The second installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, based on a short book that bears little resemblance to the movies, is a fun, exciting film, even for people (like my husband) who generally don’t enjoy fantasy. I loved all the LOTR movies and books, and thoroughly enjoyed the first Hobbit movie, even though it really could have been about half an hour shorter. Peter Jackson has proven himself to be a great story teller – and that’s the key word – because his stories often expand and extend JRR Tolkien’s often long-winded and sometimes difficult-to-read books.
But I’ll assume, since you’re reading this, that Jackson’s versions are ok with you, that you have your own opinions about the books and movies, and know how to find (and have probably read) some actual reviews of this new film. So rather than a straight review of this epic, I’ll give you some of my top – and bottom – moments. Before you start reading, click here to begin playing Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire,” the excellent song that plays over the credits. It’ll put you in the right mood.
Peter King, the hair and makeup designer for both LOTR and The Hobbit movies, did a terrific job of designing fun (and funny) looks for the dwarves, elves and other assorted creatures. Several of the dwarves had few lines, but you could easily tell them apart by their unique hair and beard styles. From the very simple to the highly intricate, hair and beard styling was a great way to differentiate the characters. The Elf nobility had the fine, white-blond hair we expected, while Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) sported beautiful and complex braids (ok, one little pet peeve of women portrayed in film – obviously, the women are styled to be attractive to men; any woman involved in any kind of physical activity certainly wouldn’t leave her hair loose to flop in her face and obstruct her vision! Never heard of a ponytail? Get that hair out of your eyes, girl!). So, my faves:
Dwarves: Nori (Jed Brophy) with his triangular, three-part hair and extreme braided beard
Elves: Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) – simple, straight and nearly white, but perfection with the fabulous crown
Wizard: Radegast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy, a former Dr. Who) needs a major shampoo and cut, but gives the term “birds nest” extreme meaning (McCoy appeared in a Doctor Who short “mockumentary” at the same time he was filming The Hobbit – watch that video here and see some of the Hobbit location filming)
Doctor: David Tennant (oops, sorry, how did that get in here?)
With a huge budget and extremely talented VFX artists, nearly any scene is possible. But to make a VFX scene fantastic emotionally as well as visually, it takes a great director’s vision. The Hobbit had several wonderful scenes.
The Barrel Ride: The dwarves escape Thranduil’s jails by riding barrels down a whitewater river, attempting to dodge Orc arrow and large rocks. I loved Bombur’s detour onto the shore, mowing down orc after orc, finally emerging (well, sort of) from the barrel with weapon in each hand, becoming a whirling dervish of orc destruction.
Bilbo’s Near Capture: Having gotten the dwarves into the empty barrels and down the river, Bilbo realizes that he doesn’t know how he’ll follow them when the floor closes up and he can’t figure out how to get it open again. A short scene, but very funny!
First view of Lake-Town: As the dwarves are rowed in by Bard, we get our first view of the watery village of Lake-Town. If you’ve followed Peter Jackson’s video diary (on The Hobbit’s Facebook page, and highly recommended- they’re funny, informative, and extremely interesting), you’ve seen in-production film of this scene, but I still wasn’t prepared for the full view of the huts on stilts and high canals of Lake-Town.
First view of Smaug: The gold, acres and acres of it, parts just enough to see the malevolent red eye of Smaug the dragon (in case you haven’t yet seen the film, I’m not going to include a picture of Smaug). A fan art event was held that produced some wonderfully creative renderings, but the “real” Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, was threatening, malicious, and huge. The scene with Bilbo attempting to grab the Arkenstone and escape, while trying to flatter Smaug to gain time – and Smaug having none of it – was a thrill. Smaug seemed quite chatty – who wouldn’t be after being alone and buried in all that gold for years and years?
Finding the Keyhole: My son, who has seen the film twice already, mentioned this scene this morning. How did Thorin and the dwarves get back up to the door into Erebor quickly enough to keep the key from falling into the abyss, when they had left in despair several minutes ago? What did they do, go five feet away and stop to cry, then rush back?
How do you turn a short book geared toward children (yes, it was a children’s book) into three epic films? You have to embellish. And invent. And expand. Legolas? Not in The Hobbit book. While his father, Elvenking Thranduil, and the dwarves’ imprisonment in Mirkwood was in the book (although it played a smaller part), Legolas didn’t appear until LOTR. I’m not going to quibble, though – any chance to watch Orlando Bloom (looking much more mature than when he appeared in LOTR) is quite acceptable.
Tauriel – complete invention. Not a bad one – Evangeline Lilly was good (but not Galadriel good), playing the sylvan elf love interest. Her potential inter-species romance with dwarf Kili is sure to send Legolas over the edge, as he’s displayed his disdain for the dwarves.
Radagast: Mentioned only briefly in the book, but a fun addition to the series, bird crap or not. I love his rabbit-pulled sleigh.
Kili’s Poisoning by Arrow: If it’s really in the book, please let me know (it’s been a while since I read it), but I’m sure that this, like the potential Tauriel-Kili romance, is an invention.
The Characters, Good and Bad
Some of the dwarves were individuals, with obvious reasons to be there. Calm, wise old Balin (Ken Stott) is the conscience and common sense of the group. Bombur (Stephen Hunter) is the clown. Kili (Aidan Turner) is the dwarf heartthrob. And Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the dwarf king-t0-be, shows sadness, impatience and flashes of anger at his situation. I’ll give a quick shout-out to Graham McTavish, playing cranky Dwalin, because he’s one of the stars of next year’s cable presentation of another favorite book series, Outlander (which I am also reviewing for this site). But the rest of the dwarves? Background scenery.
Bard (Luke Evans) is mysterious, reluctantly helpful, concerned about the welfare of his motherless children. He’ll play a critical role in the third installment, we’re told, as the descendant of the man who helped the dwarves’ attempt to fight off Smaug.
And Alfrid (Ryan Gage), servant of the Master of Lake-Town, is smarmy, self-important, and a threat to the success of the dwarves’ venture. Watch carefully when he assists the Master’s preparations for the day – he takes a swig of the Master’s drink before handing him the glass!
All in All…
Tolkien scholars and picky people may not enjoy this series as much as those of us who love the films as movies separate from the books. But these are fun movies with a good story. The visual effects are stunning, enhanced by the awesome natural beauty of the New Zealand locations. This was a terrific Christmas present, and I’m eagerly awaiting next year’s final installment!