The worst moment of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films was not when they cut out Tom Bombadil. It wasn’t what he did to Faramir. It was not eliminating the Scouring of the Shire. No—the worst moment in the films was one that a lot of fans liked—when Aragorn sliced off the Mouth of Sauron’s head.
I realize that many people found that moment enormously satisfying. Unfortunately, Tolkien would probably have been furious. According to the rules of civilized warfare, you don’t kill someone during a parley, however strained. And in Middle Earth, the good side follows the rules of civilized warfare. If their morals become muddy in regard to how they fight, they are muddy the entire way around. So I was extremely relieved to find that when, in the second Hobbit movie, an Orc prisoner is killed, it isn’t treated as honorable. Aragorn’s killing was portrayed as justified; Thranduil’s, on the other hand, is bluntly criticized by Legolas.
Let me clarify one thing. I refuse to judge the new movie because it isn’t as “lighthearted” as the book. The Desolation of Smaug is The Hobbit plus The Lord of the Rings appendices. What else do you expect?
However, I do have a few complaints.
- The Kili/Tauriel thing. I don’t mind Legolas having a girlfriend (well, much), but a love triangle with two Elves and a Dwarf is just odd.
- The humor. It’s really junior highish in places. The Hobbit is humorous, all right, but it isn’t this kind of humor.
- The goofier fight sequences. Legolas hopping from Dwarf head to Dwarf head pushes belief, even for an Elf.
- Bringing in modern political ideas. Wasn’t there some a way to talk about the Master of Laketown’s selfish rule without mentioning elections and democracy? I’m sure the dialogue sounds funny to the average moviegoer, but that sort of language never shows up in Tolkien—a Tory with anarchist tendencies.
As for what the movie got right:
- Beorn. He isn’t what I expected, but I look forward to seeing more of him.
- Bolg the Goblin. According to the Appendices, Azog the Defiler was definitely dead, and I still think that Bolg would have been a sufficient foe for Thorin, without the need to make changes from the book. But at least this is a nod to all the fans who have been whining about Bolg’s replacement by his father.
- Smaug. The dragon scenes are far more involved than those in the book, but they are necessary, I think, for Smaug to seem sufficiently ferocious on-screen.
- Bard. Peter Jackson got this one perfect—kids, fish, and all. Willing to stand against the Dwarves for the good of Laketown, Bard is also the only man in Laketown willing to shelter the injured Kili. I look forward to seeing him in the third installment.
Overall impression? The Desolation of Smaug is better, as a movie, than An Unexpected Journey. It also takes more departures from Tolkien’s writings and—more seriously—his viewpoint. I am hesitant to set out a final judgment, however. When the third Hobbit installment comes out, that will be time enough to decide exactly what Peter Jackson has, or has not, accomplished with these films. Film three will be the most difficult in many ways—there is nothing lighthearted or humorous about the Battle of the Five Armies, its preceding events, or most of its aftermath. In that vein, I wish Peter Jackson good luck and sound judgment. He will need both.