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The Desolation of Smaug: A test of Peter Jackson’s humility

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After the disappointment of An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug has a lot to prove; so does Peter Jackson.

Yes it’s an article about the Hobbit films. Yes, there will be some bitter critiques about the decision to split the book into three films. But there’s not really a whole lot more to say on the subject. It’s done, the decisions have been made and there’s no going back on it now. What people should be worried about now is the humility of Peter Jackson.

It’s a major problem that The Desolation of Smaug will serve only as a bridge between the beginning and the end

Like it or not, The Hobbit is now a trilogy, and trilogies like this are always a tricky affair. They’re not like superhero trinities that are made up of three more or less standalone films – they’re one continuous story split into three. What that means is that there is a beginning and an end to the story. That’s fine for the first and last films, but it’s a major problem for the intervening one: In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, whilst all of them were brilliant films, The Two Towers was undeniably the weakest. It served more as a bridge between the beginning and the end – there was no real story to it itself (not a strong one anyway). No-one of any importance died, and the Frodo and Sam story conclusion felt forced.

All in all, there was a distinct lack of dramatic tension running through the whole film. Now, remember, that was with a whole book serving as source material, and they still had trouble adapting it. So when you think that The Desolation of Smaug is based pretty much on seven chapters and roughly 138 pages (depending on what edition you read), it doesn’t exactly breed much confidence, does it?

desolation of smaug dragon

I’ve come to terms with the fact that The Hobbit Trilogy isn’t going to be anywhere near as good as Lord of the Rings, especially after the soul-crushing disappointment of An Unexpected Journey. But the best we can hope for is that Jackson and co will have learnt from their mistakes from The Two Towers. Whilst that film had to crowbar in some kind of resolution with Helm’s Deep, Osgiliath and Isengard, in Desolation of Smaug, hopefully, there’ll be some sort of a natural conclusion – the death of Smaug and The White Council’s attack on Dol Goldur. There’ll presumably also be some role for Tauriel in Legolas, most likely persuading Thranduil to help the Dwarves.

Sadly, as the films were all shot at the same time, Jackson won’t have learnt from his mistakes on An Unexpected Journey

All sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Of course this is mostly speculation on my part, but that seems the logical ending to a film called The Desolation of Smaug. It still leaves the gaping problem of just what is going to happen in There and Back Again except a big clusterfuck of a battle. But that’s next year’s problem. For now, the problem is that, sadly, as the films were all shot at the same time, Jackson won’t have learnt from his mistakes on An Unexpected Journey. Rather, he seems set on doing what he did with that film: copy the template of its Lord of the Rings counterpart.

An Unexpected Journey was, more or less, The Fellowship of the Ring just with different characters and locations; the structure and plot points were essentially the same. Set out on a quest, get chased by enemies (Ringwraiths/Azog), stop at Rivendell, encounter problems in the mountains, then journey through the mountains and end with a final fight. It all seemed very lazy and it appears that it’s just going to happen all over again in Desolation. Tauriel and Legolas look set to replace Merry and Pippin in trying to force the Elves into going to war, a la the Ents and Isengard. The fight between Smaug, the Dwarves and Dale will replace Helm’s deep. Hopefully, the battle of Dol Guldur will inject some freshness into the proceedings.

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These varying story tangents will at least stop Desolation from being as linear and plodding as An Unexpected Journey, but a lot depends on how well Jackson’s departures from the book work. Tauriel is completely made up, as is her potential romantic relationship with Legolas, who also never featured in The Hobbit. Gandalf’s mission in Dol Guldur was mentioned in the appendices, but will likely need a lot of expansion for the film, and the same applies for Luke Evans’s Bard. With so little material to work with, these stories will undoubtedly fill a lot of the running time.

The Hobbit was always going to be a hard book to adapt. It had to combat unrealistic expectations

The Hobbit was always going to be a hard book to adapt. It’s a lot more fanciful and childish than The Lord of the Rings and, on top of that, it had to combat the unrealistic expectations of being as good as that trilogy. The filmmakers didn’t help themselves with splitting it into three, but as long as they avoid the pitfalls of their past mistakes (which Jackson is aware of) then hopefully The Desolation of Smaug won’t be a complete disappointment. It’s not going to be as good as The Two Towers, but the best it can hope for is that it won’t be compared to it.

 

All images: Warner Bros

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