The Hobbit: The Desolation of Tolkien

Hobbit Desolation of Smaug Bilbo Treasure

© Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

I heard somewhere that Peter Jackson was making a movie about a hobbit.

Silly me.

The movie I saw last night was about orcs, Sauron, Legolas and maybe a few things actually mentioned in J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 book.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t feel like its own film, unlike Jackson’s other mid-Middle Earth movie, The Two Towers. Rather, it seems more like one part King Kong and two parts Lord of the Rings. The remaining 25 percent of the film is taken from the book to serve as frame and foil for Jackson’s fight scenes.

Once again, Jackson tries too hard to make the dwarves’ quest into a noble one, somehow linked to the fate of Middle Earth itself. It’s not noble–it’s greedy and self-interested, and characters like Beorn, the skin-changing man-bear, serve to show that they’re not a universally-liked group. Beorn has a larger role in the book, and it takes the dwarves a much longer time to win him over. I’d been hoping Jackson would milk it for all it was worth. Now, he’s become no more than the appetizer in a 2.5 hour fight scene feast.

The fight scenes themselves have become caricatures of Jackson’s earlier work. Instead of consisting mostly of “normal” kills with a few awe-inducing examples thrown in for the audience, every fight in The Hobbit is like watching a cherry-picked list of the most gruesome, never-before-seen ways to kill various creatures of Middle Earth. It’s exhausting.

And yes, it is a fantasy movie, (and perhaps I sound like Sheldon Cooper here) but in what universe does an open-ended barrel holding a 400-pound dwarf not burst when landing at the bottom of a waterfall? Not to mention that the CGI effects in the water scenes looked like video-game quality, at least when seen in IMAX 3D.

Additional Jackson tropes I could do without include the sweeping copter-cam long shots of every location; slow-mo, majestic zoom-outs of characters with their hair blowing in the wind; non-English-speaking creatures speaking veeeeeery sllloooowwwwwlllllyyyy (Why the orcs in these films speak only Orcish when the LOTR orcs spoke cockney English is beyond me. Then again, why they are referred to only as orcs and never as goblins in these films is beyond me, too.) There are so many dramatic swells in the music that the score essentially becomes one giant swell. Again, exhausting. Boring to watch. I was praying I’d need to use the bathroom at some point, but no such luck.

The film managed surprisingly decent reviews from critics at the New York Times and the Washington Post. Luckily, NPR’s critic seemed to actually be awake and not sneaking out after the first hour.

Like most everyone else, I’ll hang on for part three, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, but for basically the same reason this unnecessary three-part project was greenlighted to begin with: it’s Peter Jackson doing J.R.R. Tolkien. Part of me will still be hoping that he’ll redeem it in the end.

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