Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Hobbit Discovers Desolation

Click here to read my main thoughts on the initial installment, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Where, you may be wondering, has all my chatter been about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug? The movie's been out for over a week, and don't I usually like to see long-awaited movies on opening day?

Well, yes, I do. But no longer being directly around the Phoenix area makes that a little more difficult, especially since I specifically wanted to see the movie in HFR 3D. But I figured that it would be okay to wait a few extra days; it isn't as if the theatres were going to stop playing it so soon, anyway. So I tried to contain my excitement until I walked into the theatre at 12:25 on Sunday. Delightfully, it was still empty for the 1:00 showing, so I waltzed over to the middle of the third row up on the top section of seats. Other people soon followed in, but it was a pretty light crowd, all huddled together in the middle of the theatre like one big family, everyone trying to sit as far from each other as possible while still staying as close to the middle as possible.

The lights faded, and Middle-earth began before our eyes.

Before the praise, I have one quick note to make. I can see The Hobbit as having come out in two installments, instead of three. With that said, if they had enough footage, why not make a third movie? It's easier than cutting extra-long extended editions. Then, with a trilogy come certain structural elements. The Desolation of Smaug is Act II of three. So it doesn't have the same kind of clarity to its beginning, or neat tying-up at its ending. And it lets itself be filled with action sequences and revelations of darkness: this is only the middle section of the story, so it does not need to have everything in it. The trilogy will be, in all its parts, complete.

What was so exciting about watching this movie was all the new things we saw. Beorn was well-rendered; Mirkwood was creepy; the elves were nicely different and odd in comparison to the Rivendell or Lothlorien elves; and Lake-town was incredible. For some reason, my mind always comes out muddy from anything related to Lake-town or Bard; I just can't picture any of it. So to see it all onscreen was priceless. The detail of the architecture, the particular feel of the music, the story that they give to Bard's family, it all helps to fill in the blanks that were in my mind and to give this location a real sense of place.

Oh, yes, and we must not forget to mention the beautiful nature shots. HFR 3D, your clarity makes you my friend as strongly as you were last year. Visually, fabulous.

There are plenty of discussions of what is or isn't different from the book Tolkien wrote. But what I'm interested in exploring right now is what this movie did offer to me as a viewer. As I said, it was only Act II. Act I introduced us to the quest and the characters, and Act III will draw in the final meaning of everything. So Act II does, essentially, have the luxury to take its time and simply entertain us. Sure, they dragged out action sequences longer than necessary and completely made up that final fight with the dragon. But it all looked cool and played out well and still had some connection to the characters, so I don't see any reason to complain. Because there are three movies, allowing these action sequences didn't have to take away from other scenes.

And yet you still have that horrible development that leads to Bilbo's final words, "What have we done?" and the end credits song, "I See Fire." What began as fun action becomes very tragic. And we see this progression through Bilbo's eyes. He was the one who vaguely called all of this "adventures," of which he was scared. But in this movie, Bilbo begins to see the wider implications and results of what he and his company are doing; he begins to understand the wideness of the world. By saying, "What have we done?" he is not only facing the horror of having helped push the dragon out of the mountain onto Lake-town, but he is also recognizing the tragedy of the world. The tragedy of the world, that is, becomes more tragic when you realize from where it comes. "I See Fire" perfectly complemented this final mood, especially considering that I was not expecting the movie to end so abruptly. There was no fabricated resolution to end the movie because there is no resolution at this point in the story: they have entered the Lonely Mountain as planned, but it has not played out as the good thing that Bilbo thought it would be. And that realization is enough to make a moving ending to this part of the story.

One last mention concerning Tauriel. We all know that she's in there just because there are no female characters in the story as Tolkien wrote it. But I was surprised that she didn't annoy me (Arwen sometimes annoys me). Maybe it's because she's more straightforward than Arwen was and because her role as a warrior is clear. Although there is some hinting about relationships (I knew the Legolas thing would be there, but I was not expecting Kili to be added to the mix. That was sort of hilarious, but also not entirely unlike the Legolas/Gimli relationship.), she isn't limited to that and it isn't her primary role in the story. She kind of makes sense in the story, so I don't mind her. Considering that the filmmakers completely made her up, I think she comes across okay.

I suppose that would be it, then. (Oh, wait, I said nothing of the dragon. Smaug was good; his CG and design were really good; his voice was good; his dialogue with Bilbo even echoed the Riddles in the Dark conversation slightly.) Now let me go and listen to "I See Fire" again; I love how well these songs fit in with the feeling of the movies.

Oh, yes, and I haven't forgotten that it's Christmas: I also watched Mickey's Christmas Carol a couple days ago and The Santa Clause last night. Merry Christmas Eve to everyone.

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