Film: The Desolation of Smaug

As a young squirt I was made to read The Hobbit in my English class at the age of about 9.

I found it fascinating and it lead me into the Lord of the Rings and many other sci-fi and fantasy books.
The image is Tolkein’s depiction of the death of Smaug above Lake Town, a rarer cover version of the book.

The first part of the film is ok, and close to the book. The portrayal of Beorn is a bit disappointing (goblin heads on posts!), Mirkwood is ok though I really missed Bilbo taunting the Spiders (Attercop, Attercop…) and one can even accept the Wood Elves being more aggressive under a much more fleshed out character in the King Thranduil.

The inclusion of Legolas and Tauriel was ok, Tauriels flirtation with Kili a bit unlikely but not a show stopper. It also helps the continuation with LOTR WRT Legolas and is in keeping with the deeper background of Tolkein’s works.

The escape from the Woof Elf Kingdom is a bit OTT but not wildly so, the involvement of the Orcs is in terms of a filmatic theme ok. Laketown itself is well done and The Master (Stephen Fry) is well done and better fleshed out than in the original book. The background of Bard in Lake town was good, and his link with his ancestor Girion, Lord of Dale.

There’s a few caveats at this point, but moving on swiftly…

I liked Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug. It wasn’t as passive as in the book, but this is a film so that is forgiven. It may have been too long and his finding of the Arkenstone a bit too premature – I guess I’ll hold fire on that until the third film.

Smaug is portrayed excellently, a half lizard half cat like capricious creature, and the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch captures the spirit of this evil creature well.

The inclusion of Dol Guldur and the rise of the Necomancer aka Sauron, is perfectly in keeping with the original book’s narrative and I don’t have a problem with it. In fact Jackson et al by knitting together Tolkein’s references from all his books makes it a much wider narrative and much more enjoyable.

At this point it all starts falling apart.

For some as yet unknown reason (the pretext being Kili’s injury and some shoehorning in of Tauriel and Legolas), four of the Dwarves are left back in Laketown. Totally out of kilter with the book. There had better be a good reason in the 3rd film. The attack of the Orcs under Bolg is well done cinematically, but again nothing to do with the book, nor even Tolkein’s wider plot.

The Lonely mountain should have been approached over dismal swamps, but it isn’t, just lots of icey foot hills. Where are the burnt out fir tree woods the Dwarfs sang about on the first film ?

The Dwarfs descend into the mountain way too soon and get caught up in a very boring stereotypical CGI chase scene with Smaug, and launch a wholly implausible attack on Smaug from which he survives, makes an implausible deduction and randomly flies off to torch Laketown.

Thorin goes off the deepend with gold lust way too early, and this is only rescued by Balin’s reaction. Most of the other Dwarfs remain ciphers which could have been fleshed out during this unnecessary set of scenes instead.

Why not stick to the original book ? That would have had more than enough opportunity for Smaug to come out of the mountain track down and chase the Dwarves, toast some ponies and then fly off to Laketown in revenge. It misses out the Thrush mostly and probably the Ravens.

As a film, its good, but as an adaptation of a book its disappointing. There are way too many loose ends, odd plots and digressions to make it satisfying for Tolkein fans. A strange mish mash of the enjoyable and the “eh what ?”.