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The Desolation Of Smaug - An Analysis

Tuesday 10 December 2013, 16:30

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

The second of the three Hobbit films is released this week. I decided to investigate just how such a short book could take up so much screen time - here are my conclusions.

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    Comment number 1.

    I have been wondering about this myself. My short answer is, more money. Two films I can still understand, but three.

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    Comment number 2.

    You forgot to include all the appendices of Return of the King that the Hobbit movies rely on. All of this "it's too much, it's spinning it out for dollars" talk is pointless until we've seen all three films.

    I normally agree on the whole with the critical fraternity however you could see last December that they didn't know what they were asking for when they were damning the first Hobbit movie saying it should have been condensed into one film. You put one film next to the three LOTR movies in a boxset and to any youngsters coming to it for the first time Bilbo's adventure is going to seem pathetic by comparison.

    Now three might be pushing it, but it all depends on the third film and how much is in the book. It's not going to just be the Battle of Five Armies so I feel it will bridge the gap between this an LOTR. Meaning it is A LOT more than just the Hobbit book, despite the title.

    And it already is, any Tolkien fan saw that from the first movie with the talk of the Necromancer, etc. you can see where it's headnig that the book didn't.

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    Comment number 3.

    Apart from the $$$$$$$$$$$...

    How does the Lord of the Rings trilogy compare?!

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    Comment number 4.

    Whilst this is an amusing bit of deliciously pointless analysis from the good doctor, I have to say I am getting a little fed up with everyone moaning about Jackson stringing out a short book into three films. There are two reasons why this isn't necessarily a bad thing:

    1) As stated repeatedly by the hardcore fanbase, the films also comprise elements from Tolkien's extended histories as found in The Lord of the Rings appendixes in relation to events occurring concurrently to those in the actual Hobbit text.

    2) Far more importantly, this is Peter Jackson's vision of The Hobbit, and he is constantly digressing from the text, adding new elements and story material all the time. How much of a good or bad thing this is is what needs to be discussed, and it isn't necessarily bad regardless of what the Tolkien die-hards may say. The films have to be judged as films first and foremost, regardless of the book.

    I can think of many other superb films that were significantly different from their source material, or added loads of new stuff - everything from Hitchcock's The 39 Steps to Blade Runner and The Iron Giant. Adding new stuff to create a longer film (or films) isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    Do the same people who dismiss Jackson's attempt to create something longer from something shorter also dismiss, say, Nic Roeg's attempt to make a feature film from a Daphne Du Maurier short story? Should Don't Look Now be a short film?

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    Comment number 5.

    Decimalisation, with an "a", surely?

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    Comment number 6.

    The question of whether Peter Jackson was spreading one book out over three films was addressed by no less than Kristin Thompsin, Ph.D. in film studies, co-author of standard texts Film Art: An Introduction and Film History: An Introduction, and sole author of The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood (whew!).

    Using her knowledge of the books and the additional material Jackson is including, that Tolkein himself wanted to include in a re-write of The Hobbit, directly linking it to the Lord of the Rings books, and only the trailers for the first Hobbit film, Ms. Bordwell made a strong case for the length being necessitated by the story she saw being told. These mentioned appendices aren't just 100 more pages of book added to a 320 page book, they're denser, more summary than story in places, richer of material than the 25% additional page count sounds. Many interviews with Peter Jackson have since confirmed her very educated speculations.

    The decision to do this was made in July of 2012, just 5 months before the first film was to be released, so it's natural that it has less of the new material than the forthcoming two will. It was already close to being done, so it was mostly The Hobbit. While that could seem to support suspicions that too much time was being given to a light amount of material, this information has still been quite available for some time. Look, if a film feels long, then it feels long no matter what the reason, and that's a legitimate flaw, but it is now just irresponsible of critics to keep referring to the notion of three movies made out of one book, because that's just not what's happened. (This is true even if they just imply it comedically)

    Attentive viewers who also happen to be at least slightly fans of the series may also note that the tone of The Hobbit pt. 1 is not just lighter due to the material, but almost deliberately lighter as compared to the other three films. Many of the characters are a bit more cavalier about the dangers facing them. An element of the film is other characters' awareness that something uncertain and dark is beginning to encroach on a time of relative peace. Even Hugo Weaving's character, so deadly serious in Lord of the Rings, rides into The Hobbit with a sunny smile worthy of Errol Flynn. When people watch these films in story order, we will feel his change of countenance, and sense, even in the first of those three movies, that their world has already darkened a bit. I think Jackson is handling his prequels having learned from the mistakes of another famous franchise.

    Here's the article by Ms. Thompson:

    W. David Lichty
    Indianapolis, IN
    BA Film Production (a major I had to create - and then got)

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    Comment number 7.

    'But the Play Mrs Lincoln the play?' I am assuming from your new book that Kermode uncut is for reactions not reviews. But a hint might have been mice Mr K…pretty please.

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    Comment number 8.

    Surely the good Doctor knows how to spell "decimalisation"?

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    Comment number 9.

    Great blog. Every time I hear that title ,I cant stop thinking Red Dwalf- The Desolation of Smeg

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    Comment number 10.

    Aw, you were doing so well up to T = 00:03:50 . If you had categorised the added material towards the added FPS that would have been a more interesting analysis. Instead you built a case that collapsed in on itself, deliberately. Still good mathematics for general viewers! I really enjoyed your work here.

    But the message is simple. Huge following. More minutes means more revenue. Producers win, and consumers win. Who's not happy?

    *Raises hand* The exception is that The Hobbit is not actually filmed. An interpretation highly abridged version is. A Lord of the Rings version of The Hobbit is filmed. It's a shame, a charming children's story turned into an action fantasy kidult's movie at least if you were interested in how they could effect this fairy tale onto the silver screen. There's a delightful innocence about The Hobbit the book that is not very marketable nor in vogue in people's sensibilities perhaps due to the media culture's current environment? There's a loss there just as the complaint that Christmas has become too commercialized and lost it's true values? Sorry to be a humbug but the book is a great bedtime story for young kids if told well.

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    Comment number 11.

    "Well, all good stories deserve embellishment."

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    Comment number 12.

    Why cant the Hobbit films just be judged for what they are(very entertaining and visually gorgeous fantasy films for all the family) not what they where adapted from(a great book)

    Mark kermode mate, just stick to the tween fantasy pics that you cant get enough of if this isn't your bag and stop unnecessarily pishin on films that many many people actually like..

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    Comment number 13.

    this is hilariously over the top lol

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    Comment number 14.

    Sorry Mr Kermode but this is the first time you have disappointed me, Why? Well you have fallen into the trap of judging something without fully understanding it first! You remind me of those you rightly criticise for judging the Twilight films so harshly when they react against the genre.

    As said by others, the film is not just an adaptation of The Hobbit but of other material found in Tolkien's writing. Although the film makers only have the rights to The Hobbit & LOTR it is obvious they have read much more. They have a stand alone story that was written years before LOTR and are fitting it into the much more complicated mythology created afterwards by its creator. These are films for those who relish all the extra detail in the appendices of the later book.

    By all means criticise the films for being overlong and baggy, but judge them on their own merit not by linking it to the book. Doing it this way has only exposed your ignorance and hence my respect for your opinion in this case.

    Oh, and "Hello to Jason Isaacs"

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    Comment number 15.

    I came here for film analysis, number crunching!

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    Comment number 16.

    I came here for film analysis, not number crunching

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    Comment number 17.

    So your point is that the films are telling more story than the book. The filmmakers have been upfront & open about the fact they are expanding on the source material using Tolkein's own published appendices. Is that a bad thing if the film works? No.

    Please remember that literature & cinema are not mutually exclusive. To anyone who is unhappy with what is being presented, be content re-read the book and let the rest of us enjoy the film. Book snobs, they're worse than phone drones.

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    Comment number 18.

    If Jackson is being as careful as you seem to "hint" then where on/in middle earth was Tom Bombadil in LOTR. Un-essential to the plot, admitted by Tolkien himself. Yet so is that great scene at the end of Raiders.
    Alas it is all about the money.

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    Comment number 19.

    After you post about the Hunger Games catching fire you should apply this calculation to them. (and the Harry Potter films)

    Mark have you checked out this 'Honest Trailer' for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.


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    Comment number 20.

    and the award for pointless blog of the year goes to this one.

    Could have done something interesting like explain why you missed friday's blog(pretty obvious that you were probably still struggling with a calculator) or responding to our comments to the about 2 months of blogs you've done and not fed back on, otherwise what really is the point if the expert doesn't respond to our points?

    The Hobbit is long because Peter Jackson doesn't know how to make a short movie. There are 3 because it makes over three times the money for the big business. Simple as.


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