains. There is a terrible storm, and the dwarves seek shelter in a cave after a totally awesome (but equally unnecessary and gratuitous) close-scrape with some stone giants in the mountains. I’m really glad the giants made it in, but wish they hadn’t been jammed down our throats for an unwarranted action sequence. In the night, Bilbo attempts to sneak away from the group and return home; he had nearly been killed by the stone giants, and Thorin thought it would be appropriate to berate and belittle him for it, since it may have messed up their mission to lose their burglar at this stage (but not if they lose him because of bullying?). Bilbo is stopped by a friendly, inconsequential dwarf and they have a touching heart-to-heart, and in time to notice his sword, Sting, is glowing blue in warning of the nearby proximity of goblin. Oh noes!
The dwarves are taken in by the goblins of the Misty Mountains, who are totally goofy looking. I must say I am disappointed in Weta for these movies so far; the Arkenstone in the prologue looks like a lens flare in a box, Azog looks like a pretty normal dude with a wicked skin condition, and the Misty Mountain goblins don’t look threatening in the least. Again, I know it’s a kids movie, but do you really think you need to dumb down the CGI as much as you dumbed down the story, PJ? Anyway, I digress. Again.
The goblins threaten the dwarves, telling them that they’ve informed Azog of their capture and that he is en route to finish off Thorin’s family tree. Around this point, Gandalf shows up and creates a hulabaloo by setting of an explosion (at least, I think that’s what happened. It’s how it went down in the books, and I spent this part of last night’s movie-rewatch reading about the Three Elven Rings of Power… so, don’t take this part of the recap as gospel). The Lonely Mountain Party flees, but poor Bilbo gets left behind, of course. He’s knocked out in a scuffle with a goblin and wakes up alone in the dark in the caves, the dead/unconscious goblin nearby. As he grapples around in the shadows, he finds something on the ground; a ring. He drops it in his pocket, startled by the sound of something coming in the dark, and hides. A sixty-years younger Gollum appears, and drags the goblin’s body off to an underground lake. Bilbo follows secretly, for lack of anything better to do.
Next we have my other favorite part of the film! Riddles in the dark, man. Gollum intends to eat Bilbo, until being threatened with Sting. Instead, Gollum invites Bilbo to play a game riddles. Bilbo agrees with the caveat that if he wins, Gollum must show him the way out of the goblin caves; Gollum adds that if he wins, he gets to eat Bilbo. Yum.
I loved Andy Serkis’ portrayal of younger Gollum. I think the experience of pre-preciousless Gollum is an important addition to his character in the Lord of the Rings; in the Hobbit, Gollum and Smeagol seem to have nearlyequal control over their body, but when Gollum takes the reins you can tell this forming the pattern for the unhealthy schizphrenic relationship witnessed in the Two Towers. My heart swells when Smeagol’s eyes just light up at the first thought of playing a riddle game with someone not himself for the first time in hundreds of years, and it’s a view of the innocence he hadn’t even known he’d forgotten. Then Bilbo beats him at that game, and barely legally; while fumbling to come up with a riddle, Bilbo reaches into his pocket and feels the ring he felt earlier. Wondering out loud, “What have I got in my pocket?” and Gollum takes that to be the riddle. He demands three guesses, and doesn’t get any right; Bilbo wins, and demands to be escorted out of the tunnels.
Gollum goes to his little island in the lake, muttering that he needs his precious, and he’ll be right back. He can’t find what he is looking for, however, and begin to freak out. Bilbo panics and flees, as Gollum accuses him of stealing his precious. As Bilbo tries to run he trips, and his finger slips into the ring, making him become invisible. (Actually he has that same awful close-up-while-the-ring-hovers-around-his-finger-like-a-freaking-ring-toss moments Frodo had in Fellowship) Gollum can’t find him, and speeds off in pursuit. Bilbo follows and Gollum leads him to the exit! Bilbo can even see Gandalf leading the dwarves down the very same path, but Gollum stands between him and sunlight. Bilbo sneaks up, ready the stab Gollum while invisible… until Gollum turns around, his lamp eyes misting over in grief for his lost precious, and Bilbo’s hand drops, heavy with pity.
Then Gollum freaks out, cursing his name, and Bilbo decides to launch over him.
Bilbo escapes and meets up with the dwarves and Gandalf, who are talking about him behind his back, naturally. The joy of their reunion is short lived, however, since it’s about now that Azog’s forces find them. The Lonely Mountain Party retreats up some trees, right on the edge of a cliff because y’know. The orcs set fire to the base of the tress to try and smoke them out (or just burn ‘em to a crisp), so Gandalf throws magic, flaming pinecones down at them and causes a huge forest fire. Good going, G.
Azog shows up, all menacing-like. He throws down with Thorin and totally kicks his butt. As Azog is about to make the final death blow, Bilbo, overcome with feeling and/or temporary insanity, runs to Thorin’s side to protect him. He is about to get munched by Azog’s warg buddy when who shows up to the day? The mother-flippin’ eagles.
The eagles, who are pretty picky about who they rescue in the books but seem to act like Middle-earth damn taxi service in the movies, drop the Lonely Mountain Party off on a convenient cliff in safety. Thorin give Bilbo a big ole’ hug in gratitude for his attempt at saving Thorin’s life. Bilbo is clearly feeling some warm fuzzies by the change in his treatment by his fellow adventurers. The film ends with everyone looking at a speck of rock in the far distance, which the dwarves confirm to Bilbo is their destination; the Lonely Mountain.
Overall, I give the Hobbit a C-. The parts the film got right were so very right… but the parts they got wrong were incredibly wrong and awful. Jackson over complicated what should really be a simple, enjoyable adventure tale by altering the timeline of Middle-earth (Azog and Radagast’s appearances, specifically). He also added completely unnecessary and crass moments purely because he seems to want to drive in the fact that this is a kids film, and not the actual Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think he does the novel, Tolkien, and modern children a disservice by doing this. He could have removed pretty much every goofy moment from this film and it would still have been lighthearted and dark enough for children of almost any age to enjoy, without degrading it by making it more base.
I am looking forward to the Desolation of Smaug in that I am looking forward to tearing it apart afterwards. While I’ve heard some great things about the representation of Smaug and Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the Magnificent Worm, I have heard from a few people who have already seen it that this film is far more problematic than the first. Not surprising, considering I’m sure Jackson had to add in a lot of new, inaccurate, stupid things in order to stretch the short novel into a trilogy.
I am also excited and nervous to see Beorn. If you didn’t know, in addition to freakin’ loving Tolkien I also freakin’ love bears. Beorn has always been one of my favorite characters, and I really hope that we see a lot of him and his people in Desolation. Unless they did a terrible job of putting them in, in which case I hope they just ignore that part of book so I can die in peace.
Time will tell! I will likely be seeing the film over the weekend (missing the midnight showing for the first time, my soul is crushed!) so keep your eyes peeled for my review!