It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie. I repeated the mantra, but if I adhered to it, and not just in this case but in general, if I got all Zen-like and hey-let-it-ride, what would I write about this year?
So my two boys and I went off to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I don’t have to pile on too aggressively, since there are plenty of critiques of the movie out there. Here’s a good one. (By the way, spoilers about The Hobbit, book and movie, follow.)
It’s Peter Jackson’s movie. I’m aware of that. If I want to whine too much about it, I should somehow obtain the charisma, talent, and money of Jackson to make my own halfling movie. I love the book, but I’m not a purist. I recognize, again, it’s only a movie.
With that thought front and center, and armed with my mantra, I was good with Jackson’s approach. Until about two hours in. Then disappointment. The problem wasn’t that Jackson’s movie looked shockingly like most of the stream of trailers we sat through before the movie: all slow motion fighting and violence (like the last movie) and dumb quotes.
The problem wasn’t the length. It is a long movie. When I looked over I guess in the hope of seeing child-like wonderment in the face of my 12-year-old (incidentally, this quest for child-like wonderment is one source of constant disappointment: Parents to be, lower thy expectations!), he muttered, “This is a long movie.” Still, it was good enough. We three avoided overpriced candy and popcorn and got out of there for 35 bucks for about 8 person hours of entertainment. Not bad.
My problem, even if I hadn’t read the book, is that the movie became plain old stupid. Inane like almost every action movie. Imbecilic like the newer Star Wars movies. Stupid and thoughtless.
The stupidity hovers around it, but it settles in strong when Bilbo and the dwarves finally meet the titular villain, the epic dragon Smaug. From there, your pleasant suspension of disbelief must shift to shut-your-brain-off-and-love-bright-noises mode. Otherwise, you’re in for frustration.
Jackson didn’t follow the book, which, again, is fine, but the book’s plot is smarter than Jackson’s. Why downgrade? In the book, Bilbo, the hired thief, ventures solo into the dragon’s lair. He sees the sleeping dragon, grabs a golden cup, and flees back to the dwarves, proving his thieving abilities. The dragon awakens suddenly and realizes this single cup is missing from his vast horde — his avarice depicted so well — and goes out on a pony-eating rampage, seeking the thieves. Later, invisible Bilbo then returns to the lair and trades wits with the dragon before escaping, barely, back to the dwarves.
In the movie, Jackson has the trading wits part right away and then has the whole group go into the dragon’s lair. Keep in mind, these dumb dwarves have been captured so far by goblins, trolls, spiders, and elves during their adventure. They are not exactly a bunch of Navy Seals. Yet the dragon, a creature of mythical proportions that has – time to go nuts with Italics — devastated an entire region of the world, destroyed entire communities, singlehandedly wiped out a whole city of ancestral dwarven defenders, can’t kill these bumbling intruders in his own lair. Remember Dungeons & Dragons? It wasn’t Dungeons & Goblins. “Dragon” = epic, mythical. A dragon is often the last thing adventurers see.
But this dragon can’t kill the dwarves. Then, the stupid-ass movie version of the creature, after an absurd life-or-death battle with the thieves, leaves them in his lair with all his treasure while he goes out to destroy a human city. In the book, when Smaug misses the golden cup, he rampages: “To hunt the whole mountain till he had caught the thief and had torn and trampled him was his one thought.” In the movie, he splits. He ends the film saying, “I am death,” which I found laughable considering he’s not even death to the goofy oafs in his own home.
“Okay, so you’re death,” I thought, in an attempt to buy in. As we walked out of the theater, my youngest, my little guy, said, “Why would the dragon leave with all those thieves in his lair?” As if smote, I reeled, stumbled, leaned against a nearby car, choked back despair and other emotional surges, and then said, patting him, “I don’t know son. It’s part of a greater cultural dissolution of plot and logic.” Realizing the possible scarring, I added, perhaps unconvincingly, “Oh, it’s just a movie.” I handed him the last Sno-Cap from my pocket, and we all drove home.
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