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‘The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’ Ringer Reviews are awaiting your input

Bard posterYou’ve seen many of the major news outlet’s reviews for the film and we’ve posted reviews from most of our staff, but now that ‘The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’ has been out for over a week it is time for Ringer Reviews. This is the time when you get to have your say; good, bad or otherwise. We are open to all opinions but we will be scanning the reviews for foul language, adult content and rude behavior. Short of that, this is your time to be heard.

Australia, Japan, we know you don’t have the film yet, bookmark this section and come back to it when you have had a chance to watch the film, we’ll keep the light on for you.

ringer-reviews-bkgd-dos-titleTo get started, head over to Ringer Reviews. You will find the review section comes in two parts. One allows you to rank various aspects of the film, cast performance and production values, while the other portion allows you to write a review of up to 5000 characters. Once you hit ‘submit’ the review will be scanned by one of our staff for any of the above mentioned offenses, and once cleared it will appear. Do give us between a few hours to a full day to get to your review and have fun with it. We don’t want to decline a review, a good rule of thumb is “would you let your mother or grandmother read this?”, if so, then you can expect to see it published.

Posted in Events, Fans, Film Screenings, Hobbit Movie, Media Reviews, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Aragorn the Elfstone reviews ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

Desolation of Smaug Poster
They say “better late than never”. I hope that’s true – because my review is coming a bit late. I love discussing cinema, but I’m not always very fast at collecting my thoughts. Many times, as on this occasion, I don’t even have a complete handle on the film until a second viewing. Also, I tend to write
on impulse – which means that something as organized as a film review takes me a little while to put together. I’m never able to discuss as much
as I would like to – so you can expect a few elements of the film to go uncovered. Otherwise, I could go on forever about each of these movies.

I also didn’t know how to approach this review. I had two very different reaction to this film – one as a Tolkien loyalist, another as a cinema lover. To the chagrin of many, I’m sure, I’ve chosen to focus on the latter. I’ve always viewed the books and PJ’s cinematic offerings as two completely separate things – and I think I must remain true to that. This is a film review of The Desolation of Smaug – which I unabashedly loved – and not a checklist of book vs. film differences. I look forward to such a discussion in the future, and hope you, dear readers, will indulge me in a different conversation at the present moment. (more…)

Posted in Film Screenings, Headlines, Hobbit Movie, Media Reviews, Miscellaneous, Peter Jackson, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Tolkien

Ainu Laire’s Review of the Hobbit

THDOS_Main_smBefore I begin this review, I want to give a short blurb and let you all know from what perspective it comes from. I am an artist of sorts, so I definitely touch upon some of the visuals used in the films. I am also one of the younger members of TORn’s staff and did not pick up Tolkien’s books until after I saw the “really cool trailer” of ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ on TV back in my preteens. But despite Jackson’s films introducing me to Middle-earth, I have ultimately become a Tolkien fan with a good amount of appreciation for what the cast and crew behind Jackson’s Middle-earth adaptations have done for both the film industry and for the Tolkien legendarium, despite the many changes.


Posted in Film Screenings, Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Media Reviews, Uncategorized

grammaboodawg’s Review of ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

Bilbo with Sting

I know some people are not happy with The Desolation of Smaug.  I’ll start my review by saying that I have read The Hobbit yearly since 1973.  I’ve read The Lord of the Rings yearly since 1971.  I love the books and the stories.  I also love Peter Jackson’s telling of those tales.  So when I went to see a double-feature of The Hobbit to include AUJ and a midnight, first-time viewing of DOS, I went without the book as my expectation and eager for the adventure into Middle-earth as only Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh can serve.  I was not disappointed!


Posted in Events, Fans, Film Screenings, Hobbit Movie, Media Reviews, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Community

Mithril’s Review of ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

Editor Note: Our latest staff review comes from Mithril… A friend of TORn since its beginnings, Mithril became a staff member in 2013 after The One Expected Oscar Party for which she created 20-foot-tall Dwarven and Elven banners. She is a moderator of The Great Hall of Poets, and you can oft times find her escaping to Middle-earth by writing poetry herself or slipping into one of its characters through cosplay. In the real world, she is an art director and designer, and her work appears in the film “Ringers: Lord of the Fans”.










Although Peter Jackson takes us on a non-stop wild ride from the edge of the wilds to the Lonely Mountain in “The Desolation of Smaug”, this fan did not always agree with the twists and turns it took. Besides prefacing my following remarks by saying I did not read any other reviews before writing this, I also want to say that I was not opposed to most of the changes that were made to the canon in the Lord of the Rings trilogy films. I welcomed the addition of Arwen to the greater part of the story and the changes that were made to accommodate her. I thought most of the changes worked well. I am not a Canon-Or-Nothing fan.

I know it is a movie, which ultimately and necessarily needs to be different than the book, but, IMHO, DoS goes too far.

The opening scene of Gandalf’s meeting with Thorin at The Prancing Pony was a welcome addition to the film. (Peter’s overt cameo made me laugh.) I have been fascinated with the Quest for Erebor and how it explains the origins of the Dwarves’ journey, and it was fun to revisit the Pony. But the next scene left me scrambling to place where the company was and remember where the last film had left us off. We get no view of the Eagles’ eerie or even that famous Tolkien landmark The Carrock.

Mikael Persbrandt rocked Beorn, which somewhat surprised me after all the negative speculation about what he would look like. His voice and movements were incredible and really gave the character stature and an almost other-worldy quality, but our stay with Beorn is much too hurried. It was such a magical episode in the book, and I wanted the film to recapture that more. Having seen the sets for Beorn’s house in person at The Book of New Zealand, I know they are beautifully detailed, but the span we spend in the house is so short, we don’t get to appreciate them enough. Even one Dwarvish song or tale there would have done wonders for me.

Herein lies the reason why I think DoS deviates so much from the original story. Though I disagree, critics had complained that “An Unexpected Journey” was too slow, especially the beginning, and so Peter (or the studio) felt the need to add more action to speed things up. This left no time for lingering on some of the more magic moments from the original Hobbit. I missed Bombur falling in the stream in Mirkwood and the tense moment when the deer leaps overhead. (Though the plausibility of the Dwarves carrying him would have been questionable, I am not sure his antics in the barrels makes up for it.) But the Elven feasts and will-o’-the-wisp fires in the woods I sorely missed. The trippy scenes of the disoriented Dwarves were effective at explaining why they left the forest road but did not support the reason the Elves were unhappy with them. Thankfully, Bilbo was not robbed of his heroism in freeing the Dwarves from the spider webs. (My greatest grievance about the LotR movies was that Frodo was robbed of the strength he displayed at Weathertop and at the crossing of the Ford). How he gets to hear the spiders is great, lending weight and meaning to the Ring. As does the excellent moment of him struggling with his emotions attached to it. When he climbs above the treetops is one of my favorites in the film.

WETA once more creates a spectacular Elven realm, more haunting than I ever imagined, and this time the cameras did linger to give us time to catch our breath in awe. As to its inhabitants, Lee Pace brought Thranduil’s haughty, immortal nature to full fruition. He looked and sounded amazing. And I was thrilled to have Orlando back as Legolas, and to me, it makes perfect sense – I think his absence would have needed to be explained. And I like that we got to see more of his character revealed.

And then to Tauriel. I want to say that I welcomed her into the story from when she was first hinted at. Of course there would have been female warrior Elves. Tolkien just forgot to mention them in The Hobbit. With hundreds, even thousands of years to train, they would have been every bit as skilled as their male counterparts. Tauriel does not disappoint. Her fighting skills and mannerisms are great. I do not mind her interest in Kili (Hey, he’s one hot Dwarf!), but I wish that it had been left at curiosity and not grown so quickly into emotional attachment. The love triangle that is developing robs all three characters. But I relished when she was speaking to him of starlight. It was one of the moments of the film that gave me chills. Her musings opened up the story to the wider wonders of Tolkien’s universe and hinted at backstory.

Gandalf’s travails at Dol Guldur do this as well. And it works because there is not an exact description of what happens there in the Appendices. Though in my mind, the preview we saw of Gandalf at the High Fells with Radagast was scarier than what we actually saw in the film and scarier than what happens at Dol Goldur. The device of the flaming eye was cool, though the battle with Gandalf’s bubble of light perhaps drawn out too long without enough substantial interaction between Gandalf and Sauron, but it will help people who do not know the history to make the connection between the Necromancer and Sauron. But when we see Gandalf caged and the wargs and orcs massing below, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Orthanc.

Once again, I was so thankful that Bilbo was allowed to have his moment when he rescues the Dwarves from their cells and helps them escape. There had been rumors that Tauriel would help him do this, and I am glad they were unfounded. I minded not at all that the Dwarves were not sealed in the barrels, for where would the fun have been in that on-screen? And the Orc attack made sense given that we know they were being tracked all along, and it made for good action. I was dismayed that Kili was shot, but did not imagine at this point that it would bother me even more later in the film.

I liked Bard’s appearance and the assistance he offers the Dwarves, and the entire sequence from when he first meets them to getting them into his house felt true to the story and introduced Lake-town and its characters well. Luke Evans was well cast – grim but not unlikeable. The Lake-town set and how it was filmed truly brought it to life. It was more real and gritty than I envisioned it when originally reading the book, and it felt completely right. Stephen Fry is admirably sleazy as the Master and Ryan Gage was good as Alfrid, though in my mind, too reminiscent of Wormtongue. I wish the townspeople’s reactions to the return of the legend of the King Under the Mountain had been more enthusiastic. I would have liked to see more spirit and heard at least one of the songs that were sung about the Dwarves’ return. That way the contrast when Smaug attacks would have been even more poignant.

From here on out, I am not sure I can reconcile what I would have liked to happen with what did. I can not believe that the four Dwarves would be willing to be left behind in Lake-town under any circumstances. It especially did not ring true to me since it just seemed like an excuse to show Kili and Tauriel’s growing romance. The Orc invasion into Lake-town and the arrival of Legolas and Tauriel felt out-of-place. Though I understand the sequential logic and the opportunity to let Legolas display some pretty epic fighting, it will rob the moment of surprise when the bad guys show up at the Battle of Five Armies. But when Tauriel takes on the role of healer… when she goes into Elvish trance talk and begins to glow JUST LIKE ARWEN…. I actually threw my hands up in the theater. The manner in which it was shown felt too similar to how Arwen was portrayed, diminishing both Elves. Throughout DoS, I felt the film was often riffing off LotR. I am not sure if it was meant to be an inside joke, but to me, it just seemed repetitive.

As the remaining Dwarves continue on, the discovery of the stairs was like a bludgeon to the head. I think it was meant to feel epic, and I hope it does the next time I see it, but at the first viewing it just seemed so obvious that they all should have seen it. Gone the nail-biting climb across the narrow ledge and the hauling up of supplies. This felt more like an afternoon jaunt than the final stretch of the quest. I hardly minded that it was the moon and not the sun that lit the keyhole. It even makes more sense and was more mystical, especially since the runes could only be read by the light of the moon. This was another place in the film that sent chills up my spine.

Bilbo’s entrance into the cave started off well. The shifting, endless mountains of gold and the way they sounded were stupendous. His first nuanced realization of Smaug was wonderful. But once he takes off the Ring, I started to question what was happening. Now that Smaug can see him, why doesn’t he kill him? OK, so he’s toying with him. I guess I can believe that. The way Smaug looks and sounds and moves is spectacular. BEST. DRAGON. EVER! I love how his belly starts to glow before he is going to breath fire. I did miss the jewels on his belly, though a plausible explanation was given of why he had the unprotected spot on his breast – that a black arrow had previously pierced him and a piece lodged there. Yet this may detract from Bard’s heroic take-down of him. (If this is indeed what happens.)

From here on out, all Mordor breaks loose. I could have accepted the Dwarves encounter with Smaug. I could have lived with them being chased through the halls of Erebor. But what made me cry out upon leaving the theater “I want a do-over!” was the Indiana Jones escapade that they were taken on. Not only was it completely outrageous, but it was confusing and unbelievable. Start the forges? What? Melt millions of gallons of gold in minutes? What? Stand on the nose of Smaug “Oh, greatest of calamities!” and not get eaten? WHAT!!?!?!?!????! And all the while, they are missing four Dwarves who might have made the action sequence more plausible and added some lightheartedness.

There were only two moments in the whole sequence that really worked for me: When Bilbo enters what I think Thorin calls “The Hall of Kings”; the contrast of little Bilbo lost in its vastness was an awe-filled pause. And the sight of Smaug bursting into the sky shaking off rivulets of gold was glorious. But I would have traded that image’s weight in gold to have just seen him spout fire into the night sky.

The critics of “The Unexpected Journey” wanted more action. They got it. The studio wanted better reviews. They’ll get them from the critics. I have heard speculation that the sequence in the mountain was a time filler which came about when two movies were made into three. But from this Tolkien fan’s perspective, there were better ways the time could have been filled.

Having written out all my thoughts and calmed down a bit, I’m sure the epic, tumbling pace of the film will grow on me. I have my doubts that the escapade inside the mountain will ever truly find its way into my heart, but I am looking forward to seeing Desolation again. Now that I know what happens, I’ll be able to focus on the incredible magic all their own that Peter Jackson and WETA always create.


Well, I saw “Desolation of Smaug” again last night. Over my initial shock, I went in telling myself to keep an open mind, sit back, relax and enjoy. And I really did. Because the vision of Middle-earth that Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, WETA and all the crew bring to the screen blows me away. And somehow I have to accept the changes they made to the original story in order to be privileged to step into that incredibly detailed and vast world.

Many of the things that bothered me the first viewing seemed now to fit into the overall story. Granted, the overall story is not Tolkien’s story exactly. The story I am talking about is the one that began in “An Unexpected Journey”. And that story, I already agreed to go along for the ride on.

To detail some of the things that seemed less bothersome to me on the second viewing:

Perhaps Beorn is standing on the Carrock when he first appears, it’s just different than I envisioned it. And we definitely spend enough time in his house to linger on the amazing details. The changes to the barrel ride are a crowd-pleaser for sure. Bombur gets the biggest laugh in the film. Plus, all that white water looks amazing in 3D HFR. Dol Guldur felt much scarier to me this time – I even jumped in my seat, and the people I was with who had seen LotR were still asking me to explain the shape inside of Sauron’s Eye and why it was at Dol Guldur. Even though it seemed very over-the-top to me. This time the shiver I got was when the people of Lake-town realize who Thorin is. The Dwarves final trek up to Erebor seemed more epic on the second viewing. I got misty-eyed when Thorin and Balin first step into the mountain.

Most of the pieces fell into place, and in places the story is richer than the book which is more descriptive in a general sense than delving into character development. But how can you have a movie without strong characters? Perhaps now I see why the writers felt the need for changes to bring those characters to life.

I still am not happy with how the love triangle was portrayed. Nor am I completely OK with how unbelievable some of the action inside the Lonely Mountain is. But Smaug is absolutely and undeniably stupendous, and getting to spend that extra time with him is almost worth it. BEST. DRAGON. EVER!!!

And I think I’ll leave it there because I could pick DoS apart ad infinitum, or I can just sit back and enjoy the ride. I think I’ll do the later.

Posted in Hobbit Movie, Media Reviews, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Review of Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’

hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_ver16_xlgEditor Note: Our next review comes from long time collaborator and friend of, David Baxter. David has been involved in some manner with since the early 2000s, and is a staple at events in California. Being that he is 6’8″ – he makes a really impressive Gandalf too! 


Let me get this out of the way, I did not go into the screening of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug expecting to see all or even many of the events I’d pictured in my head after reading JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and seeing the Rankin & Bass animated version in 1977 (dating myself here). It was impossible after seeing Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Too much of that film had been devoted to setting up or showing events that were never shown in Tolkien’s work and were only mentioned in the appendices of The Return of the King.


Posted in Film Screenings, Hobbit Movie, Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Media Reviews, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Sound Off! Official Desolation of Smaug Fan Reaction Thread

Fans Line-Up for The Desolation of SmaugWhile we put our finishing touches on the official Ringer Reviews section, we thought it would be fun to collect your immediate reaction to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug right here on this post. (That is of course IF the film has released in your country)

If you are new to commenting on, we use a rather popular system called Disqus, located at the bottom of every article page. You can decide to login with Facebook, Twitter or Google, or you can simply comment as a guest.

Comments are moderated, so please play nice :) The basic rules? Don’t swear and treat others with respect. If you are posting spoilers, please be nice and post a SPOILER WARNING before your comments. Our staff will be working around the clock to get your comments approved. And as you can see by the diversity of our own staff reactions to the film, you can be as positive or negative about the film as you’d like. We will not be moderating based on your review.

Then, stay tuned in the next few days when we raise the curtain on the new Ringer Reviews for The Desolation of Smaug. Along with the ability to post your comprehensive review of the film, you will have the chance to rate 20+ specific aspects of the film. Details coming soon.

So what are you waiting for? Sound off!

Posted in Events, Fans, Hobbit Movie, Media Reviews, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Tracking Fan Sentiment: Collaboration with LOTRProject

We’ve teamed up with always awesome LOTRProject to track fan sentiment coming out of Desolation of Smaug.  As evidenced by the varied reviews by our own staff, fans are either going to fall in love all over again or scratch their heads asking, “why PJ, why?!” In an effort to follow what fans worldwide really think of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, LOTRProject has assembled a visual twitter tracking page of fan opinions of #TheHobbit and any of the characters.

Tweet your true feelings with #TheHobbit

  • Did you find the film amazing and fulfilling?
  • Who is the most popular Desolation character, by tweet mentions?
  • Do fans love the changes Peter Jackson has made to the story?

Tag your tweets with “Desolation of Smaug” or “hobbit” or #thehobbit along with your immediate reaction to seeing Desolation. We will continue to monitor fan reactions through the weekend, and look for the relaunching Ringer Reviews section in the coming days to voice your full nuanced opinions!


Desolation Reception graph

Posted in Events, Fans, Hobbit Movie, Media Reviews, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Ostadan’s Review of ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

Editor Note: Our latest staff review comes from staffer Ostadan… who himself calls this a “grouchy non-review” of ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. So you may want to take that as a word of warning or proceed to read with glee! This review also contains major SPOILERS. If you are avoiding spoilers of any type, please click away now!










Cartoon by Tim Kirk

I give up; I can’t review this thing coherently. Gene Siskel said that as a critic you should fight the temptation to write about what the film should have been about or obsess on the way you wish the characters would have responded in an ideal world. Review the movie that’s there, Siskel insisted. Not the movie you wish they would have made.

And I wish Jackson had made an adaptation of The Hobbit that was at least as close to the source material as the Rankin-Bass cartoon. Instead, he made a Hollywood Blockbuster; it reminded me of Tim Kirk’s cartoon in ‘Mythlore’ issue #1, illustrating an article about what a movie of LotR might be like. A director is explaining, “OK — After Steve Reeves and his vikings rescue you from the forest outlaws, you set out to rescue the princess from Sauron, who’s holding her for ransom.” When I explain the last half hour as, “While Thorin and the other dwarves are fighting Smaug by melting huge amounts of gold, back in Laketown Fili and Kili are rescued from Bolg and his band of Orcs by Legolas and Tauriel, who uses athelas to heal Kili’s poisoned wound. Meanwhile, Gandalf has a magical battle with the Necromancer and is caged in Dol Guldur,” I feel like I’m in Tim Kirk’s cartoon; and that is without even mentioning the Kili/Tauriel sorta-romance.

It’s not Tolkien. It’s not even an extension of Tolkien, it’s a downright contradiction to fundamental aspects of Tolkien’s world, not merely world building details. Whatever happened to the Istari who were forbidden to match Sauron’s power with power? For that matter, whatever happened to hobbits who were unexpectedly resistant to the corrupting power of the ring? After wearing the Ring twice, Bilbo is already going into ‘mine!’ (precious) mode. After sixty years, what will he be like? (The real explanation seems to be that Bilbo needs to be reluctant to wear the Ring, so that there’s an excuse for him to take it off improbably, since we’ve got this established ‘ring world’ visual that would not sustain well in Smaug’s lair; by contrast, he’s just fine wearing it at length in Thranduil’s palace.)

So, there is no point to reviewing this film as an adaptation. That’s not the movie that’s there, disappointing as that may be. This has to be reviewed as a Hollywood blockbuster, and I am not particularly an expert in such things. Nevertheless, as long as you insist on reading this anyway…

There are a lot of things that keep it from being immersive for me, starting with the really cheesy 3D in-your-face bumblebees at the beginning of the film. (come on, what year is this? “Coming at Ya” was 1981) Please, don’t remind me that I am watching a movie. When I saw ‘Iron Man’, when Tony Stark tried out the flight rockets in the lab and was smacked into the wall without injury, I was ‘taken out’ of the film experience. Unfortunately, there were too many moments like that here. The following are random observations that explain why I’m kinda grumpy about DoS.

There are certainly more than a few times that I was distracted by plot points that make little sense, even on Jackson’s terms. The tag-team pursuit of the dwarves by orcs is particularly clumsy and unbelievable. Bolg catches up with Azog (somehow) and they BOTH divert to Dol Guldur, where the Necromancer appoints Azog as his general, and then Azog sends Bolg back to pursue Thorin and company. And bless ‘em, they find the dwarves – and where are they looking? On the downstream side of Thranduil’s realm. Damn, these trackers are good! Just imagine: Bolg knew that Thorin was detained by Thranduil. But then, Azog had managed to track them across the Misty Mountains somehow in the first film, and even being carried some distance by the Eagles didn’t put him off their tail, so I guess Thorin’s carrying a GPS transponder. Of course, the orcs know Thorin’s final destination anyway, but for some reason never do anything to head them off at Laketown or ambush them at Dale or… oh never mind. What is the point of switching Azog out for Bolg, again?

As in the previous film, Jackson’s ability to convey (or understand) matters of time and distance is extremely limited, and sometimes distracting; we are not even given visual cues to the changing seasons until it is suddenly winter in Laketown (Thranduil’s crown of fall leaves from the book does not appear here). The tag-team Orc handoff is one example of time compression; Gandalf’s ride to the ‘High Fells of Rhudaur’ (presumably back across the Misty Mountains) and then back again to Dol Guldur is another. I hope Gandalf’s horse got home to Beorn OK; I think the wizards are riding the bunny sled back from the high fells. Expect the arrival of Dain and other dwarves to be similarly mystery-timed in the next film.

Thorin is an idiot. I mean, these dwarf guys are basically merchants, and here’s expert negotiator Thorin with Thranduil. “I’ll let you go free on a promise of the return of our own treasure from Smaug’s hoard.” “I can’t trust you!” Thranduil is an idiot. His reply should have been, “Spider poison has rattled your brains. I am not asking you to trust me, stupid nogoth! I am not even asking for a hostage for surety of your promise as any sensible king would do!” Thorin is not just being proud; he is being stupid. Thranduil is stupid too, but he has the luxury of holding the keys.

The spider scene was pretty good, though I have begun to weary of Jackson’ constant vertiginous drops. But the spider speech was, in the end, disappointing. Bilbo (and we) only learned that the spiders wanted to feed (duh), and that his sword hurt them (duh). Instead of ‘I shall call you Sting’, Bilbo gets that word from a spider, and just shrugs and says that it’s a good name. This should have been one of Bilbo’s high points as the nominal hero of the story. But it has been undercut by his using Sting to attempt to rescue Thorin in the previous film, and so the moment goes flat. Note that the ‘Eagles are Coming’ moment in the battle of the five armies will almost certainly go flat for similar reasons. Rather than being a eucatastrophic moment in which the heroes are rescued from certain defeat by an unexpected and unlooked-for joyous turn, we’ll have Gandalf whistling for the Eagles again with a convenient moth (does anyone still doubt this?), telegraphing their arrival in advance. Bless me, what do they teach them in film school nowadays?

Bard tells Bilbo about Smaug’s weak point, not the other way around. Bilbo seeing the weak spot for himself is therefore inconsequential, except as an unnecessary reminder and confirmation to the audience. No ravens need apply.

Jackson could not resist a toilet joke; admittedly, the small fry in the audience seemed to like it. Of course, we must consequently infer that the entire population of Laketown fills the lake with raw sewage on a daily basis.

When Bard gets the Black Harpoon, sorry, Arrow, Alfrid and his security cronies (who are remarkably oblivious to the arrival of a band of warg-riding orcs and a pair of elves) pursue and arrest him. Why? The original motivation was that Bard was fomenting revolution against the Master of Laketown; but that revolution was successfully quelled with Thorin’s appearance. Even Alfrid can’t explain. By the way, I was pleasantly surprised by Stephen Fry’s turn as the Master of Laketown. I could easily forget that I was watching Stephen Fry, which is often difficult to do with high-profile guest stars.

Galadriel’s telepathic cellphone seems to work only one way. Gandalf sends Radagast with a message rather than just magically contacting her. Jackson will spend time giving us an otiose explanation of Beorn’s back story, but leaves things mysterious when, well, they make no sense (Galadriel’s disappearance in the first film is another example. And Thranduil’s magical disappearing scars, there for shock value, but again making no sense from a storytelling standpoint).

Why does Smaug repeatedly refer to Thorin as ‘Oakenshield’, a name acquired long after he left Erebor? Has Smaug been reading the New Orc Times?

Thranduil doesn’t like hand-rails any more than Elrond.

The barrel escape was good, and Bilbo’s realization that he had no obvious escape was delightful. The whole sequence was marred by increasingly improbable action, though. Which leads me to…

Superhero elves. I have a friend who, I predict, will love Legolas and Tauriel’s fight scenes. He will say something on his YouTube channel like, “In this film, Legolas is a bad ass!! He and this new character Tauriel are just kicking orc butt left and right! It’s awesome!” My friend is a comic book fan. Look, Legolas’s stair-surfing and oliphant-slaying in the LotR films were over the top (and criticized at the time) but were only a small portion of the actions in which they took place. Here, he and Tauriel are at the center of the action, and constantly doing this stuff, A little goes a long way, and to me it just feels cheesy, more like a comic-book film than a fantasy set in a supposedly real world. Are we really going to have an army of Thranduil’s elves who all fight like this?

Turning Tauriel into Arwen doesn’t help.

Big fight scenes or battle scenes are like the fantasy-film equivalent of car chases and explosions. They have their place (and are kind of obligatory), but it is too common to overdo them.

Doesn’t Gandalf already know that the Necromancer is Sauron? He seems to tell Radagast so (only Sauron can summon the Nazgûl). So just what does he intend to accomplish in Dol Guldur? By himself? “It is certainly a trap.” Well, then, what’s the point of going in there? Again, we get a comic-book confrontation, like fans asking, “If Sauron battled Gandalf, who’d win?” Putting Sauron/the Necromancer on stage, with melodramatic dialogue, once agains cheapens the character.

Waste of a bloody brilliant dragon, if you ask me. From the purely technical standpoint, Smaug was the unquestioned ‘star’ at the film. Much of Bilbo’s dialogue with Smaug was retained, pleasingly (but Jackson or Bilbo should look up ‘enormity’).

My reaction to the whole is, “Well, it’s OK. Maybe on a par with Man of Steel or Iron Man. But nothing special; we’ve seen it all before.”

PS. Rereading this, it may seem that I am being fault-finding and negative. I really did find the film OK on the whole. I have taken for granted that everyone knows that Jackson does immensely well with art direction, scenery, and so on. And by and large, these continue to be excellent in the present film (though there are some CGI lapses in technique that are actually rather surprising). Generally, the craftsmanship and cinematography are excellent. As always.

Posted in Hobbit Movie, Media Reviews, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Arwen’s Review of ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

THDOS_Main_smEditor Note: Our latest staff review comes from staffer Arwen.

As a word of warning, Arwen’s review has SPOILERS from the very beginning. If you are avoiding spoilers of any type, please know — you have been warned!







Posted in Film Screenings, Headlines, Hobbit Movie, Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Media Reviews, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Fili’s Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

fili kili dosEditor Note: Our latest staff review comes from staffer and second half of the Happy Hobbit team, Fili. The Happy Hobbits were official representatives at the ‘black’ carpet premiere of ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ this past Monday in Hollywood, CA. (You can see the unedited video coverage in our uStream archive)

As a word of warning, Fili’s review is filled with SPOILERS from the very beginning. If you are avoiding spoilers of any type, please know — you have been warned!

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Posted in Fans, Film Screenings, Hobbit Movie, Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Media Reviews, The Hobbit, Uncategorized

‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Will Keep Fans Talking For Years

Desolation of SmaugOur third staff review comes from Sarumann, host of our LIVE Weekly Program ‘TORn Book Club.’ He will be hosting a special early discussion at 11am PST today (all timezones) at our LIVE event page as a follow-up to this review. Please note, the LIVE event will be spoiler-free and allow participants to ask those burning questions about the film. As for the review, he notes clearly where spoilers begin in the review:

Let me state for the record right away that I thoroughly enjoyed The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I found it to be a fun thrill ride with tons of spectacular visual and technical feats that go beyond anything we have seen thus far from these films. While there certainly are things I wish were done a little differently, my overall feeling as I left the theater was one of genuine satisfaction and excitement for the next film.

Having said that, I also feel that I fall within one of two “camps” that are likely going to arise among fans: Those who love it and accept the myriad alterations within it, and those who can’t stand it and feel that Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have finally gone too far with their artistic license. I fully expect to meet as many fans who agree with my assessment of the film as I will fans who believe I am crazy and delusional. Hard lines will be drawn in the sand, and many a heated debate will rage for months and perhaps even years following the release.

I was asked, on a scale of 1-10, how much did Jackson and Company diverge from the text, and I can best put it this way. If the more controversial divergences from The Lord of the Rings (Faramir taking Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath, Frodo sending Sam away, etc.) were to rate a 5 or 6 on this scale, then The Desolation of Smaug clocks in at about an 8 or a 9. There are alterations, expansions, completely new plot threads and, of course, an entirely new main character. How fans react to this is going to be varied and loud. I can’t discuss those too much without getting into heavy spoilers, so I’ll save that for later. For now, I’ll focus on my general feelings without getting too specific.

Let’s begin with the few things that I didn’t care for. While An Unexpected Journey felt perhaps a bit bloated and padded at times, The Desolation of Smaug suffers most to me from the exact opposite problem. I felt that there were many pieces missing here. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t able to follow what was happening, but there were definitely a number of moments where I got the distinct impression that something that would have helped contextualize or round out a scene was cut.

Another thing that I felt was a drawback was a number of foreshadowing of moments in The Lord of the Rings that felt like very heavy-handed fan-service callbacks. While some were definitely there as actual plot points, there were more than a few that felt unnecessary, and may have been better suited for the Extended Edition. They never felt as overblown or pandering as moments like these felt in, say, the Star Wars prequels or Star Trek Into Darkness, but I wasn’t a huge fan of them overall.

The film did excel for me in many places, and in a few others, exceeded some already very high expectations. Smaug in particular is a wonder to behold, and will no doubt be one of the crowning achievements of this trilogy. There are amazing action sequences that are true thrill-ride quality, and many insights into the characters and the overall story that I never would have seen otherwise. Ultimately, this movie worked for me on many more levels than it didn’t, and next December can’t come soon enough.

From here on out, I’ll be going into mild spoiler territory. Consider yourself warned.

We’ll start with the barrel-riding sequence. While some may feel that this sequence is overdone, and feels more like a video game, I still enjoyed it immensely. It is action-packed and full of great visual comedy moments right along with some truly impressive stuntwork. Keeping spoilers to a minimum here, I will give a little tease and state for the record that Bombur is now my hero.

TaurielThe big controversy among fans from the outset was the addition of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a Sylvan Elf character who was not in the book or any of Tolkien’s ancillary work. It seemed to me that fans warmed to her once we started to see her in action in the trailers, and continued to warm when Lilly spoke publicly about being a big Tolkien fan herself. Now that I’ve seen her fully realized and integrated into the story, I am 100% on board with her inclusion. Tauriel is a forward-thinking character who is able to see the bigger picture of what is happening more than her own King, and she is willing to put words into action without hesitation. Lilly’s performance is also some of the best I’ve seen from her (and this is coming from somebody who watched Lost all the way to the bitter end).

On the subject of her King, Lee Pace is pitch perfect as Thranduil, the King of the Greenwood. He is intimidating, regal and clearly stuck in his old ways. His conversation with Thorin brings some fantastic insight into why he abandoned the Dwarves of Erebor in their time of need. His cool elegance may be the best Elf performance I’ve seen since Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel in Fellowship.

The last Elf I will talk about is, of course, Legolas. While not specifically in the book himself, his inclusion is not something that feels wholly outside of the realm of possibility. Having said that, Orlando Bloom’s performance here felt somewhat lacking to me. Even though he is Thranduil’s son and a Prince of the Woodland Realm, he comes off feeling more like just another soldier in his army, albeit a high-ranking one. He is still able to pull off some incredible stunts, and he handles a bow and sword as well as he ever did in The Lord of the Rings, but this is also a very different Legolas from what we saw before. He is just as closed-minded as his father, and it seems to me that Tauriel will play a crucial role in his transformation from what he is now to what he will become in the future (or the past – it’s all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey prequel stuff).

While I would love to go through all of the performances of the main characters in this, there just isn’t time. I’ll simply focus on some of the stand-outs for me. Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman both turn in exceptional performances as Thorin and Bilbo. The big theme with both of them in this movie is corruption – Thorin by the Arkenstone and Bilbo by the Ring. As the Company gets closer and closer to the Lonely Mountain, we see Thorin’s growing desperation to claim the Arkenstone. We also see Bilbo starting to slowly lose control of himself as he uses the Ring more and more. Both of them portray their individual slides with exceptional subtlety.

Gandalf-the-GreyIan McKellan, as always, is just the perfect Gandalf. This film dedicates more time to him and Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) investigating the possible dark power that was uncovered in the first movie. Without giving away too much, it does build up to a very intense and powerful reveal.

There is also the introduction of Luke Evans as Bard, and this movie does a fantastic job of fleshing out his character beyond what we see in the book. He is a man who holds the protection and preservation of Lake-town above all things. He also has an excellent backstory that helps emphasize why he is the way he is, and how his own family history is tied to Smaug.

Two characters that I felt received some short shrift in this movie were the Master of Lake-town (Stephen Fry) and Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt). Neither of them have as much screen time as I was hoping, especially when they both are portrayed so compellingly. I do hope that we see more of both of them in the Extended Edition.

Lastly, and most importantly, we come to the dragon Smaug. With nearly two full movies building up to his encounter with Bilbo, expectations for this character were undoubtedly very high. For me, these expectations were exceeded in the most glorious way. Smaug is so wonderfully designed and animated that he more than lives up to his reputation. Add to that the amazing voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, and you have a villain who is truly worthy of all the buildup. Smaug may be the best CG character I’ve seen in these movies since Gollum. His conversation with Bilbo is so breathtaking and sinister that I didn’t want it to end.

While this movie does diverge from the source more so than any other Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movie to date, I personally did not feel that it detracted from the story in any way. None of the movies have ever been slavishly faithful to Tolkien’s written word, but they have all made for compelling and entertaining movies that tell tremendous stories masterfully, and The Desolation of Smaug is no exception.

I can see, however, many fans walking away from this movie feeling that this franchise has gone off the rails and into the world of self-indulgence. We all have our opinions and expectations, but I personally do not hold to the idea that Jackson, Walsh and Boyens have gone too far. One thing that must be remembered overall is that this is just one interpretation of a 75-year-old story. Do I think it is a good interpretation? Absolutely! Can I see how others may not see it that way? Of course. Seeing another’s interpretation of a story is fascinating, and can oftentimes provide insight into the text you may never have seen yourself despite multiple readings. Interpretations can also provide insights that you may personally feel are incorrect, and I have no doubt that fans will discuss their own personal reactions to them at great length. And that’s as it should be. I’m much more pleased by a movie that sparks heated debate than I am one that just paints by numbers and leaves the audience shrugging in apathy.

Desolation of Smaug PosterFor my part, I see the passion the filmmakers have for this project exploding off of every frame of these movies, and it draws me in every time. While we have a glut of movies that seem to be made by people who almost resent that they have to do it in first place – either through studio mandate or the promise of a big payout and reputation boost – it’s refreshing to see a big budget film made with love. Whatever else may be said about the cast and crew of these movies, their love for Tolkien and this world cannot be denied. And to those who will ultimately take to the internet decrying that this movie has ruined the book, I say this: Nobody is going to the publisher and forcing them to pulp all existing copies of The Hobbit and replace them with a new version based on these movies. The book is still there, and will always be there. Our imaginations create our own vision of what we read, and no movie is ever going to be the perfect match to that – unless you’re making it yourself, of course.

I won’t say how far into the story this film takes us by the end, but I will say that the year-long wait between this and the third installment, There and Back Again, is going to be interminable. Most second-part installments in trilogies have the problem of starting in mid-stream and ending on a particularly dark cliffhanger. While The Desolation of Smaug certainly does both, it is ultimately a thrilling ride that left me walking out of the theater fully satisfied and eager for more.


Posted in Film Screenings, Hobbit Movie, Media Reviews, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug