Chit chat is a dialogue between two or more of our contributors. Caroline, Jessica, and Marie had this chat over Skype, but you can imagine us discussing it over coffee – or tankards of ale at the Prancing Pony. (Expect some spoilers for the movie)
CAROLINE: Today, we’re chit-chatting about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which we all saw on opening weekend. Before we start discussing TDoS itself, I want to get some background on everybody’s history with Tolkien.
Jessica, for starters — I noticed there was a hobbit reference in one of your Internet user names. I take it you consider yourself a big fan?
JESSICA: Yes! I’ve been a big fan of Tolkien since I was about 10, so over half my life. I saw the first movie at the insistence of my older sister, and was utterly captivated, even though at the time I couldn’t tell Aragorn and Boromir apart. I quickly devoured all of the books and sobbed all the way through Return of the King. The Hobbit I read a bit earlier, in the 3rd grade, so I’ve been anticipating these movies for a while. This year for Halloween I dressed as the One Ring!
CAROLINE: Marie, what about you? Do you have a history with the fandom?
MARIE: Jessica’s hardcore! I, on the other hand, started reading the books just after Peter Jackson came out with the first trilogy. But even if I came very late to the bandwagon, I’m still glad to be a part of it.
CAROLINE: Hah, well it’s all relative! Jackson’s first trilogy has been out there for a good while now. I also saw those movies when they were new, and the books — well, let’s be real, I read The Hobbit when *I* was in third grade, and Lord of the Rings a few years later. And if my math’s any good, I’m pretty sure that means I read them before Jessica was born.
So, suffice it to say, we’ve all got some history with the series. I suspect that means we all came in with some expectations. What were you expecting when you came to see TDoS? I assume you already saw the first Hobbit movie and had some opinions about it already.
JESSICA: Well, unlike many fans, I did enjoy the first movie, although it didn’t come anywhere close to being as good as the LotR films. It was a bit of a letdown, despite Martin Freeman’s awesomeness. For TDoS, I expected to be similarly disappointed, but I actually liked it better than the first film, even though it had its own problems. I think it was easier to enjoy because I already knew that Peter Jackson wasn’t going to be entirely faithful to the book.
MARIE: I actually had similar feelings. I found the first installment fairly entertaining in a cartoonish kind of way. I felt there was less of an epic undertone to it in comparison to LoTR, even though both movie series feature a quest. I actually enjoyed TDoS better because they held back (just a bit) on the slapstick.
CAROLINE: My thoughts are very similar! I saw the first movie with a big family group — including my niece, who was 9, who had just read the book. She mostly thought it was too long and boring (except Gollum and the riddles, because who doesn’t love Andy Serkis?) The rest of us (adults) were all fans of the books and the original film trilogy, and . . .well, we mostly felt the same as the nine-year old.
But TDoS was a big improvement, for me, and I’ll link it back to something Jessica said. I had to let go of the idea of it being an adaptation of The Hobbit. (Did I mention The Hobbit is my favorite novel of all time, and Bilbo is my favorite character?) In fact, I thought the parts of TDoS that departed most from the book were the best parts.
JESSICA: When I was watching it, one thing that occurred to me was that if the first trilogy of movies were, essentially, for people who loved the books, then the Hobbit movies were for people who loved the film. A lot of work goes into making explicit connections that a person who loves The Hobbit (the book) might not need or want in an adaptation, but that people who enjoyed the LotR movies but hasn’t read the books might think was really cool.
MARIE: I thought some of the new elements made for a good mix of drama. Bits like the love triangle and the expansion of the lake town’s historical role made the film something to savor for me.
JESSICA: Right! Even though I love the book, I can acknowledge that if a movie was entirely faithful to it, it would be weird – sort of jumpy narratively, and hard to get entirely behind the quest – not to mention that everything is resolved a bit too simply sometimes (it is a children’s book, after all). Tolkien was awesome, but he was writing under the influence of some pretty specific texts, like Beowulf, that are real literary treasures but also a part of a tradition of storytelling that has different values than modern audiences. I think it might have been hard for viewers to connect emotionally to a totally literal adaptation of the book.
CAROLINE: You probably could make a faithful Hobbit movie but it certainly wouldn’t work in the style of Peter Jackson’s first trilogy. Once Jackson and company signed on — and decided to make three movies — I think this is about what we could expect. Still, there are parts of this movie — like the Beorn section — which only seem to be there because they are in the book. I love Beorn, but the movie did nothing with his character and it didn’t move the plot along either. Once they got to the woods though — those Mirkwood visuals won me over. And then the scene where Bilbo climbs the tree and can see over the top of the woods — a part I can vividly remember from the book — I gasped with how amazingly it was realized.
MARIE: The tree scene was one of my favorites. It was so incredibly lush that I wouldn’t have minded if we got to ‘live in it’ a little more.
JESSICA: You’re completely right about the style. I think there was the added pressure that even though there are tons of fans of Tolkien’s books, the movies reached a far wider audience, and they were expecting more of what they saw there. I was also totally awed by the scene with the butterflies as Bilbo looks out over the tops of the trees. I’ve reread the book since the 3rd grade, but back then that was the scene that made the biggest impact on me when I was a kid. The forest was beautiful.
MARIE: Beautiful like the Herbal Essence dream that was Legolas’ hair? Yes.
CAROLINE: And then we get (via a technically impressive but not otherwise very interesting spider fight) to the domain of the Mirkwood Elves. (Someone who has read the Silmarillion is going to tell me they have a technical name, but whatever. They are Mirkwood Elves. Orlando Bloom is back, Lee Pace is posturing, and oh my God there’s a lady elf!)
Marie, you brought up the love triangle among Tauriel, Legolas and — Kili? Fili? You know which dude I mean. The hot one. Can you talk about why you liked that addition?
MARIE: First of all, I’m just glad that there was a lady at all who played a fairly active role. I enjoyed the dynamic of the love triangle because I thought it was one of the few gestures made towards the “older” members of the audience. Plus, I’m a sucker for romance.
Also it was one of the few things that weren’t “quest-related”. I mean I know that trouble is a-brewin’ in Middle Earth, but it’s nice to get some down time once in a while.
JESSICA: I agree with Marie about being a happy that there is a lady! Even though some purists have hrumphed a lot about the addition of Tauriel, I just can’t bring myself to object to an ass-kicking woman being inserted into a story that is almost entirely dominated by men. These movies are going to be seen by millions of people, and for there to be a strong female character – even if it’s just one! – is an awesome thing for people to be seeing.
I’ve had a couple of friends complain that it sucks that Tauriel’s main function is to serve as an object of affection for the male characters. That’s true to some extent, but I’d like to think that the love thread in the story allows an emotional side for both the male and female characters – I think Legolas might have actually drawn a shorter stick in character development than Tauriel – and I hope that Tauriel will continue to do more awesome stuff in the last movie.
Secondly, I think the love triangle adds interest for me because it shows a more human (elven? dwarfish?) side of the characters. It makes the stakes higher and more relatable to the audience. So maybe I’ve never had to defeat a dragon in order to regain my ancestor’s vast treasure hoard, but have I been thwarted in love? Yes. Yes I have.
The romance helps illustrate how a real part of the danger isn’t having a bunch of orcs chase you, it’s the chance that you might not get to experience/be in love. YOU RISK LOSING LOVE. Maybe not one of Tolkien’s original messages, but a good one, nonetheless.
MARIE: Yes! I completely agree! The love triangle definitely raised an element of personal stakes that I felt was sorely missing from the first one.
CAROLINE: I liked all of that as well! I mean, personally I wouldn’t mind having a female character with no associated love story. But it’s not as though she just saw around being a damsel in distress. She showed her independence by befriending KiliFili (I officially will never remember which is which), she fought, and she healed. As for Tolkien’s original themes, I like the way this plot foreshadows Legolas and Gimli’s friendship in LotR proper.
The other original element of story that Marie mentioned is the history of Laketown. For me, Laketown is where the movie got consistently awesome. I love that Bard has a history and a family. I love that there’s an arrogant mayor played by Stephen Fry (!!) and I love the way that the movie establishes consequences for Laketown when the dragon is freed.
MARIE: Oh my various gods, when Stephen Fry appeared I nearly cried I was so happy! What blockbuster isn’t complete without him?
But yes, the expanded lore of Laketown was fascinating. I really found myself drawn to Bard and his quest to redeem his family honor.
JESSICA: Totally agree about Laketown! Bard was awesome – his addition felt totally natural to me! I think that the expansion of its role was necessary ballast for the impending Smaug attack. I can’t wait to see how all that resolves.
CAROLINE: And then the dwarves climb their mountain and Bilbo goes in the treasure cave and — look, I’m just going to say this. From the time he walked in to those mountains and mountains of treasure and the dragon started moving underneath, my jaw was basically on the floor the whole time. I saw the movie in 3-D and basically this answers the question of what 3D was made for. Dragons! Caves full of dragon treasure! Chase scenes and fights between dwarves and dragons!
Some of the earlier action scenes seemed to drag on just for the sake of haivng an action scene (something that IMHO never happened in Jackson’s first trilogy.) But for the last hour, everything that happened was there for a reason, and I couldn’t take my eyes of the screen for a second.
MARIE: The hoard of gold was superbly impressive. When I saw it I thought: yes, were I a dragon I would want to sleep in that forever too. The fight between the dragon and the dwarves was also breathtaking and action-packed, but there was still a naggy part of my brain that went “Huh? What? Physics wouldn’t have allowed any of you to survive this!”
JESSICA: I completely agree about some of the earlier action scenes. Smaug was STUPENDOUS. There were a couple of other spots in the film where I was like, “Really? Peter Jackson is trying to get away with that quality of CGI?” but once Smaug was on the scene, I understood, because all of the special effects crew’s time was clearly spent perfecting him.
I also loved the subtle comic relief when Bilbo entered the treasure hoard. I think the action scenes with Smaug really emphasize how dangerous he is. In the book, it’s all resolved relatively quickly, but these additional scenes, besides being exciting to watch, really brought home how formidable Smaug truly is. I was legitimately frightened while I was watching, even though I know what happens!
CAROLINE: I actually wondered if they were going to change things and kill off a few dwarves at this point. The action did seem pretty intense! I just choose to believe that dwarves are just really resilient.
MARIE: I thought the banter between Bilbo and Smaug was well done. Smaug himself was so very well rendered and I really have to applaud Benedict Cumberbatch for that!
CAROLINE: Cumberbatch has a great dragon voice, for sure. And there’s some terrific dialogue in those scenes. Plus Thorin gets his big faceoff with Smaug as well. Any thoughts about what’s going on with Thorin in this movie?
MARIE: I really felt Thorin’s desperation for one. In the first film, we get that nice touching scene between him and Bilbo in which Thorin accepts him as a valuable member of the company. But here, there was that really intense moment where he demands that Bilbo show him the Arkenstone. It really showed a dark side.
JESSICA: We definitely see more of his dark side. I appreciated it. One thing I always notice in the book is that even though the dwarves are our heroes, they’re also greedy…really greedy. I felt that in the first movie this was really downplayed (it’s hard to get audience members behind a quest rooted in $$$), and while I don’t disagree with that choice, it was cool to see that complexity added in.
CAROLINE: It occurs to me that Thorin’s covetousness toward the Arkenstone in The Hobbit (book) introduces a lot of the themes that Tolkien would explore in much more detail with the One Ring in the LotR trilogy. Since we saw some foreshadowing of Sauron’s connection to the Ring throughout this movie, I wonder if that parallel will be played up more in the final film.
Speaking of the final film, what did you think about the place that this one ended? Several people in my theater audibly gasped, then got indignant, and I had to wonder if they had REALIZED coming in that there was going to be another movie after this one.
JESSICA: I think it leaves a LOT of action for the final film! I honestly thought the Smaug story would be resolved in this one and that the entire next film would focus on Battle of the Five Armies. When I initially heard that TDoS was getting good reviews, I was wondering if the middle movie would be the strongest one in the trilogy. But so much juicy stuff has been left to deal with – Azog/orcs, Smaug, giant battle, Bard’s story, love triangle – that I think the last film is going to be the best of the three.
MARIE: I did think the second film ended on an odd note, but I felt that it was appropriate for a cliffhanger. It does make me wonder how the third film will be drawn out. I’m guessing that Bard will get his shining moment. But speaking of Sauron, I’m curious about Peter Jackson’s strategy to use him as a way to bridge the gap between The Hobbit and LotR. After all the first LotR occurred years after this.
CAROLINE: Yeah, a big part of me was going, “Retcon!” But then, the whole creation of the Ring of Power was a retcon — Bilbo’s ring in ‘The Hobbit’ is a silly, innocuous, plot device; if I remember correctly, Tolkien even edited the book to get rid of some inconsistencies. (Again, somebody who’s a real Tolkien nerd can come correct me in the comments, et cetera).>
In any case, I came away thinking (1) there are only like 5 pages left in the book at this point, right? and (2) There is plenty of material left for a third movie. (To be fair, the Battle of Helm’s Deep is like two pages in print and an hour on the screen in The Two Towers.) I really liked the endpoint, because it suggests the final movie is going to be about playing out all the conseqences that this one set up. Especially in Laketown. >
Before we end, any particular hopes or expectations you have for the final installment of the trilogy?
JESSICA: A small secret part of me can’t help but hope that the final movie will be LotR caliber. I know it’s dangerous to hope that, especially since I believe that my low expectations helped me enjoy this film, but I JUST CAN’T HELP IT. There is so much potential for a really epic film, one without the filler problem that the first two suffered from. For the next year I’m going to do my best to keep my excitement in check, but I don’t know how successful I’ll be.
MARIE: For me, I’m all fired up for the dragon battle (pun intended). I’m also really eager to see how the add-ons (like the love triangle) will be resolved. And while the films themselves seem to be gearing towards a happy ending, I too hope that the presence of Sauron will give the final installment that savory LoTR flavor from the first trilogy.
CAROLINE: I agree with all of this, and I’m also hoping we’ll see some development of the human society in Laketown. I particularly liked that we saw some characters of color in the crowd scenes. Next movie, maybe they’ll even get some lines!
But sarcasm aside, Jackson’s movies have always excelled at showing the politics of human conflict. I want to see Bard get his redemption, but I also want to see the people of Laketown — people of all races and sexes — fight for their home.
And between now and then, I want to read a whole shit-ton of fanfiction about them.
Any final thoughts?
JESSICA: 1. Those white water rafting handi-cam shots were WEIRD 2. WHY was Legolas riding away from Laketown on a horse such bad CGI? (I know, it’s because Smaug was exquisitely done…I guess it’s a fair trade.) 3. I had a dream where I had to save kittens from Smaug after I saw the movie and it was really frightening.
MARIE: Yes for diversity. Yes for proactive ladies. The film wasn’t perfect but it was still a great ride- so I’ll still be in line for the third film for sure!
So that’s our take on The Desolation of Smaug. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!