Monday, December 16, 2013

Dances with dwarves

Like many, I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug* over the weekend. Like many, I enjoyed it. And I think my favorite details of this new series continue to coincide with the ways in which it differs from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Let me explain.

Here be spoilers. In the first movie, the "good guys" are pretty exemplary. Sure, you have Boromir, who tries to take the OneRing, but he gets filled with arrows pretty quickly, just to show you what happens to guys like that. Frodo has his "episodes," but he recognizes and loathes the soul-corrupting burden of the OneRing. Other than that, there's just a little mutual racism between Legolas and Gimli, but that turns into an adorable bromance midway through the series.

But Thorin? Thorin has a dark side. He is focused on restoring his kingdom, and he makes no apologies for it. All other priorities are rescinded, if you will.

He is also capable of bad decisions. As hell-bent as he is on getting the OneDiamond to rule them all (the dwarven armies, that is), he is confident that he won't awaken the CumberDragon (he swears it). And, of course, (spoiler alert) if you've seen the trailer, or the mocap photos, or any mention of a third movie, you know that the CumberDragon awakens.**

Aragorn would NEVER have made a mistake like that....

Which is why Thorin is (IMO) a much more interesting fearless leader.

Even Gandalf gets shady and manipulative. Not that he doesn't do it for good reasons, of course, but he's shown to have engineered this dragon-awakening quest in the first place. And he rather suddenly abandons it when current events demand it.

Similarly, this series gives us a more sophisticated portrayal of elves and dwarves. Gimli was good with an axe, but he was also distracted by the mere mention of salted pork. Dwarven attempts at civilization-building were typically ill-advised (see: Moria) in LOTR. There's still plenty of dwarven ruination here, but the characters themselves display more varied and more nuanced personalities and motivations. Maybe that's just because there are more of them.

As for the elves, they're not the favorites any more.*** Whereas Elrond's withdrawal in LOTR was framed as the tragic end of an era, Thranduil's lack of interest in other kingdoms is just isolationism and ice-cold pragmatism. He's a jerk, and no one is trying to pretend differently.

*I still say "Smog" in my head. Yes, I know it's "Smowwwg," but come now.

**Best part? Balin: "If you see a dragon, don't wake it up." Good to know.

***I still love the meal in Rivendell from the last movie, in which the dwarves look completely annoyed at having harps played inches from their ears.