Epic Movies, Raised Stakes, & THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

Epic Movies, Raised Stakes, & THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

Happy New Year, CBM users! In SauronsBANE1's latest editorial and 1st of 2014, find out why 'end-of-the-world' movies are quickly becoming tiresome and ineffective, why Peter Jackson's latest epic trilogy is proof positive of this worrisome trend, and why this is hurting the comic book movie genre overall.

'Epic' stories are killing movies today.

In terms of comic book movies like Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, and Thor: The Dark World to name just a few, it seems that nowadays the only way to successfully market them to audiences is to put together trailers and clips that show off huge CGI-filled fights and include plenty of dark, grim monologues about how a major city will be destroyed. Or the country will be taken over. Or the entire world will end, if the main characters fail.

Okay, big deal, right? Maybe that can simply be chalked up to the whims of the advertising and marketing divisions for those specific films...but then why are there so few genuinely great movies anywhere that happen to have smaller, more focused, and more compelling threats? Or if there absolutely must be epic, world-ending stakes, why do so few of these blockbusters actually make the conflicts personal for the heroes?

The Problem with "Epic"

I'm sure many of you may be thinking, "I don't see anything wrong with having world-threatening stakes."

And to be perfectly honest...you’d be completely right. Nothing is inherently wrong with big threats and high stakes in a movie.

In fact, raising the stakes is actually a very crucial aspect of keeping audiences emotionally invested in the characters, their journey, and their eventual fates. If there aren't any stakes, if the main characters can keep overcoming problem after problem with no consequences and no risks, if nothing ever seems to negatively impact them...then what's the point in watching at all? Why should we even be remotely interested in what happens to them?

So with that in mind, let's establish right from the get-go that that's not what my complaint is about. High stakes alone aren't the issue here.

It has to do with what the focus is about. The problem really comes when end-of-the-world threats are all that a movie has to offer. When the entire story, the action sequences, and character decisions constantly revolve around and are only influenced by some huge threat...beware. This is a major red flag that a movie is walking on the wrong side of a very fine line.

Personally, I look at these following movies as examples of blockbusters that get a bit too wrapped up in their 'epicness' and forget to offer much of anything else: 2012, The Matrix Revolutions, the Transformers films, Pacific Rim (although it can definitely be argued that this is exactly the point of it), some of the older and cheesier James Bond films, Star Trek Into Darkness, and, yes, Man of Steel.

As I said before, the key is making the threats personal. So of course, not every movie that deals with these epic threats turns out to be terrible at all.

The original Lord of the Rings trilogy has an epic and far-reaching threat, and it still manages to focus on the characters, their personal struggles, and their character arcs. Those movies are absolutely thrilling and very well-structured. The original Star Wars trilogy doesn't suffer from its high stakes, and neither does The Avengers, or Thor 2 (for the most part), or even the first Matrix film.

So what makes these films different? What are the similarities with each of these films that are generally accepted to be great? Characters. Arcs. Motivations. Drama. Conflict. These movies focus more on characters and how they react to the problems and issues they have to face and then overcome, while just so happening to have very real, very big threats looming as a constant, ever-present threat in the background.

But why am I going on and on about making threats personal, you ask? Why is this such a big deal?

The thing about personalizing the threats in a movie is that it allows us to explore and witness the flaws in the main characters, their strengths, and how they develop and change as a result of the plot of the film. Boring, generic, all-encompassing threats rob us of the potential of seeing the different, complex sides of their personalities and the incredibly important details of what makes our favorite characters really tick. Fully-developed, fully-realized, fully-humanized characters are the backbones of any great movie.

In The Lord of the Rings, we get to see Aragorn deal with personal issues of unworthiness and unease at reclaiming the rightful throne of Gondor, Legolas and Gimli put aside a centuries-old feud between races and learn to become true friends, Merry and Pippin both discover their courage and what they're capable of, and Frodo and Sam learn to persevere in the face of overwhelming odds, and also trust and depend on each other on a very intimate, "bro-mantic" level. The Avengers is all about the relationships between the superheroes. Despite Malekith not posing a very personal threat at all to Thor, he continues to deal with the tricky, mischievous ways of his scene-stealing brother Loki. And Luke Skywalker, of course, has to go on an incredible journey that culminates with a face-off with his long-lost father.

Compare that approach to the movies in the other list, which seem to revolve solely around the epic threats the characters face. Unfortunately, the high stakes are priority number one and everything else follows almost as an afterthought. Endless pretentious monologues about "destiny" and the end of the world give illusions of character development while action scenes take place simply for the sake of having action scenes, not because they advance the plot. It's almost like the only way they know how to build up the intensity and drama in any situation is by increasing the scale of the potential devastation.

But why is this? Why is it that so many filmmakers figure the best way to attract fans is to keep raising the scale of the threat until the city, the country, the planet, or even the entire universe is at risk? Is this really the only way to hold our interest in movies now? Isn't that getting tiring and more cliché to be subjected to over and over again?

Maybe it's because those aspects simply make for incredibly thrilling trailers, and that leads to more people shelling out cash to see it in theaters...only to be let down 9 times out of 10. Maybe those kinds of movies are relatively easy and cheap to make, and Hollywood knows people will eat those 'epic' movies up like sheep.

I don't know if there is one single answer to that, but I do know that this growing trend is leading to less and less well-made movies.

In addition to sacrificing character development and motivation, an increased focus solely on the stakes of a story also makes movies more boring and generic. Sure, these types of films almost always include large-scale battles, thrilling fights, and plenty of edge-of-your-seat action sequences to keep any adrenaline-junkie occupied for the next 2 hours.

But aren't movies made up of more than just action? Do any of these action-heavy sequences ever really stand out from any other generic, easily-forgettable summer blockbusters? Do these movies ever end up standing the test of time?


This brings us to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which I consider to be the most recent and most applicable example of the tendency to shoehorn almost every comic book, action, or fantasy movie into this sweeping, epic, needlessly drawn-out ride.

Before I go any further, let me just say that this particular movie actually is filled with a few great character moments and developments (unsurprisingly, these moments almost always take place in the few scenes that heavily involve Bilbo) and that easily lifts this above your typical, mindless summer blockbuster.

But this becomes outweighed when you consider that it's just so painfully apparent this movie relies very heavily on its action, action, and more action in order to get by on its almost 3 hour runtime.

On a related note, one of the more damning things about the Hobbit movies is that they just don't seem to know what kind of film they want to be, tone-wise. On one hand, these movies sacrifice the real-world physics and the relative realism that was so prevalent in the original trilogy in favor of a more computer-generated, video game aesthetic. Why? Because they are made with kids in mind, and this allows for more silly and fantastical things to occur. But conversely, the filmmakers are trying to connect with the largely older audience who loved the original Lord of the Rings, and so countless references are thrown at us, "prequel-itis" sets in, and the stakes are raised significantly until it's not a story about going "there and back again" anymore. It becomes a much more convoluted, bloated mess. Is it a kids movie about a simple adventure, or is it a sweeping, dark epic that explains how everything came to be in The Lord of the Rings? Unfortunately, not even the filmmakers seem to know.

It shouldn't be surprising that all of this is a direct result of director Peter Jackson's decision to branch out, forcefully connect this prequel trilogy with the original one, and turn this simple adventure story into yet another all-out epic fantasy trilogy with plenty of end-of-the-world threats and ridiculously high stakes.

But perhaps the most glaring consequence of Jackson's approach is something that I briefly touched upon earlier: characters are shoved aside and more or less forgotten about in order to focus more on the bigger threat. In this case, it's not just any character. It's the main one, Bilbo Baggins.

It's almost comical to me that a movie called "The Hobbit" could so easily and so haphazardly cast away and almost forget about its titular hero in order to worry about more 'important' things. For crying out loud, Jackson and his writers consistently give supporting characters like Legolas and Tauriel more stuff to do in this film than the person who's supposed to be the main character. Bilbo is relegated to mostly staying in the background until key moments suddenly pop up out of nowhere, where he randomly reappears and ends up contributing the most in order to get out of whatever problem the Company finds themselves in. This wouldn't be so bad if it didn't keep reminding the audience that, except for those few scenes, Bilbo's largely been MIA. Don't get me wrong, the pleasure of watching Martin Freeman portray Bilbo again so wonderfully in any scene, regardless of how involved he is, is fantastic...but it doesn't make the problem go away. It happens on more than one occasion, and it's just so jarring.

On the other hand, just look at arguably the most well-received scenes in each Hobbit movie so far: Bilbo's riddle game with Gollum, and Bilbo's face-off with Smaug. Both scenes give the main character a chance to shine, show off his wit and cleverness, and drive the plot forward. (Is it any surprise that these also happen to be the two scenes that lift most of the dialogue and plot straight from the book? But I digress...)

But what’s jarring about both of these instances comes from the fact that we never see any other examples again of Bilbo being very clever or smart, which is a hugely defining characteristic of the Hobbit in the book. Again, the only time we ever see Bilbo using his wits to get by sticky situations is in the two scenes that initially play out closest to what J.R.R. Tolkien wrote. As a result, you can feel the quality of the writing of the script dramatically increase in these two scenes, and then suddenly descend back to the uninspired norm again in every other scene. Bilbo suddenly starts talking in riddles, flattering language, and very smart dialogue...but we barely ever see these qualities in the rest of either movie, if at all.

That's not to say he isn't essential to the plot of the movies; he absolutely is, but he's just not shown to be very intelligent or clever in other situations. Sure, Bilbo saves his friends from the terrifically creepy spiders, but that's only through brute force, not brains. And even then, he takes a very long, stupid, selfish timeout from rescuing his friends while they have to fend off more spiders so that Jackson can beat us over the head with more blatant, in-your-face references to the Ring having an evil nature. And sure, Bilbo frees them from the Wood-elves, but even this ridiculously lucky plan is rushed and glossed over in a matter of a minute or two.

The reason more time isn't spent with Bilbo is because there's just so much other unnecessary stuff going on: Azog continues to hunt the Company (until barely 5 minutes into the movie, out of nowhere, he's summoned to Dol Guldur for some reason, drops the entire chase, and randomly sends his son Bolg to pick up the slack for the rest of the film. What...?), Gandalf investigates the Ringwraith tombs (whose history, I guess, has been retroactively rewritten now? I mean, in the very first film Aragorn tells Frodo that Ringwraiths are servants of the Enemy and they are neither living nor dead, but now apparently they've died sometime in the past, been placed in tombs, woken up and broke out of them? Okay.) and idiotically barges into the fortress of Dol Guldur all by himself (but not before we're shown Peter Jackson's versions of a Middle-earth long-distance call: Radaghast somehow teleporting to Gandalf's location in the tombs and, much more annoyingly, another telepathic conversation with Galadriel. Because we totally haven't seen THAT done to death in these films before...), Gandalf's Harry Potter-esque fight with the Necromancer (and honestly, the fact that Peter Jackson seems to think that the Eye of Sauron is literally an eye and he felt it needed some type of back-story to be explained is just...well, it shows a major misunderstanding of Tolkien's books), Kili and Tauriel wasting precious screentime with a pointless love triangle, Thorin cold-heartedly and unheroically splitting up his own Company and leaving behind his own nephews in Lake-town, Legolas and Tauriel following the Company there and getting into a prolonged and attention-stealing fight with the Orcs, etc.

And what do all these needless plethora of subplots and bloated details have to do with? You guessed it: driving up the stakes, increasing the scale of the danger, and generally giving the movie that forced 'epic' feel.

Even a few admittedly minor quibbles of mine manage to make things even worse, purely as a result of the vast amount of times the movie resorts to overusing this one specific thing. What am I talking about? Well, the movie goes out of its way to reference, call attention to, and essentially beat us over the head with an avalanche of little winks and nods to the previous trilogy. Aside from hoping that audiences would automatically like this trilogy simply because there's a number of references and allusions to the original one, this is another wishful attempt to give it that ‘epic’ quality.

From Tauriel casually slipping in the Elvish word for friend, “mellon,” into a conversation with Legolas, to Bolg and his Orcs reenacting a few odd, weirdly specific moments from The Two Towers, to Legolas and the Wood-elves surprising the Dwarves in exactly the same manner that the Lothlorien Elves first encounter the Fellowship, to the Master of Lake-town's evil sidekick who looks, acts like, and basically plays exactly the same role as Grima Wormtongue, to Tauriel completely ripping off and rehashing the scene where Arwen tries to heal Frodo with the athelas weed, to the hidden entrance of the Lonely Mountain evoking the hidden doorway to the Mines of Moria by only reacting to moonlight, to the huge Dwarven statues by the hidden entrance into the Lonely Mountain referencing the large Argonath statues from The Fellowship of the Ring...some might think these examples are a bit of a stretch, but it's undeniable that this movie is completely unable to stand on its own two feet without constantly leaning on Jackson’s previous successes as a crutch.

But what is it with trilogies these days anyway, where they stick to this boring, cliché, predictable formula of having the 1st movie usually be involved with the smallest, most personal threat, the 2nd installment dealing with a marginally larger threat, and the 3rd inevitably succumbing to the whole end-of-the-world disaster trope? The Hobbit is probably Exhibit A of this, and if you don't believe me, just wait till you see what events the third movie will deal with.

In a way, I actually somewhat enjoy the 1st film (even though film-wise, it's definitely much less cohesive, more bloated, and an overall lesser quality of movie) precisely because it mostly stays with Bilbo's journey and only hints at all the other unnecessary stuff by keeping it to the outside. It is the more focused, more personal of the two movies so far.

In my opinion, what both Hobbit movies have been doing so wrong is that they keep trying to up the ante and raise the stakes for nearly everything, rather than paying more attention to the main characters. Bear with me as we take a look at some examples from each film in this trilogy so far:

-Going on a simple quest to vanquish a dragon and win back the Dwarves' rightful gold isn't big enough? Make it a quest to reclaim their entire homeland!

-The constant dangers of Trolls, Goblins, Spiders, and a freaking Dragon at the end isn't enough? Bring Azog back from the dead for a lame, cheesy 'revenge' motivation, have him hunt the Company, and be a complete rehash and ripoff of the Uruk-hai Lurtz from The Fellowship of the Ring!

-Climbing through a precarious mountain pass before getting captured by Goblins isn't dangerous enough? Have them go through death-defying carnival rides, in a pointless action sequence that doesn't advance the plot at all, in between Stone-giants that appear to be wrestling for some reason, and then miraculously make it through without so much as a scratch!

-Escaping from Goblins isn't exciting enough? Turn it into a video game that ignores physics where inexperienced Dwarves actually block arrows with the tips of their swords, where everything is turned into a sort of Rube Goldberg machine, where our heroes can ride down steep cliffs on flimsy scaffolding hundreds of feet down without any repercussions!

-Getting chased by Orcs up into trees in a forest? Make it a forest that ends dramatically in a giant cliff, make the trees fall into each other like dominoes until the last one is hanging over the cliff, make Thorin completely forsake his friends so he can have one last slo-mo, cheesy, anticlimactic grudge match with Azog, then inexplicably have Thorin go down immediately and in the lamest way possible so Bilbo can have a shoehorned "hero moment" that doesn't end up mattering one bit, because the Eagles magically show up out of nowhere once again to save them in the nick of time!

-Traveling to the house of Beorn, the huge shape-shifting Bear-Man who may or may not play a crucial role in upcoming events, isn't compelling enough? Have him chase them there himself for no reason, and then completely drop the character after 2 minutes in what amounts as a rushed, pointless cameo at best!

-Escaping from Wood-elves isn't enough? Turn it into a raging river rapids amusement park ride, with Orcs and Elves and Dwarves battling each other, with Legolas and Tauriel, who can actually shoot other arrows right out of the air and nimbly jump on top of Dwarves all while performing elaborate kill moves, doing any ridiculous, death-defying stunt, showing off ninja or even superhero-level abilities that would feel right at home in a fight with Zod in Man of Steel, with the barrel that contains the fat Dwarf Bombur (who, along with the majority of the Dwarves not named Thorin, Dwalin, Balin, and now Kili, hasn't had a single speaking line yet, much less any other type of characterization) knocking into Orcs like a bowling ball in one of the more implausible, jump-the-shark moments in this trilogy so far!

-Giving Bilbo a face-off with Smaug and then having him fly away to Lake-town to unleash his fury upon them isn't climactic enough? Turn the entire 3rd act into an overlong clusterf*ck of Dwarves running willy-nilly inside the mountain, barely avoiding dragonfire...

You know what, let's stop for a second. This sequence deserves some looking into.

...What the heck is even going on here?

When do the Dwarves even have time to concoct such a piss-poor plan that involves lighting random furnaces ("The plan won't work, the forges are stone-cold!" one Dwarf suddenly exclaims when they arrive, apparently surprised at the fact that Smaug didn't keep Dwarf forges hot and running in the few decades that's passed since he took over Erebor...) furnaces that apparently only exist to build one specific Dwarf statue which we see later, a statue that inexplicably and idiotically renders Smaug into a mesmerized, frozen, unmoving lizard at the mere sight of it, which conveniently gives it just enough time to melt and spray molten gold at him in the hopes of killing him. Only it doesn't, somewhat predictably, because it had very little chance of doing so anyway.

You can almost see the parts of the script that were hastily re-written and haphazardly added in once the decision was made to turn this from two movies into three, and this absolute mess of a third act is living proof of it. But let's get on with this, shall we?

-Dwarves literally fly through the air and one even lands on top of Smaug's freaking snout, where all he needs to do is open his mouth and kill the utterly unlikable Thorin, where Smaug really just needs to blast fire one more time or take another step or two in countless other instances in order to kill our heroes...but for some reason he conveniently doesn't do that. And for all the talk about how he can smell Bilbo and he knows the taste and smell of Dwarves better than anyone, he still somehow manages to remain completely oblivious as to their whereabouts several times over, even when he's right next to them, or right above them! Seriously, as great as he sounds and as awesomely scary as he looks, thanks to the terrible writing, he will probably go down as one of the most unintentionally incompetent villains of all time.

Ugh. I have to apologize. I definitely wasn't planning on going on a bit of a rant there about the over-indulgences and absolutely ridiculous, so-called 'epic' moments in Jackson's trilogy so far, but hopefully I made my point.

Lessons from Skyfall

Even though financially successful movies like The Hobbit have the potential to negatively influence how other movies are made, especially our favorite films based on comics, there's a few solid templates out there that do get it right.

For example, Argo, The Wolverine, Gravity, and Iron Man 3 all have varying levels of destruction and stakes to them, but they all prioritize making the conflicts personal for the protagonists.

Despite not being a comic book movie, the methods and strategies used in this one film would absolutely benefit upcoming comic book blockbusters. The film I'm referring to is Skyfall, which just might be the exact opposite of The Hobbit in almost every aspect. Plenty of complaints were raised about how it suddenly turned into the Home Alone of James Bond films at the end, but I argue that this is part of what really makes this movie special.

Think about it.

It starts with your prototypical, huge, all-encompassing threat as Bond is trying to track down the stolen hard drive that contains the identities of agents embedded in terrorist organizations around the world. But as the story progresses this aspect of the plot is dropped in favor of focusing more on the main villain, Raoul Silva, who just so happens to be a very intimate, very personal threat to both Bond and M. By the 3rd act of the movie, this personal threat is physically represented by Bond taking M to his childhood estate and fending off Silva's attack from there.

Despite the criticisms, I found this to be deliciously counter to what most Bond films (and most other big blockbusters these days) usually do. On the contrary, it took this cheesy, played-out cliché of steadily building up the stakes to crazy levels and flipped it completely on its head. It starts out with the huge, agency-at-risk threat and ends with Bond, M, and Kincade defending against a simple, personal assault by Silva and his men.

And somehow the entire climactic battle still manages to be intense, compelling, and thrilling. As a matter of fact, all the action sequences in this movie have a point to it; there isn't any part that feels unnecessary or exists simply for the sake of existing.

Compare that to the 'battle' in Smaug's lair with the Dwarves, where a good 10-20 minutes of screentime is taken up by a fruitless, pointless action sequence that only delays the inevitable: no matter what happens, Smaug is going to attack Lake-town at some point. Even if you haven't read the book, the movie heavily foreshadows this in several not-so-subtle ways. So what's the point of the entire climax of the movie? Not only does it not drive the plot forward, it completely stops the pacing and plot of the movie dead in its tracks, making the film feel even longer than it is.

Future filmmakers can learn a lesson or two from movies like Skyfall. When it comes to addressing the scale and size of the conflict in a story, no grand plans of world domination and destruction are needed here, no huge action set pieces just for the sake of having one...just good old-fashioned, simple, effective drama and conflict.


So I pose the question again: Why do movies almost always give in, retread old ground, and end with some battle that obligatorily decides the fate of the city, the world, or the universe itself? Wouldn't more movies, and comic book movies in particular, benefit from having some kind of story that focuses more on intensely personal and more small-scale conflicts?

Pixar movies have made a living out of getting rid of the stale, overused idea of large-scale threats and making the conflicts very personal to the main characters, and it's undeniable how commercially and critically successful those movies are.

The first two movies of The Dark Knight trilogy went from Ra's al Ghul threatening the entire city to the Joker leading Batman on a cat-and-mouse game throughout the streets of Gotham. Sure, he's still a massive threat to the city, but he's also a majorly personal threat to Batman, what he stands for, and what his limits are. And it seems that The Avengers and its sequel will be following that same successful strategy.

Undoubtedly, The Hobbit trilogy would have been miles better had it only hinted at, or completely dropped, the constant threats that the Necromancer, the Ringwraiths, and the armies in the fortress of Dol Guldur will eventually pose for the rest of the world. Instead, imagine if it had only been about a much tighter, more focused story that was actually about the Hobbit, his journey, and his character arc of turning from a home-loving, reluctant adventurer into a courageous, respectable leader.

Maybe someday us fans will stop settling for the boring, predictable movies that always desperately try to keep raising the stakes because they have nothing else to offer. Maybe those large-scale and global threats would be better suited as the finales of a franchise, like the Justice League or the Avengers, after putting in the necessary amount of work and time in order for the payoff to actually seem worth it. Maybe we'll get to the point where the big, epic, potentially world-ending blockbusters will actually be the destination, rather than the starting point.

Maybe filmmakers will realize that less usually means more, and that these constant barrages of "epic" movies are killing most movies today.

As always, thanks for reading! Agree 100%, or completely disagree? Sound off in the comments below!
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JoeMomma29 - 1/6/2014, 10:49 AM
Dude that was long! Thanks for The Sermon On the Mount, I think?!?!?!?!
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 10:56 AM
Haha if you've read any of my other articles, I'm pretty sure I've actually gone even longer before! Obviously I'm a bit biased, but it's totally worth it and a good read!
Minty - 1/6/2014, 11:16 AM
Hey man - long time no see! Great editorial, I definitely agree with your points on movies having to be 'epic' for some reason and beefing up the stakes - in the end the hero will (almost) always win anyway so what's the point haha! Far better to concentrate on other themes like you said.

One thing I disagree a little on is some of your views on the Desolation Of Smaug - I loved that movie (although it definitely did have its faults, and is of course nowhere near as good as the original LOTR). But hey, agree to disagree!

Oh yeah btw after you gave me some tips on my first editorial I had a read of some of yours - they're really good. Even when I don't agree on some of your opinions, they're still good reads. Anyway good stuff!
NovaCorpsFan - 1/6/2014, 11:32 AM
Bilbo asks, "What have we done?"
The answer is, you've gone too far with the CGI. Orlando Bloom looked like a cartoon in DoS.
charlie2094 - 1/6/2014, 11:33 AM
Great editorial! Agree with pretty much everything I read, but I still loved Smaug. Do feel like Bilbo is maybe being given the short straw in his own films, the development of his character is definitely second to the set pieces, at least in this one, think he had a decent character arc in the first film, so it might just be a result of the two films becoming three. I was behind the expansion from 2 to 3, but I do think some things were definitely sacrificed as a result of it, just seemed to be a string of set pieces, not much time for character work, except for oddly Fili (Kili??) and a completely new character in Tauriel

This is generally I think The Wolverine was probably the best cbm this year. Where IM3 and Thor were just generic blockbusters, Wolverine was a very personal, character driven story. It succumbed a bit to standard blockbuster territory towards the end, yet it was always character focused, which is where the focus should be.

Find it interesting that the majority of the trailers (first ones at least) for Man of Steel were much quieter, emotional ones, rather than showcasing so much of the action, which is all most trailers tend to be now. Think that film in the end got a bit muddled between being a personal origin journey for Clark, and being this big epic conflict between god-like beings...think a smaller scale fight that was much more personal between Zod and Clark would've worked better. Having Clark fighting to keep his own planet from being reborn would've maybe been more powerful and worked better with the rest of the film. Just felt like a bit messy at times, switching from beautifully shot smaller character moments and developments, to just huge scale action with no middle ground

Anyway, great article, completely
TheRaven20 - 1/6/2014, 11:47 AM
"One of the more damning things about the Hobbit movies is that they just don't seem to know what kind of film they want to be, tone-wise. On one hand, these movies sacrifice the real-world physics and the relative realism that was so prevalent in the original trilogy in favor of a more computer-generated, video game aesthetic."

You hit the nail on the head! All the problems you mentioned with The Hobbit are spot on! Love this article.
Enphlieuwince - 1/6/2014, 11:53 AM
Great write up man! I had to read it in shifts, but, it's well thought out. You make some great points. One thing I disagree with is that a threat to the world can be personal as well. Because if the world is about to end, all I'm thinking about is my family's suffering. Which to me, is the whole world. But, great job nonetheless!
batcheeks8 - 1/6/2014, 11:54 AM
The LOTR trilogy had a lot going for it. A great balance between epicness, tension and quiet moments, and a threat that felt very real. Plus a couple of very engaging performances that I'm missing in the Hobbit so far.
Klone - 1/6/2014, 11:55 AM

Smaug elevated the film from a 5 to a 7.
Humby - 1/6/2014, 12:03 PM
Completely agree how they are turning action into spectacle. It's a real shame. LOTR has some amazing action, and when it is used as spectacle, it is few and far between. The Hobbit on the other hand doesn't have a single action sequence that stands on its own merits. Instead, silly and unlikely shenanigans take center stage, as if to distract us from the fact that virtually none of the action is moving the plot forward.

I don't personally have an issue with the plot elements that they are adding, and I actually like the Azog addition (although I wish he weren't CGI). It gives the films a common thread, that I don't think they could have achieved otherwise (unless they limited the movie to say, oh, I dunno...one movie haha).
erth2drew - 1/6/2014, 12:05 PM

Interestein - 1/6/2014, 12:19 PM
Awesome stuff mate! People really need to understand this.
vtopa - 1/6/2014, 12:22 PM
I was really interested in this and then i scrolled to the bottom and saw a picture of that CHICK FROM MADMEN and I was like…hey maybe I will click on that and see if there are more pics of her, cuz she is totally hot! And I did and then there were like three other windows that popped up and I was like, Shit! Now I got to decide if I want to keep looking for this story to see if there are any good pics of her cuz she's so hot and then I was like, Well if i do that maybe another 3 windows will pop up! Well, what do I do? Then I realized I have GOOGLE! So I just turned off the Safe Filter, but you know what?

She has NEVER posed nude!

Can you believe that? I bet she will regret it later when she's old. She'll be like, Oh wow, I thought I was too good to pose nude but now that I am old and wrinkled I sure wish I had some pics like that to remind me of how hot I used to be…

…so, what were you saying again?
RorMachine - 1/6/2014, 12:23 PM
Excellent stuff, and although I enjoyed most of the movies you reference a lot, I can't disagree with your points. I actually made the same "Thorin stands on Smaug's nose" criticism in my review of the movie:)
marantaz - 1/6/2014, 12:35 PM
vtopa, you and me both, brother! Got lost in her 'charms' and forgot all else.
Gigacrusher45 - 1/6/2014, 12:47 PM
1) Complaining other characters are getting screen time and development in the Hobbit when you complemented Lotr for giving all characters screen time and development while still keeping the main characters relevant.

2) Just complained that "stuff happens" proving nothing. Peter Jackson is bringing other info and story into The Hobbit from Middle Earth history and he's fleshing out a book that was written for children, giving it the detail Tolkien put into Lotr.

3) It's Prequelness is actually not that overpowering. It's a subplot at most, in which only one character (Gandalf) is dealing with. The story of The Hobbit is still unfolding as it should be.

4) Nobody is allowed to complain about the length. You literally can see how long the movie is when looking up movie times and info about the movie so there's ZERO reason to come out of the movie saying THAT WAS SO LONG. I enjoy the length because I enjoy the world therefore I get MORE of what I like. I understand if a movie FEELS long, which I don't for this movie (only slowed down at Laketown) but different movies have different paces and so do people.

5) Doesn't know what kind of movie it is??? The hell? It's in the same genre as Lord of the Rings, maybe less serious if anything. How much different can it be? Sacrifice real world physics for computer generated? Do you mean the shit Legolas pulls off in this movie is SO much different then stuff he did in Lotr?????? That's a stupid point. Piss poor plan for defeating Smaug? You ask when did they have time??? IT'S CALLED IMPROVISING. Can you think of something better please? They used home field advantage and dwarf machines to take advantage of Smaugs size. YOU REALLY THINK IT WAS ALL ONLY TO BUILD THAT STATUE AND NOTHING ELSE AT ALL WHAT'S SO EVER????? You only think that

6) You should of just called this article "Bashing The Hobbit" Don't even know why I wasted my time with this stupidity. Am I a blind fanboy??? No. I actually have some critics about The Desolation of Smaug as well. But are they actually logical? Yes. Am I a miserable person who loves to nit pick the shit out of movies? No.
DefcoN - 1/6/2014, 12:50 PM
Oh man, you are right on so many levels. I admit that I stopped reading when you started focusing on Skyfall, but I read the entire Hobbit part with no little attention. Desolation of Smaug was enjoyable, but something with that movie felt so weird that I left the theater thinking "Well, it was good, I guess..." and not the "Oh my God, I sooo loved this movie" feeling that I was hoping for.
I recognized the "love triangle" as a problem but overall I didn't quite understand why I felt so empty in the end. Your editorial unfortunately nailed it, and I must say "unfortunately" because I think both of us wanted this movie to blow our minds. Hell, I didn't even like Howard Shore's score in this film, and that is just sad!

Kudos for your effort!
BlackHulk - 1/6/2014, 1:22 PM
@ OP

Everyone has a right to their own opinion and I respect your's, but I have to disagree. Anyone who is a fan of Peter Jacksons interpretation of Lord of the Rings pretty much knew what they would be getting themselves into before seeing the Hobbit. Everyone knew that there would be over the top action sequences, overuse of special effects and a plot that would not necessarily make logical sense. We also knew that in Peter Jacksons interpretation of Lord of the Rings, there were key scenes from each movie that were drastically different from the book or were omitted from the movie, so naturally the same formula would be used in the Hobbit. So it would be silly to complain about the over the top action scenes in the Hobbit, but be perfectly fine with the over the top scenes from Lord of the Rings. For example, complaining about Legolas performing elaborate kill moves in the Hobbit is silly when in Return of the King, he took out an oliphant and the 20 men riding it in less than 30 seconds. The movie is a movie based in fantasy and accomplishing the impossible so it can get away with things that films grounded in realism cannot.
rondz123 - 1/6/2014, 1:25 PM
I think the problem with the hobbit is the source material some times you have to take liberties with a story that very short to make a good movie.

the fact that some things shown in the hobbit that are also shown in the lord of the rings is because "again" of the source material.

not to mention the Tolkien retroactively wrote the the hobbit after he did TLOTR
Kyos - 1/6/2014, 1:27 PM
Nice editorial! I absolutely 100% agree with your views on The Hobbit. Can't say anything more. Bilbo didn't deserve this. Beorn didn't deserve this. Smaug didn't deserve this.
NeoBaggins - 1/6/2014, 1:31 PM
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 1:34 PM
Hey Minty! I'm actually in the middle of reading your editorial right now too, always good to read your stuff!

But I can absolutely see why some people don't share my views on The Hobbit. I've been a very huge fan of LotR so I'm definitely more prone to dislike or even be insulted by some things that most people wouldn't be bothered by.

Thanks for reading this and my previous articles too, I definitely appreciate it dude!
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 1:36 PM
@ Charlie2094 and a few others who've said similar things about Smaug, I definitely thought the dragon was the best part of the movie. His initial scene with Bilbo, facing off against each other, the dialogue, everything was pretty great. Then unfortunately it devolved into this nonsensical mess of forced action. That brought down the entire 3rd act, IMO. But before that craziness set in, I absolutely loved Smaug. Thanks for commenting and reading!
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 1:41 PM
@ TheRaven20, And to think I was THIS close to completely omitting that paragraph in order to shorten this article up a bit more. But in the end I knew it was too important to leave out since most of the problems comes from that fact. Thanks for the kind words!

@ Enphlieuwince, Bravado, and others who left some great comments, thank you all!
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 1:43 PM
vtopa, You easily win "best comment of the article award", that had me laughing. Well done haha

@Ror, Hey thanks for reading! I actually remember reading that in your review and literally face-palming at the ridiculousness of a Dwarf actually landing on a Dragon's mouth. I went into the movie hoping that and other scenes like it weren't as bad as I imagined...and it was haha.
riseofloganX36 - 1/6/2014, 1:56 PM
so what you hate the hobbbit.

I loved it great cgi great action Smaug looked amazing.


Alittle differaunt from the book they changed some things to make it a three part movie like the lord of the rings. Im proud of it and tilken would be proud of it.

This is the movie not the book go read the book it's not that bad.

Get over your self dude.

SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 1:57 PM
@ Gigacrusher45:

1) There's a huge difference between was the original LotR did with it's plethora of characters, and what The Hobbit did. In LotR, arguably the entire Fellowship are the main characters. Heck, it's even the title of the whole movie. And guess what: they managed to flesh out, develop, and actually get us to like each and every member of that group. In the Hobbit? Not so much. Obviously Bilbo is the main character, and he barely gets any attention at all! Only 4 or 5 of the Dwarves even have speaking lines, and out of that, maybe 3 have been completely developed and actually seem like 3 dimensional characters. My complaint was that minor characters like Legolas, Tauriel, Thranduil, etc get more screentime than the main characters.

2) I never complained that "stuff happens" and that's why the movie isn't good. I completely get that Jackson is taking material from the appendices of the books in order to flesh out the film more...but that's also what makes this movie feel so uneven. This comes right back to the movie not knowing what it wants to be. If it was a kids movie, it'd drop all that extra stuff and focus more on Bilbo's simple adventure story. If it was a dark, adult epic trilogy like LotR, then I see why they would include the extra stuff. It tries to do both, and that's why it fails.

3) The "Prequel-itis" I talked about wasn't only referring to Gandalf's subplot. It's more than that. It's the little winks and nods and constant references to the original trilogy. It's bringing Legolas into the film and making him such an important character. It's a TON of things, and Gandalf's subplot only adds to it.

4) I wasn't complaining about length though. Indeed, if I loved the original trilogy so much, I obviously didn't mind the length then. And this movie is one of the shorter movies Jackson has made! I said it FEELS ridiculously long, and that's a problem. To me, it feels almost as long as the Return of the King, and that's because of bloat, pacing issues, and the ridiculous entire 3rd act.

5) Obviously, I'm talking about genre there. Obviously it's a fantasy movie just like LotR. I'm talking about TONE. As I mentioned earlier, is it a kids movie? An adult epic trilogy? It, and the filmmakers, has no idea. And yes actually, almost all the stuff Legolas does in this movie isn't even close to what he could pull off in the original trilogy. I'd suggest watching it again. And even when Legolas does take down an entire Mumakil by himself or slides down a staircase on a shield, it's balanced by fantastic character scenes, like Gandalf and Pippin talking about hopelessness and basically giving up. In this movie, it's ALL about Legolas and the increasingly ridiculous stunts his CGI-double can pull off. There's no comparison. Also, you should rewatch that 3rd act in Desolation, too. All the furnaces pore molten gold into tunnels that ALL lead to building that ONE statue. It's in the movie. It's ridiculous.

6) If the title of my article and the teaser didn't tip you off about what this article would be like, then you wasted your own time. And I could've easily devoted this whole thing to bashing the Hobbit...but I didn't. I made it into a much broader topic about "epic" movies and the problems of that. You obviously missed the point completely, and that's on you buddy.
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 2:02 PM
@ BlackHulk, Honestly I get what you mean. But if you're comparing LotR to The Hobbit and making it seem like they are more or less the same...I'm not sure what to tell you. The CGI, the visuals, the action sequences, the character development...it's like it was made by two compeltely different people. Apples and oranges.

Yes, things like Legolas being this "super-elf" is sort of consistent in both trilogies...only The Hobbit takes it to even more ridiculous levels. Yes, Legolas takes down the entire Oliphaunt by himself, yes he slides down the staircase in Helm's Deep on a shield, yes he does that cool move where he gets onto his horse in the battle against the Wargs...but that's it. In this movie, he goes above and beyond our suspension of disbelief with the stuff he and the other Elves do.

Compare action scenes like the last act of Desolation with the last act of Fellowship. Completely different. Fellowship (and the rest of that trilogy) is much more grounded, realistic, and not over the top or silly.
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 2:06 PM
@ NeoBaggins, I'm guessing that's the total amount of money Desolation has made so far? As if that makes any difference? The Transformers movies made over $1 billion, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides made over $1 billion, Avatar made over $1 billion, Episode I of Star Wars made over $1 billion...are you telling me those movies are the epitome of well-made movies simply because they made money? That's ridiculous, over-simplifying, and just plain wrong. "Money" doesn't automatically equal "great movie"
Rhysno1 - 1/6/2014, 2:23 PM
This article is all the feelings I can't express. Couldn't bare DoS, Sick of constant capture and escape and over the top CGI and action sequences.
BlackHulk - 1/6/2014, 2:34 PM
@ SauronsBANE1. I agree that when it comes to the use of CGI, action sequences and character development, there are huge differences between LOTR and The Hobbit. I think that what is similar between the two movie franchises are the silly moments that are presented in each movie. For example, in The Desolation of Smaug, the silly moment was the whole barrell ride scene because you had the dwarves trying to escape, the elves and orcs trying to capture the dwarves and the dwarves and elves teaming up to kill the orcs. In The Two Towers, it was the Elves arrival at Helms Deep which proved to have no impact because they were all slaughtered halfway through the battle. Peter Jackson might as well have stuck with the source material regarding the battle because it would have made more sense. There are moments in each movie where someone can point out as being silly and not meshing with the overall plot.
TheAstoundingMan - 1/6/2014, 2:38 PM

He made some excellent points. Peter Jackson's films will only ever be adaptations of the source materiel, yes, but SauronsBane is arguing that many of the changes that were made to the story (particularly that damn action sequence with Smaug at the end of the film) represent what is wrong with the Big-Budget film industry these days.

A terrifying, shot-but-sweet encounter between Bilbo and the dragon was not enough; it had to be diluted with frequent cuts to an action sequence with some of the dwarves in Laketown, and then the arrival of the remaining dwarves to go on a rather silly, pointless escapade to try and kill the dragon before it can leave Erebor.

I know I am walking a fine line by comparing Jackson's trilogies, but it says a lot that the climax of the Two Towers (which jumped between three separate action set pieces) had both better thrills and more heart than the climax of its equivalent in the Hobbit.
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 2:44 PM
@ BlackHulk, Even the silly, comedic moments in each trilogy are vastly different. Of course each film has humor in it, but both trilogies go about it in very different ways. The original trilogy resorted to making Gimli and Merry and Pippin (and Sam, to an extent) into comic relief, which I didn't care for all that much. But aside from Gimli's fat/burping jokes and general "Hobbit's eat alot" jokes, most of the comedy was fairly sophisticated. It never delved into kiddie or Marvel levels of humor. Ever.

Compare that to Fili's "You should check inside my trousers" joke in The Hobbit. How vulgar, immature, and completely out-of-place was that?? This trilogy turned every Dwarf into comic relief, with the exception of Thorin, Balin, and Dwalin. Almost all the jokes are modern and elementary school-level humor.

And no offense, but the Elves arriving at Helm's Deep was NOT meant to be a funny/silly moment, at all! I disagreed with the decision to bring Elves there, but by no means did they not have an impact on the battle or anything like that. None of that was ever played to feel funny or silly whatsoever. It was a pretty dramatic moment, as the Theoden's soldiers were completely hopeless, and then they're unexpectedly bolstered by the new arrivals. Did most of them end up dying by the end of the battle? Yes, but in no way was that meant to be a silly moment. Gotta disagree with your comparison there.
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 2:46 PM
TheAstoundingMan, Absolutely, thank you for getting what I was saying completely!
TheAstoundingMan - 1/6/2014, 2:51 PM

Not really the same...

I guess you can argue that they are both silly, but a CGI-filled barrel riding sequence that did nothing to further the plot isn't exactly the same as a plot development that actually offered the audience a glimmer of hope in a rather dire situation, only to have it rather brutally quashed once the battle begins. If anything, the elves' suffering raised the stakes of that battle.
OnePunchBaldy - 1/6/2014, 2:52 PM
tldr. but fom the comments I'm guessing you really hit the nail on the head to what always bothered me with The Hobbit films.
BlackHulk - 1/6/2014, 3:11 PM
@ SauronsBANE1

I agree that both series utilize humor in different ways. I believe that is because in LOTR, the only exposure and character development we had for dwarves is Gimli and he was the comic relief for majority of the film. I think Peter Jackson wanted to give audiences a taste of how he felt dwarves were in middle earth, which would make sense because each middle earth race seems to have their own character traits.

While there is never anything silly about death, I felt that the Elves arriving at Helms Deep was silly. They had 0 impact on the events in Helms Deep and while one Uraki could kill 3-4 Elves in a matter of a few seconds, Gimli could easily dispatch 3-4 Uraki in that same time period. Also, the departure from the source material made the Rohan commoners appear to be drastically inferior to the Uraki. There is nothing wrong with making 100 Elves a little more useful when facing 10,000 Uraki. So in that sense it was a silly point in the movie because the scene was not necessary to the development of the plot.
SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 3:19 PM
@ BlackJack10, Completely agree. Compared to disaster movies that I actually enjoy (like Day After Tomorrow), I really disliked 2012. It took me a while to figure it out, it's because it just feels so cold and unemotional. They tried to remedy that by focusing on the family so much, but IMO it didn't really help. Anyway, thanks for reading!

SauronsBANE - 1/6/2014, 3:22 PM
@ BlackHulk, Okay I think I understand you better here. I thought you meant that the barrel scene in the Hobbit and the Elves arriving at Helm's Deep in Two Towers were both silly, in the sense that they were funny. I get what you're saying now though, they were both silly...but two very different kinds of silly.

I actually agree with you that the Elves were pretty unnecessary, but on a thematic standpoint I can still see why Jackson included them. He wanted the situation to be as hopeless as possible, and the Elves were an unexpected relief from that. I agree though, it definitely wasn't necessary to the plot.
cipher - 1/6/2014, 3:54 PM
Hey, good read, mate, really. Glad ya made main.
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