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April 29th, 2014 / 2:00 pm
Film

250 Points: The Hobbit pt 2: The Desolation of the Hobbit

Bilbo and the gold

Bilbo Baggins, guarding the film’s box office receipts

  1. I missed The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in theaters. Obviously since I wrote so much about the last one, I considered seeing its follow-up on more than one occasion, but just couldn’t summon the energy, even though a good friend invited me to join her, promising she’d bring snacks from Trader Joe’s.
  2. And then a few days after that, while I was out strolling the boulevard, I passed another friend who was en route to see the thing, on a lazy, chilly Sunday afternoon. But instead of joining him, I went home and took a bath.
  3. So you can see how excited I was to watch this movie. Please keep that in mind as you read this.
  4. Then the film left theaters, and I realized I’d missed my one and only chance for all time. I rushed to my local multiplex and pleaded with its employees to give me a private screening, but they refused, and threatened to call the police. Again.
  5. I despaired, and spent a week wondering what had happened to Bilbo, and Gandalf, and Thorin, and Whorin, and Hewy, and Dewy, and Chewy, and Killy, and Thrilly, and Culty, and the ninety-seven other little dwarves, and everyone else in Middle-earth.
  6. Suddenly, just when I could no longer bear the suspense, a CGI moth flew through my window, gripping an AVI copy of the film in its fuzzy mandible. It landed on my shoulder and mumbled something about how Gandalf was in trouble and “needed me.”
  7. Well, I need you, too, Gandalf! So I decided to watch the movie, after all, and take a lot of notes.
  8. These are my notes.
  9. It’s been fifteen long months since I watched An Unexpected Journey, and I barely remember anything that happened in it.
  10. It occupied a tremendous number of minutes? And presented a great many wolves and goblins that were born in a super-computer’s digital bowels?
  11. I do recall that the movie featured at least one terrific scene: the riddle game between Bilbo and the creature known as Gollum.
  12. Gollum won’t be in this new film, I have heard, which is a minus going in.
  13. Even still, I have no doubt that this movie will do its best to amuse and delight us, because that is how capitalism works. So let’s get right to it!
  1. The curtain of the cinema is drawn back, immediately plunging us into the past. The setting is Bree, a city “on the border of the Shire,” and the time is before the start of the last film.
  2. Good! I was worried that this would all be over far too quickly!
  3. And right away we see Peter Jackson himself, stepping out of an inn (the Prancing Pony!), and passing the camera, and even looking directly at it, all while chomping on a carrot. He looks the spitting image of Alfred Hitchcock.
  4. Inside the inn (have I mentioned that we’re back in the Prancing Pony?), Thorin is waiting for someone—we do not as yet know who. He tears into a sugar-frosted donut that looks delicious. Two dirty men glower at him, no doubt housing evil intentions. But then someone joins the dwarvish hero: Gandalf the Grey! Hello, Gandalf!
  5. I’m sorry to report that Ian McKellan looks old and tired. It must be the rain.
  6. I recently revisited Michael Mann’s The Keep, one of my favorite science-fiction / horror films from the 80s. And it has many problems, but Ian McKellan isn’t among them.
  7. I’ve watched the LOTR films a fair amount, for personal reasons, and they’re always playing on the TVs at my gym. And I’ve found that, over the decade plus since their release, I’ve grown fond of Sir Ian McKellan’s take on Gandalf. So seeing him again, it’s like reconnecting with an old friend. It makes me genuinely happy.
  8. See! I’m not all hatred and vicious snarls! There are things I actually enjoy about these LOTR / Hobbit movies, even if I dislike them overall.
  9. Sean Astin, for instance, was terrific in the first three, as Samwise Gamgee. I may have mentioned that in my last review, but I can’t state that enough; he brought real pathos to the role. And is he going to be in this one? No? That’s a pity.
  10. I learned only recently that Astin is the son of Patty Duke. Another CGI moth flew in my window and told me that; it wanted me to know.
  11. Since this opening flashback is taking a while, I suppose I should explain why I’m watching this movie in the first place, because despite my spelling out things that I admire about Peter Jackson’s movies, you probably still think me a h8r. But perish that thought! I’m actually a huge fan of all kinds of fantasy. It’s my favorite genre, in fact.
  12. I read Tolkien repeatedly in grade school / high school / college. And though he was never my favorite author, I still have a healthy admiration for the man’s work.
  13. What’s more, I’m working on a new book at the moment: a critical book on contemporary “geek cinema”: the recent spate of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and superhero movies. As such, I’m watching all those movies, as research.
  14. I feel it’s my destiny to watch all of these films, and think about them, and write about them. That’s why I’m here.
  15. Why are you here?
  16. Anyway, meanwhile, the flashback has just about ended. It seems its main purpose was to establish that Thorin is after the Arkenstone. So we should remember that Thorin wants the Arkenstone, if this movie is going to make any sense to us at all. Gandalf and Thorin clearly established, via their dialogue, that Thorin needs the Arkenstone to rule, and that Smaug took the Arkenstone, and so Thorin will need a burglar to retrieve the Arkenstone. From Smaug. Who has the Arkenstone. Which goes by the name “the Arkenstone.”
  17. I just reviewed my notes from the last movie, and see that they mentioned the Arkenstone several times there, as well. So remember the Arkenstone! It is very, very important! Got it?
  18. Good!
  19. Now we’re back in the present day—the moment right after the last film ended. As I recall, our heroes, having been stuck in a flaming tree, and having resorted to lobbing pine cone grenades at their enemies, were finally whisked away from the CGI orcs by CGI eagles.
  20. I don’t see the CGI eagles here, but I do see lots of CGI orcs and wolves. Who look just as bad as they did the last time around, that’s a shame.
  21. While on the topic of wolves who hang around in mountains, have you seen Ringing Bell? If not, you should watch that right away. Screw these Hobbit films.
  22. I think I miss the orcs in the LOTR films, which tended to be real actors under makeup (at least in the close shots). The other day, I was using an elliptical machine at my gym, and the Helm’s Deep section of The Two Towers was on TNT, and I was amazed to see how good it looked in comparison to this.
  23. These new films make much heavier use of CGI. That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing, I suppose. A special effect is just a tool. But it does give these new movies a more weightless quality, I think. Just compare the battle in the woods at the end of Fellowship with, say, the goblin chase at the end of the first Hobbit movie. Or the Mines of Moria sequence in Fellowship with the goblin chase. There’s a real difference. (Well, compare any fight scene in the original LOTR trilogy with this.)
  24. Oh, hello, there’s that white orc from the first movie. I guess he’s back, too. I think he’s the thing that made me most reluctant to watch this new one, as he’s a dumb-looking CGI orc who’s completely unmemorable and completely unnecessary.
  25. Zagrabag the Vicious? Arablog the Nasty?
  26. Why is that giant CGI wolf making love to that rock?
  27. Oh, wait, so that other giant CGI wolf is in fact a giant CGI bear?
  28. I still think the production design looks better in these Hobbit movies than in the previous trilogy, though I also think they all look pretty weak. The locations all tend to look somewhat similar to one another. This ain’t the original Star Wars trilogy, where you’d never confuse Hoth for Tatooine, or Dagobah for Endor. The best environment in these films, overall, remains the Shire, and Bilbo’s house there.
  29. And despite any smaller differences, these new movies are a lot like the original LOTR trilogy, in that they all basically consist of only three things:
  30. 1.) Close-ups of characters talking, whereby they establish their motivations and deliver exposition.
  31. 2.) Fight scenes, which are usually implausible.
  32. 3.) Wide “swooping” shots of locations, which are usually either mountains in New Zealand, or CGI landscapes.
  33. I don’t mind those three things being the basic building blocks of these six films, but Peter Jackson rarely does anything interesting with them. He just deploys them, over and over again, flatly and without much consideration to drama, composition, pacing—anything cinematic. It’s like watching Christopher Nolan robotically cut between his masters and singles in Inception.
  34. The action scenes, overall, are probably the best of the three (types of scenes), in that they’re the most dynamically staged, and don’t feature too much dialogue. But the problem with them, in this Hobbit series, is that they’re very CGI-heavy, and outlandish, and ridiculous. Which I think distances us from the characters involved. That certainly seemed the case to me in the second half of An Unexpected Journey.
  35. So there’s a new character now? Some bear thing? Name of Bjorn? Oh, he’s a “skin-changer,” who’s the last of all the skin-changers, that’s too bad. And he doesn’t like dwarves.
  36. How do I know that? Well, Gandalf states it! “He’s not overfond of dwarves,” direct quote by Gandalf. And then Bjorn himself repeats it, sans litotes: “I don’t like dwarves”!
  37. But orcs he hates more, so there you go. He’ll pour the dwarves some milk, as a result.
  38. Everything in these movies is so straightforwardly plain, and that’s what most irritates me about them. The characters are always standing about, stating their intentions very clearly.
  39. As I mentioned last time, one improvement in these Hobbit movies is that, since making the LOTR triology, Jackson & co. have figured out how to digitally composite the different actors in the same shot. So they don’t have to rely on cutting / forced perspective as much, and can give us more ensemble compositions. I appreciate that, as well as how it gives Jackson more options in terms of staging and shooting the scenes, and allows his camera work to be more mobile and fluid.
  40. That said, I see he’s back to one of his favorite strategies: slowly pushing in on an actor as they deliver their portentous lines, tilting the camera upward for added gravitas. (See: every single shot of Bjorn.)
  41. Jackson, you don’t always have to do that! You can do other things, and variety can be nice.
  42. As we get into this, I’m noticing that all of the long shots of the company traveling are entirely CGI? I don’t remember whether that was the case last time, and I do not care to check. And the CGI, it doesn’t look that good. The shot of our heroes riding the ponies that Bjorn lent them is utter garbage, but I guess it saves time / money (?) / spares the 75-year-old Sire Ian McKellan from actually getting on a horse.
  43. The more CGI that Peter Jackson uses, the more it makes me wonder: why didn’t he just animate the whole thing?
  44. I have to say, I still vastly prefer the Rankin-Bass Hobbit to this. It might not be as dynamic, or even ideal, but it gets a lot of points for being so quaint, as well as so short. Also, the soundtrack is really, really good.
  45. I’m also still fond of that 1980 Russian adaptation. Again: short, quaint.
  46. I hate every time that we cut away to the orcs. Jackson: I don’t give a fig about the orcs. I barely give a fig about the dwarves!
  47. Part of the problem is that Jackson & co. think this material is inherently fascinating, as if some subtitled exchange between two orcs makes for compelling cinema.
  48. “War is coming. Death will come to all.” It won’t come swiftly enough for my taste. Come, Armageddon, come!
  49. Thank god that Bjorn guy is now out of the picture. He didn’t impress me none. In fact, he looked like a total loser—like this pothead I knew back in college.
  50. Bilbo: “This forest feels sick. As if a disease was upon it.”
    “Use the subjunctive, Bilbo!” —J.R.R. Tolkien, screaming from beyond the grave.
  51. Also—thanks, chap, for explaining your own line!
  52. Here’s what the original draft of the script said:
    Bilbo: “This forest feels sick. As if a disease was upon it. As though it were not well. As if it had contracted some malady or illness, that compromised its immune system, and rendered it unwell. It is as if that were so; I can observe it with my senses, which is how I know.”
  53. At least we finally have our first nice moment, when Bilbo considers telling Gandalf about his finding the One Ring, then changes his mind. So there you go, twenty minutes in, a solid moment. Ten points to Hobbitdor.
  54. Why are Jackson and his editor suddenly using all these dissolves now?  Is it because we’re in Mirkwood, and all our heroes are getting high? But there have been a lot of dissolves already in this movie. Was it edited by the same person who did the last one? (I checked; it is.) Weird.
  55. This trippy, druggy Mirkwood sequence is all right OK. At least something novel is happening. That said, it’s no Field in England.
  56. Oh, good, now CGI spiders are attacking. I hope they kill and eat all of the dwarves, or at least a few of them.
  57. Why do the spiders all sound like Gollum? Did Andy Serkis do their voices? (I’m not checking.)
  58. The spiders calling blood “juice” makes me think of that Aqua Teen Hunger Force character Willie Nelson. (Actually, I know that the “juice” thing is in the original text. I just hadn’t seen ATHF when I read The Hobbit.)
  59. Is ATHF still on the air? Is it any good? I remember it going to seed around when its own (awful) feature film came out. My take on it was that it became pure pothead humor, just random crap. … Anyone care to comment on this? Instead of this Hobbit shit? Anyone?
  60. Did that dying spider just give Bilbo the idea to name his sword “Sting”? Ugh, that’s pretty hackneyed.
  61. Spider: “Aargh! It hurts!” [writhes and dies]
    Bilbo: “’Hurts’? That’s a good name!”
  62. So this business with Bilbo killing the baby trapdoor spider so he could get the Ring back, that’s also OK. Good work, Bilbo!
  63. But when did Tolkien’s elves become fantasy ninjas? I remember Legolas being an impressive runner and jumper and fighter in the first trilogy, but do all the elves really have to be like that? Really? Not to mention, somehow this kind of effect looks more terrible in these new movies—faker, and far more weightless.
  64. I do think it’s a problem when the CGI doesn’t match the other footage. I mean, I don’t entirely care, but the filmmakers intend it all to be seamless, right? If so, they’re failing mightily.
  65. Also, I don’t think Jackson & co. understand something important here about their source material. In The Two Towers (my favorite of Tolkien’s novels), when Legolas and Gimli and Aragorn run for days after the orcs, then battle their foes at the siege of Helm’s Deep, they’re meant to come across as superhuman figures. They’re rare, legendary beings that we readers are supposed to be in awe of. And it helps that we don’t see all the action in scene, but get a lot of it in summary. Tolkien was constructing a contemporary mythos.
  66. And even then, the orcs posed an actual threat to our mighty heroes.
  67. But if every elf is an invincible ninja, just as badass and deft with a blade as young Legolas, then it makes that specialness common, and debases it. Jackson et al. are creating a world in which every good guy is some kind of Jedi, and the orcs are just disposable battle droids—nothing to be afraid of.
  68. This movie is a master class in bathos.
  69. It’s also a master class in playing the hell out of Howard Shore’s original Hobbit theme.
  70. Why don’t these movies have heavy metal scores? (I listened to Kayo Dot on a loop as I wrote this post, and isn’t that much nicer?) Or, imagine: a Hobbit trilogy with an all-Led Zeppelin score.
  71. Oh, so here’s that elf Tauriel, the one they invented extra-special just for this movie. And, yeah, she’s been onscreen all of a minute, and already she’s…not great. I’m sorry, Evangeline Lilly; I’m sure you’re a really nice person when not wearing a pair of false ears. I never saw you in Lost or The Hurt Locker or White Chicks, and maybe you were great in those? I’m looking forward to seeing you in Ant-Man!
  72. “Ar-tic-u-late the syl-la-bles and it is ac-ting!” —Tauriel [actual dialogue!]
  73. I mean, this actress/character is no Liv Tyler, right? Tyler’s Arwen was not the worst thing about the original LOTR trilogy. She came across as a real being, not a creature made out of plastic.
  74. Why do I care about this romance between some dwarf and some elf that isn’t in Tolkien’s original story and has nothing to do with it and was added at the last minute and just makes these movies that much longer? I mean, I get that these movies aren’t the Hobbit book, and I’m perfectly fine with that. But if you’re going to add material, then add good material. And this romance is just so puerile.
  75. Kili: “Aren’t you going to search me? I could have anything down my trousers.”
    Tauriel: “Or nothing.” [more actual dialogue, and this time I'm not kidding!]
  76. Here’s the rest of that scene (deleted from the final film):
    Kili: “Or nothing? I’ll have you know I have a delicious dwarvish sausage down my left trouser leg. It was given to me by my mother, and I’ve been saving it for a celebratory occasion.”
    Tauriel: “I’ve heard other elves speak of dwarvish sausage, but I think it’s not to my liking. I prefer elvish sausage which is quite frankly less spicy and more subtle in its flavorings, having been made in the light of the first full moon by an elf, who has nimbler fingers than a dwarf.”
    Kili: “How would you know that if you haven’t at least sampled dwarvish sausage at some point?”
    Tauriel: “All right I confess that I once licked a dwarvish sausage that was hanging in the scullery, and I found its texture and flavor most potent, but it gave me a tummy-ache and I don’t care to try it again.”
    Kili: “My dwarvish sausage is much more refined than any other dwarvish sausage you possibly could have encountered; did I mention that I intend it for a celebratory occasion?”
  77. These movies make me long for the relative wit and depth of a Neil Gaiman Sandman graphic novel.
  78. More actual dialogue, spoken by Thranduil the Elf King to Thorin, the would-be Dwarf King: “You seek of that which would bestow upon you the right to rule. A King’s jewel. The Arkenstone. It’s precious to you beyond measure. I understand that. There are gems in the mountain that I too desire. White gems, of pure starlight. I offer my help. […] I will let you go. If you but return what is mine.” [This is actual dialogue; I am not joking!]
  79. That said, it came a long way from the previous draft:
    Thranduil: “You desire the Arkenstone because you want it, and because it would be good for you to have it. It would help you and make your life nice. I understand that because I, too, want things, and we are both humanoid, biological beings, gripped by desires. And if you help me get those things (the things that I want), then I will help you get your thing, the thing that you want, which is the Arkenstone. Thus, we shall be allies and assist one another—provided you accept this deal that I am currently offering you, and actually help me to get my own gems. Well? Do you agree to this bargain I just made to you with my voice, which comes from my throat? Though where my voice exists before that, no elf knows.”
  80. A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview with co-screenwriter Philippa Boyens, where she kept referring to J.R.R. Tolkien as “Professor Tolkien.” I thought it pretentious and annoying, but now I get what she was up to. As she and Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh invent more of this stuff on their own, and move further away from what Tolkien actually wrote, they want to repeat “Professor Tolkien’s” name all the more, in an attempt to cloak their trite nonsense in something approaching respectability.
  81. More stuff happens in this Elven hall but frankly, it’s quite a snooze-fest, and doesn’t look all that great, to boot.
  82. So now we’ve finally come to the barrel sequence, which I’ve heard so much about—it’s been endlessly hyped in endless interviews and articles, and called the highlight of the film, being a sequence that will blow my mind open like a ripe melon, and like no other sequence in all of the cinema has ever done. So let’s get on with it, already.
  83. Oh, I see that I’ve been duped.
  84. Look, I totally get the need to adapt Professor Tolkien’s work, especially The Hobbit, and to make it “more cinematic.” And not just cinematic, but some kind of summer / Christmas action blockbuster—I totally get that. I’m not some Tolkien purist. I haven’t read the books in nearly two decades. And in writing this post, I’ve been flipping back through a copy of The Hobbit, and the writing there is often “not the best.”
  85. My complaint, however, is that The Hobbit: Part the Second: The Desolation of the Smaug, is not a very good big budget action movie. My argument is with what Jackson & co. consider cinematic.
  86. This barrel sequence reminds me more than anything else of the jungle chase sequence in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There’s even a moment when Legolas is balanced atop two dwarves, with a foot perched on each dwarven head, just like when that poor fool Shia LaBeouf was straddling two separate jeeps. This kind of action is so ridiculous and cartoonish and implausible and disengaging, not to mention totally fake-looking, like a sequence in a videogame.
  87. You can do anything you want with green screen and CGI—so who cares? I recently rewatched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and let me tell you: there’s a real thrill in watching a real stunt person perform a real stunt. Or, a more recent example: I watched The Lone Ranger last week (it’s nowhere near as bad as people say), and there are a lot of neat stunts in that, even done as throwaway moments. I really liked this one bit where the Lone Ranger slid down a banister, onto Silver, and rode away. And I can’t say definitively how the filmmakers did it—maybe they used CGI?—but it looked real, and I believed it. I like stunts!
  88. As far as this barrel sequence goes, I’ll grant that it’s the most inventive fight in the movie so far, at least in terms of staging. And I like that it features three different sides, even if the elves aren’t really trying to stop the dwarves from escaping. But at the same time, I don’t really care what happens.
  89. If you’re going to put your characters in peril, I think there has to be some, you know, peril. And you don’t have that when the fat dwarf (Bomb-butt?) bounces out of the river in his barrel, and rolls along the riverbank flattening orcs, then has his barrel break, and then becomes some kind of whirling dervish inside the barrel rings, spinning around and slaughtering orcs with swords. Who on Earth enjoys this Bantha poo-doo?
  90. Whenever the action scenes start, the movie shifts, tonally, into a different film altogether, where everyone is weightless, and even some dumb nonathletic dwarf becomes an indestructible superhuman cartoon. I mean, what distinguishes a dwarf from one of the ninja elves at this point? Or this sequence from the fridge-nuking scene in Crystal Skull?
  91. What, if anything, could harm our heroes? At least Indiana Jones gets a few scratches and bruises on him, occasionally.
  92. The thing I’ve written more than anything else in my notes so far is: “Why should I care about any of this?”
  93. Also, why did Jackson shoot some of this barrel sequence on his cell phone? Seriously, it keeps quickly cutting to low-res video—why?
  94. Having the elves keep surfing on orcs gets old real quick. As does their close-range bow-and-arrow kata.
  95. We cut to Gandalf, and I liked the part where he was alone, because the film just showed him doing something, and he didn’t have anyone to talk with. So of course Radagast the Brown immediately showed up, allowing there to be more exposition.
  96. In that Philippa Boyens interview, she keeps taking the poor interviewers to task for mispronouncing “Tauriel,” even though Tauriel is a completely made-up character who never existed before this movie. So I think it’s only fair to point out that everyone in this movie keep pronouncing “Gandalf” in various different ways.
  97. The people making these movies have always insisted on what Tolkien purists they are, and how everything in the films is based on some appendix or note or diary entry somewhere. And I remember reading in an article about how Ian McKellan was always correcting people on how to pronounce “Galdalf” properly.
  98. You can’t have things both ways. You can’t scold people for mispronouncing this silliness if you’re going to mispronounce the names yourself, and have all of that transpire in the midst of totally made-up scenes where random dwarves whirl like killer dervishes, and elves ride orcs like skateboards. Philippa Boyens, you are no Tolkien purist!
  99. What’s more, in the original LOTR trilogy, when the writers added stuff, they at least aimed for a faux-Tolkien pretentiousness—see all the lovey-dovey Arwen / Aragorn business. It was bad, but it was pitched at a certain level. But this time around, they’re no longer even trying. The dialogue sounds like it was generated by mixing and matching from bad action movie clichés.
  100. It’s a real problem when I can complete the dialogue exchange before the characters do, like in the scene where Radagast says to Gandalf, “What if it’s a trap?” And Galdalf, after turning his back and pausing a good action beat, mutters, “It’s undoubtedly a trap.”
  101. This is just poor filmmaking, plain and simple.
  102. Legolas: “It’s not our fight.”
    Tauriel: “It is our fight.” (I’m surprised she didn’t stress the “is.”)
  103. If the filmmakers were aiming for absurd minimalism, they should’ve hired David Mamet to do a rewrite.
  104. Tauriel: “Tell me, when did we let evil become stronger than use?” Probably sometime around when we paid to see these movies, Tauriel.
  105. Why is only some of the non-English dialogue subtitled? Not that I really care what anyone is saying, but how come I can sometimes see what the non-human characters are saying, and sometimes I can’t?
  106. So an anonymous lowly captive orc is now talking openly to Thranduil and Legolas about Sauron, and his return? Wasn’t Sauron’s return something of a mystery in LOTR? Didn’t Gandalf have to go around trying to convince people that Sauron was back, and was a threat? But now it’s just open information, that anyone can have?
  107. Legolas: “What did he mean by the flames of war?”
    Thranduil: “It means they intend to unleash a weapon so great, it will destroy all before it.”
    I guess if you make your characters complete and utter morons, then Gandalf will still have work to do. Good save!
  108. This is the third time in the movie that Thranduil has ordered that a gate be closed. Dude sure likes closing gates!
  109. Legolas looks much older here than he did in the original movies. Paunchier, too. And yet he’s zippier than before. Maybe elves age backward?
  110. Thorin: “How do we know he won’t betray us?”
    Balin: “We don’t.” <— More actual dialogue!
  111. A deleted scene:
    Thorin: “No, seriously, dude—how do we know he won’t betray us?”
    Balin: “Nothing can ever be known for certain. Even after this scene has passed, and the film ends, we will not be able to trust our own memories of the event. Such are the limits of empiricism, even for a dwarf.”
  112. So we get a scene where Bard the Bowman argues with some slimy city official, establishing that Lake-town’s government is corrupt, and that its Master is worried about there being a rebellion. And then that slimy city official goes and talks with the Master, and they repeat almost the exact same dialogue, establishing nearly identical points. … I guess when you decide to make three films out of The Hobbit, you have to beef up the running time somehow.
  113. The dwarves enter Bard’s house through a toilet, sure, why not. Maybe they should have pieces of poop in their beards? For added verisimilitude, since that’s been such a high priority in this film.
  114. I have an issue of Empire Magazine where one of its staff writers paid a visit to the Lake-town set, and spends paragraphs extolling the amazing detail with which it was constructed. So why isn’t there any fecal matter in the dwarves’ beards?
  115. Did you ever see the live-action Dungeons & Dragons? I’m somewhat fond of that film; it’s a hoot (I recommend watching it for Jeremy Irons’s performance alone). And the dwarf character in it keeps getting meat in his beard whenever he eats, and some friends and I call him “Meat Beard.”
  116. There’s also a line in that movie that could easily go into this one. A character chastises the protagonists by saying, “Just like you thieves—always taking things that don’t belong to you.”
  117. I wonder how many minutes of this Hobbit film are worth saving. Five minutes? Ten minutes? Twenty minutes?
  118. This whole movie’s fast-paced, though, I’ll give it that. A lot has happened in the past eighty minutes, despite it being so padded out.
  119. It’s pathetic, though, how every single thing that happens has to be shown. The original novel is mostly limited to Bilbo’s POV, and when Gandalf disappeared, Bilbo and the dwarves didn’t know where he went. But in making the switch to a more omniscient POV, Jackson & co. clearly didn’t know where to draw the line as to what had to be depicted onscreen, and what could be elided, or recounted. Which is why we keep cutting to absolutely everyone and everything—even orcs having subtitled conversations.
  120. So of course when Bard goes to get weapons for the dwarves, we have to see him go outside, and pull the weapons out of the water, and haul them back in. He can’t just leave and come back with the things.
  121. And more with the insistent repetitions! The old dwarf, Balin, just started telling the story of the dragon attack again—and all so so Bard can overhear it? How convenient! And, meanwhile, we’re being shown it again, in flashback? Why?
  122. Hey, movie, I’ve seen this already! I watched the first film! In a theater and everything!
  123. I’ve long thought that one of the most miserable things in filmmaking is showing how a character learns information that the audience already knows. So, for instance, we see Bard go look for some tapestry that teaches him that Thorin is Durin’s heir, which the audience has known since the first film. Why do I need to be shown any of this?
  124. And now everyone in Lake-town is suddenly talking about the prophecy? Ugh, this is all so lazy.
  125. It reminds me of a school play. A bad school play.
  126. Bard’s children are insufferable. Especially as they keep calling their dad “Da’.”
  127. Why does that annoy me? Because everyone else is speaking colloquial English. So why should there be some special term, suddenly, for “dad” just because we’re in Lake-town? I mean, we’re not watching Firefly here, with reams of invented slang. Just have the characters use the regular words for things.
  128. Did the Master just declare Thorin and his crew “enemies of the state”? What state? Isn’t Lake-town a town? When did Middle-earth acquire states?
  129. Beside the barrel sequence, I’ve heard the most hype about A.) Smaug and B.) the Lake-town set. And I will admit that the Lake-town set is kind of cool. One thing this film is decent at is creating atmosphere. The locations are somewhat more memorable than in the previous films.
  130. Though I still think there should’ve been feces in the beards.
  131. I like how in these movies, bad guys incessantly lick their lips to show you that they’re evil. Did Brad Dourif do that in Two Towers? The Master’s toady so clearly wants to be Brad Dourif—but who doesn’t, honestly?
  132. I do like the conflict between Thorin and Bard, even if the dialogue is insipid:
    Bard: “You have no right to enter that mountain.”
    Thorin: “I have the only right!”
  133. But what makes this interesting is that the Master, now, becomes Thorin’s ally. So after he’s been licking his lips to display his evil, and being painted as a cartoon dictator, he’s now inadvertently aiding our heroes, which complicates things (finally).
  134. Oh, OK, so now the  dwarves are splitting up. More crosscutting to come!
  135. What? One of the dwarves overslept? How is that even possible? How did the other dwarves not notice? Is this movie becoming Home Alone?
  136. That said, I do keep seeing dwarves that I don’t recognize. How many are there, again? One million and eight?
  137. Apparently even the dwarves can’t keep track of themselves.
  138. A bunch of them should totally be dead by now. You really only need three of them: Thorin; the old one; and the tough, bald aggressive one. Plus Kili, I suppose, if you want the love triangle. The others don’t have much of a function.
  139. Another point here: in some of the shots, Kili looks sick, and in others he looks perfectly fit. And as I type this, I remember, distantly, that the romance subplot was added in post-production, via pickups—right? It looks that way, from the lack of continuity.
  140. This film is gathering steam in its second half. There’s more dramatic conflict, Lake-town is relatively interesting, and it all feels like it’s finally heading somewhere (toward a conclusion, hopefully).
  141. That said, we also keep cutting to other plots, like Gandalf at Dol Guldur. And again I’m left wondering: why do we need to see any of this?
  142. Not to mention, Gandalf’s investigation is not at all suspenseful, because we’ve already seen the orcs conversing here. We know that badness abounds. We’re just waiting now for Gandalf to find them with his spell.
  143. Oh, now he’s found them.
  144. Oh, now he’s fighting them.
  145. I must say, all this crosscutting, it is not so spectacularly done. It just keeps happening, and happening very flatly.
  146. What’s more, crosscutting can be used to elide much action. When you return to a plot, you don’t have to return to the same moment you left. So, for example, when the dwarves approach the Lonely Mountain, and we cut to Gandalf at Dol Goldur, when we cut back to the dwarves, they can be farther along in their journey than they were. It’s OK to do that!
  147. I know it sounds unbelievable, but you can!
  148. Also unbelievable: despite all delays and setbacks to date, the dwarves are finally approaching the Lonely Mountain.
  149. The design here is pretty cool. The stairway cut into the side of the mountain, leading up to the hidden door, looks nifty, at least.
  150. That said, why are there so many giant statues in these movies? There’s even one of the Master, in Lake-town. Is this a thing in Middle-earth? People love building giant statues all over the place?
  151. Or is it because audiences liked that part in Fellowship of the Ring, when our heroes sailed past the giant statues?
  152. This nonsense with the dwarves being unable to find the hidden door, and immediately giving up, is completely ridiculous. After traveling all this way, and fumbling about for all of three minutes, they throw up their hands and turn around and leave? Who the hell wrote this stupid movie?
  153. In the book, the party does precisely the opposite. They can’t find the door at first, but they camp out for days and try all different means of locating it. And, again, adaptation, I get it—but what’s accomplished here by having them give up after three minutes? (And yes, I actually counted, they give it three minutes.)
  154. Did we not just spend ninety minutes of this film, plus one hundred-seventy minutes of the last film—over four meandering hours—watching them try to get to this stupid place?
  155. Are the people behind this trying to deliberately sabotage this film? I already don’t care about the characters in this film, and if they don’t want to accomplish their objectives, then why should I care if they succeed?
  156. Speaking of the dwarves, I find it sad that so many of the actors playing them had to wear such complex prosthetics, only to barely be onscreen.
  157. Back to Kili, who’s apparently giving birth.
  158. See, you could use this crosscutting to make time pass with the dwarves up on the mountain, show them spending a lot of time looking for the door. They didn’t have to arrive there the second that the sun was sinking behind the mountains (and you could still have that false peril happen, later on).
  159. Now Gandalf’s battling some CGI shadowy thing and it all looks like bad CGI.
  160. Oh, it’s Sauron, I see. You know, one of the things I liked about the LOTR trilogy is that no one ever fights Sauron directly. It weakens him to show him as anything other than a flaming eye.
  161. Case in point. Seriously, Gandalf’s light-ball spell looks like something I could whip up in Adobe Photoshop, and I’m hardly Jimmy Chen at that kind of thing.
  162. Isn’t this supposed to be a special effects spectacular? If the film can’t deliver on at least that level, why would anyone want to pay to watch it?
  163. Did they release this to theaters in 3D, and in 48 frames-per-second? Or is all that silliness over now, and we can go back to just watching movies in good old plain 2D again?
  164. As I mentioned, I thought the riddle game the best part of the last movie. So here’s hoping that Bilbo’s battle of wits with Smaug will be OK. I’ve certainly heard enough about it, people praising Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the second coming of Laurence Olivier.
  165. Of course, I also heard a lot of advance praise about Star Trek Into Darkness, and look at how horribly that turned out. (Did anyone like that film? Will anyone stand up for it now? I thought it a decent action film, but a terrible Star Trek film, just like the first one.)
  166. This silent part, with Bilbo sneaking about the treasure hoard, is all right.
  167. And now Smaug’s waking up. This is all still pretty good.
  168. And now Smaug’s awake. All right, it’s losing steam.
  169. One of the problems is that Smaug isn’t all that frightening. I mean, compare this scene to, say, the initial approach of the T. Rex in Jurassic Park. Filmmaking consists of actual technique. It isn’t just showing us things you think are cool.
  170. Yeah, this is taking forever. Mr. Peter Jackson, none of this has to be that long!
  171. Why can’t this be a series of three 100-minute-long movies? Or even three 130-minute-long movies?
  172. This flick is longer than 2001: A Space Odyssey!
  173. Smaug’s calling Bilbo a thief and a liar would’ve been more effective if Legolas hadn’t said the exact same thing to Thorin earlier in the movie. Or is calling someone a thief and a liar a standard greeting in Middle-earth?
  174. How do Bilbo and Smaug speak the same language? I buy it in the book, but here, with everyone going into subtitles all the time, it makes me wonder.
  175. Now everyone’s talking about black arrows, and Bard’s pulling out his big black arrow, look at that. Is Bard telepathically linked to Bilbo and Smaug? Is he watching the movie with us?
  176. Of course Bard’s black arrow can’t be some simple black arrow. It has to be a ridiculously giant harpoon.
  177. So why don’t people call him “Bard the Harpoonman”?
  178. Jackson & co. really are trying to make this trilogy another LOTR, on the same size and scale and everything. And part of the problem is—this isn’t LOTR! This is a single movie, really. Two, max.
  179. Bilbo, a simple ordinary Hobbit, just got flung thirty feet through the air by Smaug, and landed on gold coins and goblets and plates and then stood up, perfectly fine.
  180. Oh, who cares.
  181. What? Now some orcs are attacking Lake-town? Why?
  182. Aaaaand Tauriel and Legolas arrive to save the day, in the latest scene in Deus ex Machina: The Movie. (Credit: Ben Sachs.)
  183. Legolas should’ve been in The Lego Movie.
  184. The Lego Movie was so much better than this.
  185. Oh, man, there’s still like half an hour left.
  186. OK, I’m going to skip ahead and see where the end credits start, so I know how much movie is actually left.
  187. OK, I’m back, and luckily there’s ten full minutes of credits, so I have only twenty actual minutes left to watch. I can handle that, I think.
  188. This Tauriel / Kili / Legolas love triangle isn’t much of a love triangle, is it? Does Legolas really care all that much about Tauriel? He doesn’t seem that concerned—more annoyed with her than anything else.
  189. I do like that Kili’s head is resting in a bowl of walnuts.
  190. This “romantic” exchange between Kili and his elven love is unbearable not good. I’d rather watch Anakin romance Padme in Attack of the Clones. That was at least unintentionally comic. (“I don’t like sand.”)
  191. Some Dwarf: “There’s no chance that way.”
    Thorin: “It’s our only chance. We’ll have to try.”
    I dunno; I’m still confused. What are the dwarves attempting to do, and why? Movie, explain it to me, preferably by means of dialogue!
  192. So Legolas’s heart is now broken, since Tauriel loves the cute sick dwarf? And he goes to kill some orcs, to soothe that sting?
  193. Is this why Legolas later falls in love with Gimli? Because he was once rejected by a lady elf? Ever since which day, he’s wondered what secret sausage treasures dwarves keep down their pants?
  194. Do I want to watch Legolas battle more orcs? No, I do not. Let’s cut back to Smaug!
  195. Not to mention, Legolas is battling random orcs, minions of some other random orc, who himself is a minion of Azog the Defiler, who is himself absolutely unnecessary!
  196. So a character who’s been needlessly added to a scene (Legolas) is battling other characters who’ve been needlessly added to the scene (the orcs). Wonderful.
  197. That shot of Legolas riding a horse is hilarious. Though the horse should be a unicorn.
  198. Now the dwarves are riding about on some vast mechanical contraption, not unlike the droid factory sequence in Attack of the Clones.
  199. Did people really like this movie? Why do they do that?
  200. I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on dragon fire, but I do know this about fire: it’s hot. And it radiates heat in all directions. So you can’t just stand to the left or the right of it, and not get scorched.
  201. Try for yourself. Make a campfire, and stand next to it—don’t just hover above it. See?
  202. Dwarf: “It will only take a jiffy.”
    Other dwarf: “We don’t have a jiffy.”
    Take that, Professor Tolkien!
  203. Did Bilbo at least manage to retrieve the Arkenstone? I hope so; I hope he has it stuffed down his trousers. Because I want something to happen that isn’t directly shown to us in scene.
  204. Watching all this spectacle reminds me of something I learned reading Justice League comic books, back in college. You have the Earth’s mightiest superheroes, so the challenge is dreaming up a credible threat—some villain worthy of battling them. But then the Justice League takes that villain down. So then the next issue, you have to invent an even mightier villain, to challenge the heroes before they take him down. And after just a few issues, you’ve painted yourself into a ridiculous situation, where the threats have to be astronomical to even register.
  205. And here we’re dealing with a bunch of dumb dwarves, and a hobbit.
  206. There’s no way that any of them would survive any of this.
  207. Giant battle scenes can be effective, but there has to be some logic to them, and the obstacles can’t just be overcome by magic. Which is what’s happening here.
  208. The people making this great grand CGI flinging and smashing business aren’t presenting any of it as genuinely dangerous, so why should I care?
  209. I mean, Thorin is now floating along on a metal shield on a river of molten gold.
  210. Physics doesn’t work that way.
  211. Bodies don’t work this way.
  212. I wonder what actors think when they’re asked to do such things.
  213. Smaug decides to destroy Lake-town, and Bilbo gets upset. But why? What’s Lake-town to him? He was barely even there! I mean, it’s nice that he cares about human beings, but he seems genuinely anguished all of a sudden—as though Lake-town were the Shire.
  214. Thorin: “I’m taking back what you stole!”
    I suppose the insipid dialogue is more tolerable here, since if you were facing down a dragon, you wouldn’t pause to try and be eloquent.
  215. Oh my god, they’ve built another giant statue!
  216. I’m pretty sure molten gold doesn’t work like this, though I guess this is “dwarven gold,” so whatever.
  217. The Lego Movie was so much better than this.
  218. People often decry these blockbuster action movies by saying “it’s as though it were written by twelve-year-olds,” and that’s not the slightest bit fair to twelve-year-olds, who are usually much more creative.
  219. It would be more appropriate to say that it’s as though this movie were written by lazy hacks who had their heads buried up each other’s, uh, armpits.
  220. OK, Smaug just flew off; we’re finally done.
  221. And now there’s a really bad song to finish it all off.
  222. What is it with these inane fake-folk songs at the ends of these movies? I have a pet theory that if the song over the final credits is bad, then the entire movie is bad.
  223. For instance, All Is Lost is pretty good for its first half, then gets a lot worse in the second half. (It starts doing all the things it wisely resisted doing in the first half.) But the real crime comes when the final credits start, and this amazingly stupid song starts playing. I immediately thought, “However good I thought this movie was, it was actually worse.”
  224. But besides that silly idea, what did I make of The Desolationness of the Smaugness?
  225. I guess we ended up in a better place than we did in An Unexpected Journey, where I felt mostly exhausted by the whole second half. This time around, the second half was definitely stronger than the first, even if all the crosscutting action got a little wearisome by the end.
  226. But I feel more willing, this time, to watch the third movie, as ultimately silly and pointless as this all is.
  227. I mean, I’ve watched five of these things now; I may as well watch the last installment. (Unless they split it into two parts?)
  228. I really don’t mind these movies not being great art for the ages. But they should at least be great entertainment. I mean, Marvel has figured this out. Did you see Thor: The Dark World? That was dumb, but a lot of fun, and pretty to look at, and it zipped right along; it wasn’t even two hours, start to finish. And Iron Man Three was remarkable, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was really quite good, and they were both much shorter than this.
  229. These movies should also be memorable. But even after watching this movie, I feel like I haven’t really seen it.
  230. It’s now been a few days now since I watched it, and I’m trying to remember what most made an impression on me.
  231. I mainly remember the Lake-town set. That was all right.
  232. And Bilbo’s confrontation with Smaug, I suppose.
  233. And the fact that Gandalf was in it.
  234. The rest is already fading away, like the last light of Durin’s Day.
  235. Oh, I also remember that I sat through the entire credits sequence, and wasn’t rewarded with a little scene at the end, like I am in the Marvel movies.
  236. Boo-hoo.
  237. I know I have no one to blame but myself.

Bonus: Here’s the Half in the Bag video review. They point out some of the same things, but discuss other things as well, and ultimately liked the film more than I did (if you’re looking for a more upbeat approach).

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