I was unfortunate enough to go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in the last days of my annual leave. Before I went, I’d heard mixed reviews. There were those who argued that the introduction of a female action hero elf was the height of blasphemy against Tolkienism, and there were others that argued that they could have done without seeing Legolas – or would have preferred at least to have seen the crap beaten out of him at least once. And there were those who called it a rip-roaring adventure.
One commentator said that the joy of Tolkien is that his writing does allow for new material to be interwoven, and that’s true. When done properly.
There was little about this second Hobbit movie that seemed to fall into that category, though.
The Hobbit series, and perhaps Jackson’s fantasy direction itself, seems to have fallen into the same trap The Matrix took after the first movie. When the ending credits rolled on the first Matrix movie, I sat back in my cinema seat for a good minute or two marvelling at the excitement of seeing an honest to goodness high grade movie whose core premise was existential skepticism. Can you believe what you see around you?
Then the makers of the Matrix went in another direction. Sure, it was a commercial direction, but it was a bad direction. They sacrificed the writing for the effects. Bullet time became more important than story time.
The same thing has happened with The Hobbit. It’s ceased to be about the story, and instead has become a poorly connected sequence of ridiculous fight scenes of ludicrous proportions with a nice score. (Except, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug didn’t even have a nice score – half the time it seemed missing in action, usually in curiously important sections that you’d have expected there to be a ripping piece of music to go along.)
So it ceased to be the Desolation of Smaug and became the Desolation of Smug. It became a movie about making ridiculous fighting scenes that demonstrate heroic people doing impossible things … no, not the Dwarves, or the Elves, the Wizards or even the Orcs – the effects people, of course. It became the epitome of smugness – do this because it’s cool, rather than do this because it makes sense.
The ironic thing is that we’re entering into a new age of incredibly potent and subtle writing for television, while the big movies – the ones that should have more budget than you can poke a stick at, become exercises in infantile masturbatory writing designed for the sole purpose of guiding the watcher from one fight scene to another.
It leaves me entirely horrified about how far the writing will have degenerated by the third movie.