Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Lord of the Wrongs

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the latest squirt of milk to be squeezed from the Tolkien teat by Peter Jackson and his clan of creative kiwis. Unfortunately, the milk has long since curdled, leaving us with nearly three hours of tepid cheese.

The first instalment of the unfathomably expanded Hobbit trilogy was a bloated trudge through the once-wonderful Middle Earth, with occasional bright spots (Gollum, Martin Freeman, er...), but this sequel arrived in cinemas amidst claims of improvement on its disappointing predecessor.

Could this be a return to form for Jackson after the mis-steps of King Kong, The Lovely Bones and Hobbit 1?

It could've been, but it's not.

TH:TDOS (catchy acronym) is just as plodding and padded as the first instalment, the choice to inflate Tolkien's slender tome beyond its compact narrative backfiring spectacularly by making about half of the film irrelevant and uninvolving.

Remember the scenes in the LOTR trilogy when it cut back to the elves swanning around in their soft-focus nighties talking in slow-motion about immortality and stuff? To a lot of people, those scenes were toilet breaks, an opportunity to nip to the bog and know that you weren't going to miss anything vital.

At least half of the scenes in this film are like that.

Attempts to characterise the various faceless dwarves, feeble pseudo-romantic subplots and a tenuous attempt to tie events in to LOTR all just feel like distractions from what should be the main event: Bilbo. Having an adventure. Unfortunately there is a distinct lack of Hobbit in this Hobbit film.

But hey, Legolas is back, right? Everyone wanted that, right? If there was one thing I was unsatisfied about at the end of LOTR, it was that I didn't know enough about Legolas' Daddy issues and girl trouble.

Don't get me wrong, Evangeline Lilly is a lot of fun as Tauriel, and there is a certain amount of pleasure to be gleaned from watching an older, slower Orlando Bloom try to recapture his flaxen-locked youth, but it all just feels like pandering filler that any sensible editor wouldn't let past the splicer.

This is to say nothing of the typical inconsistencies brought about by prequelitis (Gandalf sees the eye of Sauron in this film, so why doesn't he recognise it immediately in Bag End in FOTR? Legolas never says "Oh, I met your Dad once." to Gimli? And don't tell me he forgot, he's a fucking Elf. And that bit with Gloin's locket-picture might be the only time I've shouted "OH FUCK OFF" at a Tolkien movie. OH LOOK LEGOLAS THINKS GIMLI IS UGLY BUT WE KNOW THEY BECOME FRIENDS IN THE FUTURE AREN'T WE A CLEVER AUDIENCE HAHAHAHAHA go fuck yourself

Anyway. The headline act for this film is surely Smaug the Massive Dragon Bastard, voiced and mocapped by Sherlock's Humperdink Bandersnatch, but Jackson fumbles this epic final showdown as well. Smaug is a vaguely impressive special effect bolstered by Bandersnatch's rumbling tones, but the final act is a repetitive run around in a murky cavern with some silly business with a giant golden dwarf.

This tonal peculiarity is fairly constant throughout the film, with Jackson struggling to combine the lighter adventure of The Hobbit source material with the gritty historical-fantasy epic scale he reached in the LOTR trilogy. Take, for instance, the much-lauded barrel escape sequence; Jackson bounces off from events in the novel into an action set-piece with all the physical logic of a Looney Tunes cartoon, then peppers it with decapitations and impalements. And if I want to see some terrible graphics bouncing down some river rapids, I'll go and play Toobin'.

The peculiar over-reliance on CGI also leaves a sour taste in the mouth. After the almost tangible Middle Earth introduced to us in the LOTR trilogy through practical effects, make up, locations, miniatures and CG, the world of The Hobbit seems somehow painted on. Barely a shot goes by without the spectral presence of digital imagery clouding the realism.

On the DVD extras of ROTK, Peter Jackson can be seen demanding Weta Digital re-animate a shot of a falling Hefalump because he feels the shot wouldn't be possible in reality. Where is that Peter Jackson now? The Hobbit is riddled with jarring, impossible shots that smash you in the face with the fact you're watching a film. I can't be the only one who thinks Peter Jackson has been killed and replaced, Paul McCartney style? Seriously, would the same film-maker who had the good sense to cut Tom Bombadil because he was silly and didn't serve the story feel that this movie simply couldn't do without an irrelevant opening visit to Beorn the Wacky Bearbloke's house?

The whole exercise smells of desperation, on the part of the studio and the artists involved. The Hobbit was never supposed to be a trilogy of three hour movies. It's possible that, when all three movies are released, someone will be able to cut a fairly decent two hour film from the best bits, but as of now we are two-thirds of the way through a thankless quest.

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