'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' Review: 'Pirates of the Caribbean' with Orcs
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'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' Review: 'Pirates of the Caribbean' with Orcs

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film Reviews | December 26, 2013 | Comments ()

The novel The Hobbit is 95,000 words long. The average American adult reads at approximately 250 words per minute. Which means that they can read The Hobbit in a bit more than six hours, which is significantly shorter than the nine hour projected run time of Jackson’s trilogy. Hell, the unabridged audiobook, which meanders along at a sedate 150 words per minute comes in at only eleven hours, which will undoubtedly be shorter than the super extended edition director’s cut that comes out sometime in 2016. Breaking a 300 page novel into a trilogy means that each individual movie is only covering a hundred pages of prose, shorter than most screenplays are in the first place.

What this should mean is that Peter Jackson should have more than enough run time to include absolutely everything from the novel in glorious detail. Instead it has meant that Jackson has systematically cut out large portions of the novel, and inexplicably back-filled it with amateurish crap on par with what fantasy fans scrawl in notebooks when they’re bored in junior high study halls.

When The Fellowship of the Ring came out, there was much trepidation among fans of Tolkien’s novels. We had that weird cartoon musical adaptation twenty years earlier that still scarred our psyches, and so the idea that the guy who had done The Frighteners was being given hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a big budget Hollywood version was not exactly comforting news. And then the movie was fantastic. There were changes to be sure, but there are always going to be compromises moving a several hundred page novel to the screen. The mediums are different, and the key is in whether there is loyalty to the intent of the story. Fellowship was exactly that.

And then Jackson was told how awesome he was and went off the rails entirely in the second and third films. He cut swathes of events in order to make room for additions of his own devising. He turned a two page mostly off-screen battle in The Two Towers into two-thirds of a film. He systematically cut as much hobbit screen time as possible in order to ensure that the adventures of Aragorn were not only lovingly rendered, but expanded in leaps and bounds from the novels.

And in doing so, he entirely missed the heart of those stories. Critics have complained that all of the characters in Tolkien’s novels with the exception of the various hobbits, are terrible characters, simple archetypes that don’t have evolution or story arcs. Jackson himself insisted that he needed to change that, and defends his edits to the story on that basis. But that betrays the simple fact that those characters don’t develop because they aren’t the protagonists of the novels. The great heroes are static, parts of the background, and these are tales of how the courage of the common man, with no great powers or heritage, can bend the events of the world through simple courage.

Tolkien was a man who was deeply personally scarred by the world wars, and while his novels are not anything so pedantic as allegory, that world view of the miracle of democracies and their common men tearing down the great edifices of tyranny is embedded in every word of his stories.

The single most symbolic event in the failure of Jackson’s films to understand what the point of the story is, is the excising of The Scouring of the Shire. Citing budgets (on these billion dollar films) and time constraints (with extended editions several weeks long) is smokescreen for the reality that Jackson simply doesn’t know what the hell the point of that final chapter is. It drives home the decisions to invent hours of battle scenes at the expense of what was actually on the page.

Now, one can of course correctly argue that all stories are open to interpretation, and that my interpretation simply differs from Jackson’s. That’s fine, but I don’t argue that Jackson can’t have his own interpretation, can’t have an emotional response that resonates with different parts of the plot than me, or that it is necessary to interpret something precisely as the author intended. But what I will argue is that Jackson’s interpretation of the meaning of the story is trite, superficial, and altogether boring. I will argue that if the only thing that resonates with you in The Lord of the Rings is super-cool-fantasy-battle-kill-ALL-the-orcs, then maybe you have the emotional makeup of an eleven year-old World of Warcraft addict, and somebody else should be in charge of adapting this story.

Jackson’s insistence on changing what is on the page is the most infuriating film experience I have ever had, and it gets worse with every passing film. He does not change for the sake of adaptation. His systematic changes to the story methodically reduce clever (and yes, cinematic) events on the page into dull abbreviations for the sake of adding interminable chase sequences.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the apex of his annihilation of the source material. Recall how the party wanders for weeks in the darkness of the forest, in nights so dark that they can’t even see their hands in front of their faces, slowly starving to death as their rations run out, of slowly going insane in the darkness before the spiders descend upon them in the blackness. That’s terrifying.

Naw, let’s just have them get lost after walking for an hour, and then we can have a fight scene. And then the super cool elves can show up and shoot stuff. Legolas, fuck yeah! Then we can get to the important business of creating a love triangle between Legolas, Evangeline Lilly, and one of the dwarves.

Remember how all the dwarves are imprisoned for weeks by the elves, and Bilbo is hiding invisibly the entire time, descending into depression and desperation, stealing food and searching for a way out before engineering their escape down river? Fuck it, have it happen the same night they get there. Why should we spend any time having tension build, or the main character actually having any agency in the movie named after him, when we can skip to having a half-hour long scene of the dwarves fighting orcs as they plummet down an endless series of rapids? And Legolas can show up again and shoot a bunch of stuff! Fuck yeah!

Congratulations, you’ve made Pirates of the Caribbean with orcs.

I’d compare such sequences to video games, but that’s an insult to video games. In a video game, physics have to follow logic of some sort, because otherwise you would have no ability to control your character. Jackson has no such limitations and so things jump, bounce, and ramble around with no discernible connection to any physical reality other than what he thinks would look cool in a given frame.

Or remember the glorious description of how Smaug’s belly is impenetrably armored because of the gold and jewels that have become embedded in it? And how Bilbo goads Smaug into showing off his belly, thus discovering the chink in the armor above his heart? And how his finding this is communicated to Bard who kills the dragon with the final arrow in his quiver?

Fuck that. No gold and jewels, just a missing scale where Bard’s father had damaged the dragon a generation before. A fact that Bard already knows. Thus taking away yet another reason for Bilbo to even be in the story. It’s far more important that a tall brooding hero get all the credit for everything, which is something Tolkien clearly just had no understanding of.

Oh, and don’t worry, Bard’s not just a man who kills Smaug with the last arrow of his long bow, the weapon of the English freeman. No, Jackson’s changed that so that he’s an underground revolutionary and has a super tower-mounted crossbow artillery thing, and the “black arrow” is a mythicly magic macguffin forged by dwarves explicitly for the killing of dragons. Fuck yeah! Because that’s way more dramatic and cinematic than a lone man slaying a dragon with the last arrow in his quiver.

And the last forty minutes of this installment are the dwarves running around trying to use traps and trickery to kill Smaug as he rampages through the inside of the mountain. Fuck yeah! None of it makes the slightest bit of sense, but several dramatic speeches are given, none by Bilbo of course, and a lot of running and exploding and such takes place. Good thing they cut everything Bilbo does so that they could use the run time for Jackson to jerk off his special effects team at length.

Look, this film is terrible. Peter Jackson systematically cuts everything from the book that is cinematic and interesting and layers on his own story instead, a story that is amateurish crap. One gets the impression that if the title of the book wasn’t “The Hobbit” that Jackson would cut Bilbo out entirely.

I double checked the book, and there is only 70 pages of it left for the third movie. So I assume the first hour will be the two pages when Smaug attacks Laketown, the last hour and a half will be the five pages dedicated to the final battle, and the balance will be chase scenes. I’d be surprised at this point if the titular hobbit even has any lines in the film.

It’s clear in retrospect that Jackson’s basic response to Tolkien’s works is that they would be great if it weren’t for all those scenes with hobbits in them. Adaptations always involve changes, and the retelling of stories tends to reinterpret old stories with each passing generation, but there is a staggering level of hubris involved with a director whose default assumption is that he will simply cut everything and write from scratch when adapting the best-selling novel of the twentieth century. That’s not a new interpretation of the source material, it’s contempt for it.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Misleading Onion

    I wish I could give a thousand fuck-yous to Peter Jackson for what he's done to 'The Hobbit'. How could anyone given such an opportunity mess up so bad? Great review, by the way.

  • DarthCorleone

    Finally watched it. It's worse - so much worse - than I imagined. The third act with Smaug is mind-numbing, preposterous, and laughable. Jackson is out of his gourd.

  • brian

    Why People cant understand the fact that the movies are not the books? its been like this for like 10 years... why dont you all tokien purist (or should I say assholes) make your own movies???? I love the books, they are way better of course, and nothing will change that... EVER! Peter cant "destroy" them, so chill up! stop crying XD Im starting to think that most of you guys go to de cinema to "compare", besides, a very very stick to the book adaptation would be sooooooooooooo boring, you call this a raview? "Peter jackson sucks, everything he does sucks bla bla bla" and, the best part, is that you can choose to not see them AT ALL! never! no one will use an specula to hold your eyes and watch them XD! I DONT defend his work, but there is too much HATE here...

  • Maddy

    This is perfect and explains exactly why I couldn't stand this movie. It's not even the fact that it's different from the book (which I haven't read for a long time) but that it shows absolutely no self restraint or discipline in actually telling a story. I did actually like Tauriel though, I could have done without the love triangle, but she was refreshing and charismatic and one of the only bright spots in the movie. It just veers so wildly between goofy and light barrel sequences to taking itself so seriously that it completely misses the point.

    And Martin Freeman is SUCH perfect casting, which infuriates me even more. I still haven't seen the first movie, apparently the Gollum stuff is good so I guess I'll check it out eventually. The dragon looked incredible, and Benedict Cumberbatch was fantastic, but it went on way too long. And was Thorin such a dick to Bilbo in the book? What the actual fuck.

  • Jiffylush

    Just a little note that my 10 year old son and I had on the 2nd Hobbit movie.

    Half of the movie is not in the book AND they cut out major parts of the book.

    I think the absolute worst part for me was when Smaug spoke about "the darkness". Smaug was the big bad guy in the book, he was the supreme being and even if he wasn't he sure thought he was. Having him basically talk about the coming of Sauron (a character that did not exist when the Hobbit was written) as a warning to (in his mind) an insignificant creature that he was going to eat or destroy made no sense at all and shattered the 4th wall for me.

  • Jas

    I have not been to the movies in over 25 years, I am not a PJ fan, I have not read the hobbit or LOTR's books and I dont own any DVD's except ROTK which I have not watch in over 8 years. So I went to DOS (and watched it in HFR) and just absolutely loved the movie and movie experience !!! WOW !!! so I have this to say to all those so called "Tolkien experts" out there that think they know better and complain and whimper about PJ straying from the book.... its a fantasy book, dragon's and hobbits are not real !!! OK, you need to get a grip on reality in particular this sour nosed reviewer . PJ is a real man in a real world who makes world wide successful fantasy movies based on an imaginary world of Tolkein's books. Regrading the Hobbit book. PJ made these movies for MOVIE entertainment. Books are for people who read books, movies are for people who watch movies. DOS is not a movie-book, it is an ADAPTION based on a book in which was turned into a movie as part 2 of 3 movies. If the reviewer is such an expert on how make believe books should be in movie form then may I see your version so I can compare it to PJ's because I would like to see how much full a c*&^p and worthless words you are really made of...Of course if the reviewer cannot meet my challenge in the real world, he can crawl back to his make believe world and delusions of grandeur and stick to his books of his that I will never read.

  • Nathan Godsey

    I have loved Tolkien's writings since first reading The Hobbit at age 12. Mr. Wilson, your review was the first that encapsulated my grief and frustration at this film. Thank you for articulating:

    -The difference between adaptation and exploitation.

    -The tragedy of plugging in poorly-conceived new material rather than portraying The Hobbit (and the appendices) in the level of detail made possible by three films.

    -The absolute criminal act of minimizing The Hobbit's truly compelling moments (the introduction to Beorn, the psychological terror of Mirkwood, the hopelessness of imprisonment in the Elven Kingdom, etc.)

    If we, the moviegoers, fail to hold moviemakers like Peter Jackson to any kind of standard of fidelity to source material, we deserve what we get as a result.
    Thanks for writing this piece.

  • Uriah_Creep

    Well said.

  • Pants-are-a-must

    I went to see Desolation Of Smaug for one reason, and one reason only: Lee Pace. And Lee Pace did not disappoint. The rest can go wherever, we all know that is not what The Hobbit book is actually about, and no one will care about this terrible trilogy in the future.

  • stryker1121

    It's been 20 years since I read The Hobbit and I loved what Jackson did with LoTr, even if he goes a bit theme park with the source material. I even liked the first Hobbit movie somewhat. But yes, DoS is easily the worst film of the lot..LOTR had action and CGI aplenty but DoS lacks the heart of those films.

    I don't want to compare him to prequel trilogy Lucas but I think the later Pirates films are a fair barometer - like those DoS is an overstuffed, poorly paced effects-fest that treats the viewers like morons. How many moments were there with characters talking to themselves about what they were doing at that very moment:

    "The Arkenstone," muttered Bilbo, looking about Smaug's lair. "I need to find the Arkenstone, i.e. 'The Heart of the Mountain' because it's very important to Thorin that I find it." This is an actual line from the film, folks.

  • St

    I don’t agree. I read the books (Hobbit and Lord of the Rings). Wasn’t really big fan of Hobbit book. I read it because everyone were talking about it. But didn’t really loved it. It was OK. I was disapointed with the first Hobbit movie. It was boring. So I didn’t expect much from the sequel.

    But surprisingly I enjoyed it. Things finally happened here. We didn’t have to sit through introduction of Bilbo and dwarfs. And cinematography and nature looked really amazing in 3D. And actors were good. Even Evangeline Lilly. I saw trailer, pictures and was seriously ready to hate her character. I was even surprised that I didn’t hate her. She was ok and not annoying. And I still hate Kate from Lost.

    I was surprised at how much screen time Legolas had. I thought he would have some small cameo like Gollum had in first movie. But he had so much screen time. And I liked how they didn’t make him "mister good guy". He was Legolas before LOTR. And we all know that elves are snobby idiots .in LOTR universe who don’t care about anyone but themselves.

    I liked Lee Pace. Gosh that selfish idiot who rules elves. I really enjoyed how he wasn’t mister good guy too. And how snobby he was. And Smaug was very well CGIed.

    Overall I liked movie. Yes - those fights of elves vs orks were really ridiculous. I was actually bored during those ones. But Hoibbit 2 was better then Hobbit 1.

  • I don't plan to watch any of these movies (although I saw the LOTR films because my ex was a fan, I found them OK but not my cup of tea). However, I find reading debates and discussions about these films very intriguing, I wonder why that is.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    The ending was very abrupt. And to be honest I have not read the Hobbit, I saw the animated version YEARS ago, and I barely remember anything about the plot... like I remember Bilbo having large hairy feet and that is about it. I still enjoyed the movie. It is eye candy, but more importantly it will get people to read the Hobbit. I know I will, and probably reread all of the Lord of the Rings.

  • Chris Mahr

    Wow! I want to meet this author! Same points I made! I was irate after seeing the sequel...I even posted this comment on my facebook status "f*** peter jackson" because my friends claimed the movie was great: It was a good movie, I'd go see it again. I love Peter Jackson's vision of Middle Earth and casting has been damn near perfect. I just think he's heading down the same road as the last trilogy, focusing on pointless/added crap for the first two movies just to cram all the good stuff in the third movie. Then when we're 2 1/2 hours into the third movie they'll realize hey we still have a quarter of the book left and add in another cut to black 8 times ending to wrap it all up in 10 minutes. I do like how they're showing the appendix material with Gandalf in Dol Guldur but I thought there'd be more of that and less of an added, unnecessary love story. Speaking of that, what's up with triangle love stories these days? Ever since Twilight...hell even Thor's trying to do it with him, Sif and Jane. But what's starting to bug me is this trilogy is a slap in the face to the Lord of the Rings, I mean those three books (each one the same length as the Hobbit) get 3 movies and this one book gets three? I thought it was a good idea at first, thought they'd add in story lines from the appendix but that hasn't really happened as much as it should have to justify 3 movies from one book. Hell...starting to think they should call the 3rd movie The Hobbit: The Search for More Money.

  • Ben

    I couldn't stand the LOTR books (Sorry they're WAY too long and ponderous) but really loved the hobbit as a kid.
    The first hobbit movie was fucking awful though and I have absolutely no desire to see this one, in spite of my love for most of the actors and the source material.

  • Jonathan Dohge

    Yes, but is it systematic?

  • Well, if you want to be systematic about it, I systematically think it's systematically systematic, but not necessarily systemic, at least not systematically.

  • Jonathan Dohge

    [[ Systemic Failure ]]

  • Richard Eldritch

    Great review, my thoughts exactly.

  • cvc

    Thanks for the great article. You have convinced me not to pay to see this movie in the cinema. I will not be supporting Jackson's cash cow. He has ruined a classic story by dumbing it down for American audiences.

  • Maskakos

    Personally I would like a few things as writen in the book. My personal best moment that I missed so much in the lord of the rings was when Galdalf broke Sarumans staff after the ruin of Icengard. I also know that many things can NOT be like the books because it is NOT a book. It's a movie and things have to be dealt differently.

    But you should also understand that many things must be done to satisfy the bigger viewing audience in order to make money. If they made the lord of the rings an excact adaptation to the books without the extended fight scenes it would be a big box office bomb. Only a few would see it and even less would love it. I dare to say it would be boring as a movie. If the lord of the rings bombed there would never even be a hobbit. You may be fine with that but I loved it. Not the same way as the book. But I enjoyed every minute of it.

    I loved the scouring of the shire in the book. But it would make no sence in the movie.
    So get of your high horse and land to reality. If you don't like the movies don't watch them. They are movies based on the books. If you wanted the excact thing dress like Frodo an narrate the book to yourself. But when people bash GREAT movies just because they are not footprints of the books it just totally stupid.

  • Robert Sanchez III

    I'm glad I haven't read any of the LOTR books or The Hobbit so I can just enjoy big stupid fight scenes and cool looking monsters without getting all pompous and bitter.

  • Sean

    Having seen the first two of Jackson's Hobbit films, which I like despite their flaws, I'd kind of prefer that Guillermo del Toro had directed them. I feel like the 2-movie del Toro would've been best for adapting the Hobbit.

  • Sean

    I liked this film, but the Tauriel-Kili romance was pretty insufferable.

  • BlackRabbit

    But it shows the way for Legolas/Gimli.

  • Sean

    I think it actually cheapened the special bond that Legolas and Gimli formed during the War of the Ring. Tauriel and Kili's relationship just dragged out the movie for me when I wanted to be watching the stuff with Smaug.

  • BWeaves

    I read that, "I wanted to be watching the snuff with Smaug."

  • BlackRabbit

    Why do you stand in the way of love?

  • Sean

    LOL! I don't "stand in the way of love" just because I didn't like a forced romance sub-plot in a film. Do I stand in the way of love for criticizing the bland love triangle in Twilight? I don't see what you're getting at.

  • BlackRabbit

    I was jest funnin ye.

  • Holy shit that's even worse than making up a stupid new character.

  • Sean

    You know Tauriel actually wasn't a bad as I expected, but man that romance was forced and slowed down the movie.

  • I personally hated what they did to Arwen in the first lot of films. This is far worse. I get that they have a job to do and a crowd to please, but isn't it as insulting to women to merely be pandered to? Give them some credit to actually be able to enjoy fiction in its undiluted form.

  • Tom

    Arwen was meant to be a stand-in for Glorfindel, I suspect--largely because PJ wanted to adhere to the law of conservation of detail

  • The 'if you want him, come and claim him' thing. Shudder. If I remember the animated LOTR well enough, Glorfindel was merged with Legolas' character. Always got short shrift did Glorfindel.

  • This review reminded my why I love the book The Hobbit so much. I liked the first movie, but so much of that was due to Martin Freeman and the terrific "riddles in the dark" scene. I'll be seeing this next week but my expectations are tempered. I loved Fellowship, it is by far my favorite of Jackson's LOTR movies, and is so much more emotionally intimate than the cacophony that followed.

  • jja

    God, thank you for this review. It's the perfect distillation (well, except for liking the first LoTR movie) of everything I and I think everyone who grew up with Tolkien and thinks his books are great and enjoyable and important, sees in Jackson's bloated, lazy, contemptible monstrosities of movies. You know, Jackson, who has systemically sucked the life out of Tolkien's amazing world for more than ten years, is Shelob. Actually Shelob. The living embodiment.

  • Todd Sikkema

    So, saw the movie. It was OK, people applauded at the end, blah blah blah.

    I'm kind of wondering how Jackson got the Tolkien trust/family to go along with this. Actually, I'm not wondering. It's about money. Lots and lots of money. So much for protecting the integrity of the original works.

    The deviations from the original story in the LOTR films are nothing compared to the cluster-bleep that Jackson has made of The Hobbit. Del Toro's take would have been interesting to see. Heck, at least it would have been shorter.

    One final thought: Is anyone besides me disturbed that an elf-maiden is apparently s going to hook up with a (very good-looking) dwarf in the third movie? Good grief.

  • aroorda

    If I recall correctly the Tolkien family has hated these films from the start and have refused to give Jackson the rights to the Silmarillion because they can't stand what he did with the original three films.

  • BWeaves

    " Is anyone besides me disturbed that an elf-maiden is apparently s going to hook up with a (very good-looking) dwarf in the third movie?"

    No, because SPOILERS!

    .Fili dies. Which means we probably get the whole elf maiden cradling
    Fili in her arms and crying while Legolas puts his hand on her shoulder to comfort her. Bets?

  • Todd Sikkema

    Do we know for sure that happens in the next film though? I know Fili, Kili, and Thorin are killed in battle in the book; will Jackson muck this up too? :)

  • Strand

    "No, Jackson’s changed that so that he’s an underground revolutionary and has a super tower-mounted crossbow artillery thing, and the “black arrow” is a mythicly magic macguffin forged by dwarves explicitly for the killing of dragons."

    What what what?! I wouldn't put it past them, but this can't possibly be true right. When the Red Letter Media guys reviewed the first Hobbit movie nearly a year ago, they joked about how the relatively uneventful barrel scene would somehow turn into some ridiculous, over-the-top action sequence with the dwarves tumbling off waterfalls. Now I find out that there's an added battle scene with Legolas, brilliant!

    If this movie ends where I suspect it does from the trailers, I can't imagine how they'd possibly pad out the third. The battle of the five armies must be turned into a ridiculous two hour war porn, at the very least.

  • Berry

    "When you think of the Battle of Pelennor, do not forget the battles in Dale and the valor of Durin's Folk. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador, night in Rivendell. There might be no Queen in Gondor. We might now hope to return from the victory here to ruin and ash. But that has been adverted — because I met Thorin Oakenshield one evening on the edge of spring in Bree. A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-earth."

    (I don't know why I fell compelled to post that, other than the fact that it always struck me as beautiful, and I wanted to share a little beauty, seeing as these movies are apparently devoid of any.)

  • This is the most beautifully eloquent and correct review of the series I've ever read. Well fucking done, sir.

    Jackson has no respect for the material. He can pretend he loves Tolkien but the more I see of this new series the more I believe that that's all a bunch of bullshit.

    Plus, just, this series? They're terrible movies. They're boring, overlong and mindless CGI crapfests and I just can't deal with this shit anymore. I'm going home.

  • junierizzle

    I agree with this review. However, I liked it. Probably because I wasn't expecting much. I didn't mind the changes and additions, except for the fact that they were totally unnecessary, I didn't mind them. I thought the entire Smaug sequence was pretty great. I haven't read the book in years so I wasn't aware at how drastic the changes were.

  • Three_nineteen

    So, I'm supposed to hate The Two Towers because it fleshed out an event that actually happened in the books? Sorry, but that was one if the best sequences in the trilogy. I can understand not liking things in the movies that didn't actually happen in the books, but giving a battle more time than Frodo and Sam wandering around Mordor is fine with me.

    I also don't like that The Scouring of the Shire wasn't in the original trilogy, but with all the complaining about the movies having too many emdings, I understand.

  • manting

    Is the Attercop scene in it?

  • BlackRabbit

    Aargh, it keeps resetting my mistaken post! My precious.....

  • BlackRabbit


    Nope. Not a bit of it.


  • manting

    I now believe Mordor may be involved in the production.

  • foolsage

    “Then Bard drew his bow-string to his ear. The dragon was circling back, flying low, and as he came the moon rose above the eastern shore and silvered his great wings. ‘Arrow!’ said the bowman. ‘Black Arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!’”


    As we see from Bard's words quoted above, the Black Arrow was an heirloom forged by the dwarves, and was by extension almost certainly magical. That's another rather longer and thornier topic, best left for another discussion I think (c.f. "The dwarves of yore made mighty spells").

    The point was, it's not just another arrow, in any sense.

  • That's true, the specific arrow was a special one from his family, and may have had magics upon it, but there's a big distinction between that subtlety giving flavor to a simple weapon, and a six foot long dragon killing harpoon fired from artillery.

  • foolsage

    Agreed. I didn't mean to suggest that I'm in favor of the changes, merely to note that it was a pretty special arrow, handed down from father to son.

  • Strand

    My impression of the black arrow was that it was a family heirloom of uncertain make and its value was mostly sentimental, like a lucky baseball bat.

    If Steven's review is true, they basically turned it into a +700 Armour Penetration bolt that must be equipped into an oddly specific crossbow.

  • bonkerslite

    Heh. When I was watching this film and they showed that massive crossbow, mounted on a wooden tower, I soon thought, "Well, it sure would be a bummer if that thing was burned down first thing when Smaug attacks. Or heck...how did it even manage to stay there all these time, never damaged, dismantled and otherwise surviving many, many, many, many, many years untouched and still in place to save them all? You know what would make more sense, is that the black arrow itself was a normal-sized magical arrow which could be fired from the average bow by a great marksman like, oh i don't know, Bard the Bowman. But who the hell am I?"

    It was just such an unnecessary change. How did it help the story at all?

    I really did not like this film. I am not even critiquing it as a Tolkien purist, the typical barb thrown by the people who lurrrrrrrvs this film and thinks the rest of us pompous whining jerks should just "SFTU"; I'm offended as a fan of good storytelling, something this movie lacks in so many ways. One doesn't need to have read The Hobbit to recognize that useless love stories, endless Star Tours-like barrel chase scenes, and a boring sub-plot about town politics (what? We really care? I get that it was touched on in the books, but turning Bard into some sort of revolutionary is just one tie-on too far. Or not. I'm sure PJax isn't done Anakin-ing his C3POs just yet) do nothing to help move along the plot.

  • Nononana

    It's more of a hybrid of the two in the movie: The arrow is a family heirloom (representing the supposed failure of Bard's ancestor to kill the dragon) that must be powered by a massive specialized crossbow.

  • foolsage

    Well, fair enough. You're choosing to assume that Bard was misled by his father about the arrow. I'm choosing to believe that Bard's father told the truth, and by extension the arrow did in fact come from the forges of the true King under the Mountain. In a world where magic is indisputably real, a treasured family heirloom isn't always just a sentimental object. That's especially true when said heirloom kills a dragon in one shot, which a normal arrow wouldn't really be expected to do.

    Put another way, in this same book we have three magical weapons: Sting, Glamdring, and Ocrist. Why then would it be so surprising that the special heirloom arrow that Bard used to kill Smaug was also magical, as Bard himself thought to be the case? You seem to be applying real-world expectations to a fantasy realm.

    Again though, I am not defending the changes in the movie, simply noting that the Black Arrow in the book was not just another arrow.

  • MarTeaNi

    It's entirely possible that the arrow is magical, but that's its least important facet. If the arrow is "magic" is just flavor, not even important enough to be concrete fact. The arrow's real power is that it's the last in the quiver and has significant emotional meaning for the character. It sounds like Jackson skipped over having a dramatically emotional moment in favor of a "super cool" one.

  • foolsage

    I don't agree that the arrow's "real power" is that it's simply the last arrow left. Rather, it was the last arrow because it HAD real power, and he treated it as special. Bard told us this.

    What's with people assuming Bard was lying or misled? Sigh. We have no reason whatsoever to believe that he was an unreliable narrator there.

    We also know that the Black Arrow was special, not only because Bard said so, but because it killed a dragon with one shot. Normal arrows really do not do that, honestly. Dragons in Tolkien's stories do not ever die easily. C.f. Ancalagon and Glaurung.

    But then I'm belaboring this point. * shrugs * There's a curious strain of Tolkien readers who are adamant that most of the magic in the books isn't really magical at all, and that Gandalf didn't really know any spells, and so on. To that, in general, I say, "Rubbish." Read more closely. Middle-earth is inundated with magic. Bilbo's grandfather had magical cuff-links, for Eru's sake, and he never left the Shire in his entire life. The Dwarves of Erebor used to make magical toys for children. Seriously, magic is not in short supply there, and it's more than a little odd to claim that an arrow, believed to be magical, that literally killed a dragon, couldn't REALLY have been magical, and must have merely been a beloved heirloom. It's just odd.

  • MarTeaNi

    I'm not arguing one way or another about Bard's knowledge, or the reader's knowledge, how common magic in is Middle Earth or who has any of it. The arrow's magic is immaterial. It's not the point.

    The arrow's narrative power is not how magical it is or isn't. If it were one of a dozen left that he'd had made fresh that morning, packed with magic, never touched by his father's hands, then who cares? It's another magical object in a string of magical objects. Its narrative significance doesn't lay in those details. The arrow is important because it is:

    1- important to him
    2- he saved it
    3- it's the last chance left

    It's about narrative structure. You drain power out of the drama if you say that the arrow's "magicalness" is more important than its significance to the characters. One scene is a guy shooting a super powerful arrow at a dragon, the other is a guy using part of his family legacy for one last attempt to save the day. One makes for a lot of impressive CGI, the other has emotional resonance.

  • foolsage

    I disagree. The arrow's narrative power is that it allows Smaug to be killed, by a lone bowman no less. Following backward from that, we must determine WHY the arrow was able to fulfill its narrative function. In doing so, we can choose to be led by what the character himself believes about the arrow (as I do) or by an assumption that the character must be wrong about the provenance and nature of the arrow (as you do).

    My belief, then, is that the arrow was magical. Bard knew this because his father told him so. Bard treated the arrow in a special manner for this reason.

    I don't see any emotional resonance in the arrow simply being the last arrow he had in his quiver, except that it makes the situation seem desperate. Sure, there's emotional resonance to desperation; if we think things are dire then we care more about the outcome. The thing is, the situation was already desperate. Whether Bard had another arrow in his quiver wouldn't mean a damned thing if it were a normal arrow, which couldn't aprpeciably harm a dragon, much less kill one.

  • MarTeaNi

    I can't agree with that. That's just arguing that the mechanics of the arrow and certainty of it killing that dragon are more important than the desperation of the situation and the fact that all their hopes are pinned on one last shot. The arrow fills the role it does because that's what the story needs.

    And, once again, I don't believe ANYTHING about the arrow. It might be magical, it might not be, I don't care. The fact that everyone can argue, convincingly, both sides of the arrow's magicalness means that in the narrative it's not that important, or that the ambiguity itself is powerful. The power of the moment comes from the fact that it's the last shot with an object of emotional significance. If everyone knew the arrow was the ultimate dragon killing weapon, then why wait to use it last? Why not use it first? What narrative tension is created? Why speak to the arrow before the shot? Why bother giving Smaug a vulnerable spot if the arrow could just kill him anyway? The dragon has a weakness that can only be exploited by damn good aim, the arrow is ambiguously magical, the characters are desperate, they have one last shot and if they fail, they die. Remember, that enchanted arrow means nothing if he can't fire it straight. That's a climactic moment. That "it's magic" isn't enough. It needs that narrative tension, the uncertainly and the desperation.

    But, "oh, well of course he could kill the dragon, the arrow is magical." Well gee, if that's all it took, then there are no stakes and who cares.

  • manting


  • Hardly Working

    After Jackson so bastardizing the story that he was able to get 3 admissions out of us, the next worse part for me is still that only 2 of the dwarves look even remotely like dwarves. The others just look like short people. When I watch the movie, I have to try really hard to see dwarves.

  • Scorptilicus

    So... the book was better?

    But how was the movie?

  • "Look, this film is terrible.

    There you go.

  • JustOP

    Not really a stellar piece of criticism is it? This review did, in all fairness, feel more like a comparison between the book and film than a look at the film on its own merits.

  • Aaron Schulz

    its a steven wilson article, its just him preening to try and sound smart

  • CrispenBlythe88

    Boy, this nerd nerded so hard and angry, he exploded into nerds bits all over the page! Rage on!

  • Stephen Nein

    Poor Orlando Bloom. Richest B-Movie Actor In the World.

  • Walt Jr

    If I could thumbs this up twice, I would

  • His systematic changes to the story methodically reduce clever (and yes,
    cinematic) events on the page into dull abbreviations for the sake of
    adding interminable chase sequences.

    I was never really able to articulate before what exactly is wrong with Jackson's King Kong. Thank you (again) SLW for being so damn erudite and shit. I really do love reading your stuff.
    (P.S. I actually love his LOTR, changes and all, yet I cannot find any fault with your fault-finding.)

  • DarthCorleone

    Hmmmm...basically sums up all my worst fears about Jackson and Middle-Earth. I didn't come down quite that hard on the last two installments of LOTR, but I did think the first installment of The Hobbit was a whole lot of bloat. That's a very savvy opener to this review comparing read-time with watch-time. Maybe with my lowered expectations I'll enjoy it a little more. Most reaction does seem to be fairly positive; I wonder if those people are as married to the spirit of the source material as I am.

  • DarthCorleone

    And spot on about the appalling physics. That goblin sequence under the mountain in the first movie was ludicrous. I'm sorry, Hollywood. It will never count as good "action" to me if it's not credible at all. What's the point of holding my breath if there's no danger?

  • bonkerslite

    Nailed it. I've been trying to express that exactly as you just summed it up.

    Pair that with the dwarves all hanging "perilously" off the end of the tree over a very high cliff (Oh noes! Danger!) when we KNOW, we just KNOW, that nobody is dying today, not with two more 3 hour films in the works, and there is NO danger. Just a fluffed-up action sequence where the only thing to wonder is when it will end and we can get back to the important stuff like plot, motivation, and resolution.

    Then this film mixes in an interminable....was it 30mins, for real? Egad, it felt that way.... barrel chase, endless orc killings (ok, we get it: see an orc, kill an orc. And isn't it fun and easy? Snoooozzzze...), and allows the dwarves to make fool of a dragon who had them dead to rights over and over again, thus making even SMAUG an ineffectual and merely-fun-to-look-at CGI personality and hardly very scary.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Yes and yes. That whole extended fight sequence made me mad.

  • Hardly Working

    Didn't they just steal a scene from Indiana Jones and impose some Goblins over some Indians?

  • bonkerslite


  • John W

    I'm willing to bet that the reason Del Toro left the Hobbit was not because of scheduling conflicts but because he was not happy with what Jackson was doing to the story. 3 three hour movies!

  • Evolve Today

    The LOTR trilogy was filmed simultaneously, so I doubt Jackson being "told how awesome he was" after Fellowship had much to do with the problems you state. Good review though.

  • Pants-are-a-must

    LotR was also filmed with a very small budget, when you take into account that it was three films, with enormous amounts of pre-production and post-production. I'm not saying there weren't flawed things in the movies (oh goodness, were there EVER), but The Hobbit movies suffer much more from terrible adaptation problems, because they DID have time to think them through. Moment of silence for how awesome this book would've been in Guillermo Del Toro's hands.

  • Strand

    Remember how after the LOTR trilogy ended, people actually cared? The cast had their big reunion, got tattoos, it seemed like they were a real family behind the scenes, and fans were genuinely dismayed? Does anyone actually think that will be the case with these movies?

  • Not surprised. I might cut Jackson just a little bit of slack because his original plan was to have del Toro make it and not him. But only a little.

    The first movie was boring for too long. I'm hopeful this one at least won't be.

  • MarTeaNi

    I would have much preferred a del Toro version. I'm lukewarm on Tolkien's writing, but the more I see of his work the less I can tolerate of Jackson as a director in general. I wonder who Doug Jones would have played....

  • manting

    is Beorn even in it?

  • 45 seconds or so. The trick of Gandalf telling the story, and then always adding another name, so that Beorn asks who that person is and invites them in is all cut.

  • jja

    That is such depressingly unsurprising bs.

  • DarthCorleone

    *45 SECONDS* of Beorn? That's it?

    "Hey, everybody. This is Beorn."
    "Nice to meet you! You turn into a bear? Neat!"

    "O.k. Moving on!"

  • SubSumeYou


  • BlackRabbit

    And they give him a stupid and pointless three sentence backstory. *Spoilers* His people were killed by orcs.*Spoilers* Beorn was better as an enigmatic badass. Not to mention I think they refer to his sons in later books.

  • manting

    I think he is the last of his race. He does play a pivotal role when he shows up at the battle of 5 armies and kills the goblin king (If I remember correctly) and his bodyguards essentially winning the battle.

  • manting


  • the_wakeful

    While I agree with all of this, I'm actually excited to see the 90 minute spectacle Jackson turns the final battle into. Everything in between I will be sitting through impatiently.

  • bonkerslite

    I have to admit it will be fun. One thing my friends and I always wanted to see was the battle that Bilbo slept through. While I came to appreciate that little trick Tolkien played on us as an adult (and not really a trick, if you think about it. Bilbo is our avatar in the stories. If he's out cold, why WOULD we see the battle? Either way, I saw it as a reminder of who was important, the titular character, and not necessarily all the other Tall People), as a kid I wanted to see more. And the kid inside me is looking forward to it. That said, PJax could still manage to give us an epic battle, and Smaug doing some end-of-times waste-laying of Laketown, without boring us to death with love triangles and more chases.

    Ah well. I guess we are in for the ride. I mean, like I am NOT going to see the 3rd installment. Bonkers, please!

  • el_mediocre

    Tell 'em why you mad, Steven.

  • koko temur

    Oh, for fuck sake. The third movie is not the remaining 70 pages of the hobbit. Its the events that connected the hobbit with LOTR. it has about hundred years and gandalf, elrond and galadriel storming a castle together like a wizzard league of justice. Its awesome. Im not arguing with you about the quality of the movies itself- i agree with some, strongly disagree with orhers. BUT, cant we at least get the facts straight.? Its only a website that publishes trade news. The splitting into 3 movies is justified. Let us not call out a great idea because we disagree on execution.

    Also - the scouring of shire *was* a metaphor. It was tacked in to the back as post ww-II europe went mad in fear of communism and regret of industrial revolution that caused the first world one. Its clumsy, its stupid. Cutting it out of this wonderfully nuanced book is the most faithful to the original Jakson did.

  • Drevnibor

    I really like that the White Council vs the Necromancer story arc is getting an adaptation on the big screen... but they didn't have to mix it up with the story of The Hobbit.

    I would have liked to see 2 Hobbit films and 1 bridge film, that will connect to LotR with the Necromancer story.

    The Hobbit films should have been about the journey of the titular character - the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

    However, in Jackson's films, he is just one of the many characters - in fact, I would argue that Thorin is the main character in Desolation of Smaug, not Bilbo, which is ridiculous.

  • Whether or not you agree it was allegory depends very much on how much you believe Tolkien's own account. It certainly wasn't as acute a metaphor as some would like to believe, and to simplify it as such does great injustice to the nuance of the story if you ask me.

  • koko temur

    Most if the book was written through the world war. You can easily follow the evolution of the book through detailed and painstaking notes christopher tolkien had about the proccess. About half of the fellowship was written before the war as hobbit sequel. Than - second world war, his sons drafted, the blitz = the text gets increasingly nuances and darker and darker. The scourge was written after the war, when it became clear that allies dont necessary meand friends. You dont need tolkiens accounts, he is a sensetive, wonderful writer. He pours his soul into the text, and as such his feelings are easily tracked.

  • Does it matter at all to your theory that Tolkien himself would have disavowed it? He said explicitly that he "disliked allegory in all its forms."

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