Thursday, 2 January 2014

the Desolation of Smaug Review - (WARNING SPOILERS)

I am a fan of director Peter Jackson, I have been since his first feature film "Bad Taste", there has never been a better (or worse) piece of "so bad it's good" horror in history (and to top it off it's so-bad-it's-good intentionally without being over-silly garbage).  I am also a big fan of Tolkien, Lord of the Rings was the first book I ever read by choice (not a school book) after I found it in the local tip and just started reading at eight years old.  It was the book that made me love books, the book that over 30 years ago started me on the path to becoming an author.

Being a fan of both Peter Jackson and Tolkien I was admittedly apprehensive at the thought of Jackson adapting Lord of the Rings, I loved his work but I couldn't see him successfully converting from what he did through to the most important work of epic fantasy in history.  Basically I thought he would cock it up.

I could not have been more wrong, Peter Jackson's adaptation of Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece.

When I heard that Jackson had overcome his aversion and decided to adapt the Hobbit I was understandably excited.  Here was one of my favorite directors continuing with a body of work that produced his masterpiece, his great work.  Nobody else could make the Hobbit, it had to be him, I knew that others had started the work so I was delighted that Jackson had decided to finish it.

Then an Unexpected Journey came out and I was frankly disappointed.  I had gone to the cinema in anticipation and excitement, hope and delight, emotions that the movie frankly failed to live up to.  It was dull, it was boring, the drawves had been turned into cartoonish caricatures and there was a peppering of anachronistic language and modernised themes that didn't work.  Every time it happened I cringed, it broke the feel, destroyed the atmosphere completely.

Rather than a well thought out, long planned, almost perfect script we were shown an adaptation that I would have been ashamed to put my name to if I had written it.  Even the action and spectacle was a failure, far from the realistic (sometimes too realistic) and horrific violence of the Lord of the Rings, the action in an Unexpected Journey was comical and frankly quite silly.  Far too silly. 

Sadly though, the disappointment I felt when I saw an Unexpected Journey pales into insignificance compared to the heartbreak i experienced watching the Desolation of Smaug.

Far from the improvement I would have hoped for, somehow they managed to make a movie even worse than the first one.  It had all the flaws I had seen before, the cartoonish violence, the one-dimensional comedic characterisations, the boring, poorly written padded out script.  Don't forget the Hobbit is only one book, and that book is shorter than one volume of the three volume Lord of the Rings, how they thought to get three epics from it is beyond me.

The biggest problem was the padding.  Understandably there was an intent with the film-making to fill out some unexplained or poorly explained details from the Lord of the Rings.  Turning the Hobbit into a true prequel could even be admirable.  I have no issue with those pieces of padding.  That was not the only padding.


What I have issue with was big chunks of padding that even required massive modifications to the story to fit them in that are there for no good purpose.  The worst crimes against Tolkien's work were when the plot was changed in a major way to fit in padding that featured a character that didn't even exist in the novel they said they were adapting.  I am of course referring to the tokenistic, unnecessary, transparently sales-grabbing character of Tauriel.

Get this straight, I am a woman and a feminist, I would argue always in favor of more female characters in all media.  I personally wouldn't add a female character to the Hobbit because that is almost like messing with sacred writ but I don't disagree with it in principle.  However, if I was to add a female character to the Hobbit it certainly wouldn't be a clich├ęd too-pretty pointless female elvish warrior type.  If I did she certainly wouldn't have been so obviously cast to turn on 15 year old boys.

To rearrange the plot to add filler that focuses on a character that doesn't even exist in the primary text is unforgivable.  Doing it obviously to give boys someone to look at is even worse.

If they truly just wanted to add a female character to reduce the "boys own adventure" aspects of the piece there is a less offensive (though less box-office grabbing) way.  Throughout the Lord of the Rings, and even within the script of the Desolation of Smaug, there are references to Dwarvish women being, on the surface, almost identical to Dwarvish men, even to the point of having beards (in the movie Legolas mistakenly identified a sketch of Gloin's wife as his brother).

It follows that an arguably more feminist and less offensive way to insert a female character would have been to rewrite one (or more) of the dwarves in Thorin's company as female.  This would not require any additions of characters or massive rewrites of major parts of the story line.  Additionally nobody would be able to criticize the production team for inserting vapid, unnecessary and sexist eye-candy.  I do not believe it necessary to point out the comedic value of having one of the dwarves as female, you can work that out for yourself.

There are so many ways that the Desolation of Smaug could have been handled better.  In summary, I have never been so disappointed with a movie in my life, it could have been, it should have been a masterpiece.  To Peter Jackson and the rest of the production team I say this, I am fans but I have to be honest with you, you should have got it right, you can't go back and do it again.

Maybe it would not have been a bad movie if it was something else and not the Hobbit, maybe it would have been better if not being compared to the Lord of the Rings, but it is the Hobbit and it is being compared to the earlier masterpiece.  I was so disappointed with the movie that I wanted to cry.

Finally, if I had finished a script with the line "what have we done!" I would, in embarrassment, never write again.  You could do better.