I don’t usually go in for trailer analysis – It is nearly impossible to gain accurate summation of a movies quality from two minutes of footage, a personal belief I outlined more fully here – but since I love Tolkien and spent 8’000 words discussing the first instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, I figured it should be ok to offer some thoughts on our first proper glimpse of The Desolation of Smaug.
The negativity I have seen in some places regarding this trailer surprises me, as did the generally lukewarm reaction to An Unexpected Journey from nearly all quarters. I’ve spent some time considering that, wondering whether I’m seeing something that is not there, or if I somehow have found myself at the centre of a conspiracy.
I deem neither of those two possibilities to be completely correct. I was open in my An Unexpected Journey review about my love for Tolkien, but I maintain that only makes me more likely to be critical. In the end, I enjoyed An Unexpected Journey enough to place it at the top of all movies I saw last year – ahead of The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers and even Argo, just. I stick to that opinion. It probably helps that I avoided the 3D showings like the plague of course.
So, anyway, the trailer. It’s fairly standard stuff overall. It doesn’t actually show much of a plot per say, just looks at various action sequences, a few of the more important lines, some of what I would presume are the “stand-out” moments, and that typically grand final shot. This is all about attraction, and a more in-depth trailer (or two) will come later. If you hadn’t seen An Unexpected Journey and hadn’t read The Hobbit, you would come away from this trailer thinking that it was a movie about midgets trying to kill a dragon, without any idea as to why exactly. That isn’t so much of a criticism as it is an observation about the nature of modern trailers.
Much talk has been about the visuals, a lot of which seems to be just an extension of the same talking points for An Unexpected Journey. I’ve never personally seen anything in much of these criticisms.
Having avoided 3D (For the record, I consider 3D to be an overblown option in movies, with very little attraction), I avoided much of the visual criticisms, and in the actual 2D showing, only the Goblin-town sequence really stood out to me as a CGI moment that needed more work.
It’s pretty much more of the same here. Jackson has clearly chosen to rely more on CGI work for his Hobbit trilogy than he did for The Lord of the Rings, but I would argue firstly that it fits with the more child-friendly nature of the source material, and secondly that if anyone can pull a project like this off, its Jackson and WETA. The vast majority of the visual effects shown off in the trailer look not only fine to me, but to the standard that WETA has set.
The gigantic, unavoidable exception to that is the dragon. I count myself as one of many surprised to see Smaug make an appearance in a trailer. I figured he would be another Gollum, an effect to be hinted at and seen half-formed, before being fully revealed only in the movie itself.
Instead, whoever made the call – it might not necessarily be Jackson, since directors frequently get little input into the creation of trailers – decided it would be a good idea to put Smaug’s head in as the big ending moment of this first trailer.
And oh boy, is he looking all kinds of not awesome. The effect looks rigid and plastic, very fake. The crooked jawline, the lack of depth in the effect, it all screams out. I cannot imagine something as structured and inanimate as that head and jaw speaking. I certainly couldn’t imagine it speaking in the kind of voice that fans have come to expect Smaug to have. It looks too mechanical, too T-Rex from Jurassic Park-ish. Throw in the fact that the rest of the scene, with Bilbo standing just to the right (visible for some reason) looks like a matte painting in comparison, and you have a trailer that falls completely flat at its conclusion.
I would expect (and fervently hope) that this is an unfinished effect, and not representative of the actual fully formed dragon we will see when The Desolation of Smaug. Even the tiny glimpse of Smaug’s face we saw at the conclusion of An Unexpected Journey is head and shoulders above that head as a visual effect. Work to be done there.
Now that the main talking point is out of the way, what about “Tauriel”? Naturally, the hardcore devotees, a section of them anyway, of everything Tolkien are crying foul about the inclusion of this, wholly invented by Jackson, character. More than that, she’s a potential love interest for Legolas, which doesn’t sit well for some reason, and she appears to be acting just like him.
I am extremely hostile to most of these viewpoints. My own opinion is that adaptation is an art in itself, and part of the whole attraction of filmed versions of classic literature is seeing how a director and his/her production team will transform one engrossing form of media into another, and still maintain its virtues in the new format.
If you want a page for page for page adaption of The Hobbit, with every last bit of written dialogue included and nothing new ventured, stay at home and imagine it in your head, because such an idea is completely pointless. I do not want to see another Watchmen on screen, where simply replicating the source material resulted in something soulless. I want to see Peter Jackson’ interpretation. I want to see what he can do with that material ,and yes, I want to see what he can add, cut or change in order to try and make the experience better.
Also, if you think a production company should make a billion dollar movie trilogy and have no women in it (because there are no, in a very literal sense, female characters in The Hobbit at all, Tolkien was as sexist as his times), in this day and age, you are simply bonkers.
Let’s see what Tauriel gets up to. I doubt we’ll see a love-angle (though, that is something The Hobbit is missing as well) but she could prove to be a very interesting character, someone to match the efforts that Liv Tyler put into making Arwen more than just a placeholder. Evangeline Lilly is a good actress after all. I suppose this all comes down to a simple plea of “Give it a chance”
What else is there? It appears “Barrels out of Bond” is being turned into an action sequence featuring the Mirkwood Elves and Azog’s Orcs. I’m already on record as stating my love for what they’ve done with Azog, so I have no problem with him being there. “Barrels” is the kind of chapter that presents some difficulties, first because it is somewhat comedic, and secondly because its rather dull. It’s actually one of my least favourite parts of the story, since its one of the most pedestrian escapes from a dungeon ever. Here, it seems that Jackson’s trying to do something a bit more with it.
I would go as far as to say that The Desolation of Smaug will be three distinct sections worth of plot, each with its own structure and three act tone, matching the episodic nature of the source material and An Unexpected Journey. It’ll be:
1.1 The company meets Beorn and sets up for the trek through Mirkwood.
1.2 The company’s journey through Mirkwood and their increasing desperation there.
1.3 The combat with the spiders.
2.1 The company is captured by the Elves and interrogated by Thranduil
2.2 Bilbo tries to orchestrate an escape attempt, Azog tracks the company down, Tauriel is expanded upon.
2.3 The escape from the Elven Kingdom and combat with Azog.
3.1 The company journey to Laketown and earn the enmity of (some of) its inhabitants for their plan.
3.2 The company goes to the mountain, Bilbo meets Smaug.
3.3 The battle over Lake-town and the death of Smaug.
And you’ve got Gandalf’s adventure in Dol Guldur to slot in there somewhere too, I’m guessing in sections 1.2 and 2.2.
That’s actually as huge amount to get through (and torpedoes the oft repeated, but completely groundless, claim that these movies don’t have the legs for three instalments) and I’d worry about things like time for characterisation, overuse of CGI and general overkill with action as much as anyone.
For fear of going too far, I’ll just sum up the rest of thoughts quickly:
-One of my favourite parts of The Hobbit was the short bit where Bilbo climbs above the dark depths of Mirkwood, and I got a thrill seeing a brief glimpse of it here.
-Looks like Bard will be a little more antagonistic towards the company than he was in the books, which is fine. Tolkien didn’t give him a lot of depth, so I’m happy to see him get more screentime.
-Radagast returns, presumably for more comedy stuff. Hard to see that mixing with the Dol Guldur stuff though.
-Looks like Thranduil is Celeborn 2.0, with a voice that seems very unnecessarily creepy.
-While I maintain that the fault is Tolkien’s, the lack of lines for the dwarves is evidence of a continued lack of focus on any of them.
Naturally, I’m going to be seeing The Desolation of Smaug regardless of any trailer, good or bad. But I certainly feel that a wave of people trying to trash the movie six months before it comes out are being unfair. I’ll admit that irritates me somewhat, but it won’t affect what I would expect to be my enjoyment of the movie.