Dear Peter Jackson,
There is a word I think you might not be familiar with, so allow me to do you the favor of defining it for you.
1. fine or delicate in meaning or intent
2. requiring mental acuteness, penetration, or discernment
3. characterized by mental acuteness
Excuse me for any impatience in this blog. I just came back to find out that the automatic save feature no longer seems in use, so all of the work and notes I put into this are gone. Ain't that lovely?
But in any case, before I get into the review proper, which will involve spoilers, I'll now mention my spoiler-free review of this movie. My overall impression of this movie was that Jackson wasn't trying nearly as hard as with LOTR. I mean, sure, the trilogy lacked subtlety, but this was even less so. It felt like he put less love into it. Which actually might be somewhat reasonable, as Lord of the Rings was very expensive, but there could stand to be a little more love for the material.
As is, it felt like a generic action flick that happened to have fantasy setpieces. Seriously. The more it went on, the more generic it got. It had huge, ridiculous action scenes, with very simplistic emotions and themes. Just like almost every other action movie in existence. I'll admit I'm not really an action movie fan, but it's still surprising to hear that some people are excited about one CGI thing slamming into another CGI thing. Considering that this movie is based on one of the 20th century's greatest works of literature, you'd think it would have something to do with actual thinking.
However, for that reason it feels a little more immune to criticism than LOTR. I feel less of a need to nitpick the Hobbit because it's just a silly action movie. Action movies are not known for their intelligence, so by just calling it an action movie I'm saying enough about it. But of course that won't stop me from nipickery.
This movie follows the history of a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who has always had a pleasantly boring life and doesn't want adventures. However, Gandalf and thirteen dwarves intend to change that, and Bilbo finds himself whisked along as a "burglar" on a quest for the dwarves to recover their home, which has been conquered by Smaug the dragon.
For my short summary, the best part of the movie was at the beginning. There, Peter Jackson actually used two of the songs from the book, and I loved that part. As the movie went on, however, PJ chose more and more not to follow by the book, but to adjust it in ways that that felt like cheap fanfiction. Action scenes with no purpose fill areas that are "slow", and overall the tone of the movie is too epic. It tries too hard to make the world of Middle Earth look unnecessarily dangerous. Compared to LOTR, the Hobbit book was more fun and grand, like a happy adventure that didn't get dark until the end. That's not only why the ending was so surprising, but why the tone of the rest of the book was so relaxed. It's okay to have relaxed adventures, Hollywood!
If it weren't for the fact that this movie were based on a great book, Peter Jackson would be recognised for going the way of George Lucas with the screening of this movie. After all, he split it into three, an obvious ploy for money, and created his own "Jar Jar Binks" (Radaghast the Brown), and inserted digital crap as a substitute for good writing, like in the bizarre, stupid, and totally not from the book fight scene between two different rock monsters. Though, to be fair, Jackson is a far better (ie, less lazy) cinematographer than Lucas. That, and Radagast was only in the movie for a collective ten minutes, about. And he had a bunny sled.
However, this movie can be enjoyed. The actor that played Bilbo did do a good job, and I found him very believable. Andy Serkis as Gollum definitely stole the show, in the one of the rare subtle and actor-based scenes (as opposed to the CGI based scenes) where Gollum and Bilbo have the famed riddles in the dark setpiece. This is the best scene in the movie, and if Peter Jackson had done more of the scenes like this, it would have been better.
But in any case, this movie is capable of being enjoyed, if you don't expect too much.
This movie is for:
- Action film fans.
- People who like cartoons.
- Ladies who think the guys who played Bilbo and Thorin are hot.
- Guys who like lowbrow humor.
This movie is not for:
- Tolkien fans.
- People who think.
- People who don't like having a character with bird poop down the side of his face.
Best actor: Martin Freeman
Summary: It's fun, but nothing more than a cheap action flick that happens to have fantasy setpieces.
That last point up there was Radaghast the Brown. I was seriously hoping he would wash his face at some point. Now that we're getting into the spoilerific part of the review, I'll explain a little more about him. He doesn't annoy me as much as he annoys other people, but at the end of the day I think he's worse than Jar Jar Binks, except for the aforementioned bunny sled and minimal screentime. Characters like him make me wonder about directors, because it takes an especially disconnected mind for someone to think that the audience will like this version of Radaghast.
In the book, Radaghast was barely there. He was an Istari (in LOTR the wizards are a species) that liked animals. He delivered a message from Saruman to Gandalf in Fellowship of the Ring, and it's due to Radaghast's animals that Gandalf managed to escape from Saruman's tower. That's Radaghast's only addition to the book, though I think he's implied to have done something during the War of the Rings towards the end. Thus, he's pretty open to interpretation. That, unfortunately, means that Jackson has free reign to turn him into a super hippie that even normal hippies would be reluctant to hang around. He's whiny and weird, though his love for animals is pretty endearing. That doesn't mean he should keep birds under his hat, though.
Honestly, wizards are not just anybody in LOTR. They're a species sent to Middle Earth by the heavenly spirits of the LOTR realm to help the people of Middle Earth and stop Sauron. When you reduce one of these to nothing more than a goofy, messy, forgetful caricature, it's just dang disrespectful to the lore. I mean, this is a movie version of the book, right?
It's not that I expect the movie to be just like the book. The very nature of a book versus a movie makes it pretty impossible to do so anyway. In fact, one of my favorite moments from the Two Towers movie was the scene where the elves show up at Helm's Deep, even though that never happened in the book.
What I do expect them to copy over from the book is the book's feel. Do I get the same emotions when I watch the movie as I do when I read the book? No. The book is very fun, and only gets dark towards the end, where Tolkien reveals his real, depressed self. Yeah, nobody who isn't depressed would ever write The Children of Hurin, a horrible story that I highly recommend you never read. There's a reason it was never published in Tolkien's lifetime.
Anyway, let's go through this movie and do some nipickery! Yay!
So, this movies starts out similarly to Fellowship of the Ring's movie intro. Namely, that it shows too much too fast. Big, epic prologues work best in movies when they're big only in action, not in explaining too much about the plot. For one, it builds the audience's expecations way too high, and for two, if you can diffuse backplot into your story rather than barfing it out all at once, you can build a more emotional plot, and Thorin's motives will be more mysterious and interesting. And, quire frankly, I love the simplistic opening of the Hobbit. It gives the reader no clue how global the story will end up getting.
The backstory goes, for those of you who haven't read the book yet, that Thorin's grandfather Thror was the king of the Lonely Mountain, and he had a beautiful kingdom carved out of stone, as well as tons of treasure. His mountain helped the economy of the nearby human city of Dale, and things were starting to open up with the elves. I'm not sure how much the book mentioned the elves' relationship with the mountain, but whatever.
Besides throwing out too much at once, there were other problems with the prologue. It sort of implied that Thror's greed brought destruction on the mountain. Not only is this inaccurate and too close a paralell to Moria, how the crap does someone's greed lure a dragon? Certainly there were other cities with gold. Smaug could have landed anywhere. Does he sniff out feelings of greed or something? It would have been simpler to say that Smaug wanted the Arkenstone, a precious jewel of the dwarves.
The thing that annoys me most about this is that Thorin is portrayed as having fought against Smaug. In the book, he got away alive only out of luck, because he happened to be out walking. Honestly, I think this is far better for Thorin's background, because it would make him feel guilty for doing nothing to Smaug -- not that his grandfather, or his father Thrain, would have wanted him to. Besides, there's probably little one warrior can do against a dragon, particularly one that is blinded by rage. Smaug killed many dwarves that day, and it really ruins the drama if someone who directly fought him got away.
Wow, this far in, and I haven't gotten past the prologue. Anyway, all of this is being monologued by Ian Holm, who plays older Bilbo. Huh. Somehow I don't think giant prologues need monologuing, but whatever. All of this is set to have happened a few days before Bilbo's 111th birthday, so we get to see Elijah Wood's Frodo running around. I was never really impressed by Wood's acting, but it was still nice to see him again. It tied the movie together very well.
So finally the movie flashbacks to when Bilbo was young, who is played by Martin Freeman. I went to this film with one of my friends, and she just couldn't get over how great a job he did. Freeman just looks like a hobbit, and out of all the actors, I think he does the best job. True, Andy Serkis does great as always, but Freeman just melds into his role so well that you almost don't notice how good he does. He was pretty perfect for the role. That's saying something, because, well....let's just say you haven't seen how much ire and bile I can produce over the LOTR movies. Freeman, in my opinion anyway, eclipses the other LOTR actors with ease.
Gandalf approaches Bilbo with a suggestion for adventure, and of course Bilbo, the upstanding and perfectly boring Shire citizen, doesn't want to go. I'm a little sad they didn't include Bilbo's awkward suggestion of having tea on Wednesday with Gandalf, but overall it's not that important. The dwarves start coming in anyway, barging in and demanding food.
As for the dwarves, they're mostly okay. Honestly, they tried way too hard to make the dwarves goofy looking. If you're about to go on a long, hard journey with war and danger sure to be on the way, then perhaps a circle beard or a meticulously star-shaped head of hair is not the way to go. Also, why do Thorin, Fili, and Kili get to look non-goofy? I suppose it's because they're the youngest and hottest, but it just makes the decision makers look like jerks for saying only good looking people get to look normal. I realize "dwarves" in movies are dudes in prosethetics, but they can at least look a step or two above cartoon characters.
However, their acting was fine. There's not enough time to show off all thirteen dwarves, but when they do get to show their personalities, it's generally very good, especially in the beginning when they scarf down all of Bilbo's food and start singing two songs that were actually from the book. For the most part, when the dwarves are eating and making plans, the movie was good and I actually set aside my gathered apprehension against Peter Jackson. The movie was fun and silly.
The one part I do take offense to is a really stupid bit where the dwarves are arguing, and Gandalf, to get his point across, uses his wizard magic to sound all powerful and make the area around him look dark. This is very stupid. The dwarves are his friends, and he shouldn't resort to cheap intimidation to get his friends to listen to him. It makes him look like a wimp. Besides, it's logical for the dwarves to argue against Bilbo's inclusion. The movie never really explains why Gandalf thinks Bilbo should go along, but in the book it was more or less "because I said so, or you can go at only thirteen and have all the bad luck you like". Gandalf was hardcore in the book because it was his way or the highway.
Other than that, the beginning is fun. And then the crowd leaves Hobbiton, and the story gets shot up to pieces. Radagast the Brown appears, having descovered that poor Sebastian the hedgehog has been bitten by a spider, and not just any spider, but spiders of DOOOOM. Yeah. And then he finds the lair of the Necromancer (Sauron, but they don't know that yet), and walks up to it without meeting as much as an orc guard? He sees a CGI baddie and runs like a ninny, but not without making off without the sword of the witch king (the lord of the nazgul).
That's one of the major troubles with this movie. Everything has to be utterly EPIC, without being just the fun, rollicking adventure that the book was. The spiders? In the book they were just the inhabitants of Mirkwood, which the dwarves don't encounter until much later. They're not conquerers, but just dark beasts making their way of life in a creepy forest.
Jackson is not the only director in Hollywood to use this "make it epic" technique, and quite frankly, it sucks. Not every story is supposed to be pumped-up epic. There's rollicking adventures (the Hobbit book), insular adventures where the main character has little or no relation with outside circumstance or doesn't realize he is connected (the Horse and His Boy), the historical adventure with epic balanced with insular (LOTR), and so on and so forth. It doesn't have to be "OMG if we don't save the world we're all gonna die!!" The entire world doesn't have to be at stake for every single story, alright?
One of the classic scenes from the book is the story where the dwarves get captured by trolls. This is the worst scene in the movie. Peter Jackson misses no chance to be low; snot jokes abound, Bilbo gets used as a tissue, and we get a close-up of a troll scratching its butt. And if the trolls stole some of the ponies from the dwarves before seeing them, then wouldn't they go investigate the dwarves instead of sitting around complaining about sheep? Wouldn't they figure that ponies with saddles on them means someone's been riding them? And how the heck does a troll steal ponies without any of the dwarves sounding the alarm? In the books Fili and Kili weren't slackers.
In the books Gandalf makes it clear he's keeping his distance from Thorin's operation. In this, Gandalf sticks with the group, which is sort of fine for now because in the book it took a while for Gandalf to leave anyway. Honestly, though, I was really wishing Gandalf would leave sooner, because he's treating Thorin like he does Pippin in Return of the King. It's one thing if Gandalf talks bad to the dwarves, but it's quite another if he does so to their king, if a king in exile.
Oh, and I should mention the whole thing with the Necromancer. The Necromancer is Sauron, though you can tell that when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit he hadn't created Sauron yet. The Necromancer is used as Gandalf's main focus, and his reason for leaving the dwarves during the Hobbit. At the end of the book Gandalf has defeated the Necromancer and sent him away from his fortress. Very little of this makes it into the book, which unfortunately gives Peter Jackson a lot of reign to write fanfiction.
There is also some background in the appendices of the Return of the King book about the dwarves. It mentions the orc king Azog, who is fought a major battle against the dwarves. While Thorin and his father Thrain were involved in this battle, Azog never fought them personally. In fact, Azog's battle was about the mines of Moria, not the Lonely Mountain. Azog is responsible for the death of Thror, Thorin's grandfather, who in his old age and loss of home caused him to try for the newly orc-conquered Moria. Thor had the rather dumb idea of going with only one companion, and entering Moria itself alone. His head was thrown out of the cave with "AZOG" carved on it.
While this may seem a good going-off point for adding filler to a pointless trilogy, Azog was in fact killed in battle by Dain Ironfoot, because in that battle Azog had killed Dain's father Nain. However, for the movies, Azog was not killed, but Thorin cut off one of his arms in battle, and now Azog is back again to cause trouble. The little metal implement they used to replace Azog's lower arm is the most interesting thing about him. He's just so boring-looking and acting. He's like a clay statue with claw marks on him. Thing is, why in the world does he have those claw marks? Is a person really going to injure themselves that severely (the cuts aren't shallow) just to look intimidating? And in fact that scratches make him look more stupid than scary.
Thing is, if Azog was really all that pissed off by Thorin and his family, for what reason does he wait so many years to get his revenge? Why doesn't he either right away chase down the dwarvish family and kill them off now that they have no Lonely Mountain to hide at, or else simply stay at Moria and build himself a nice little orc colony in the dwarvish kingdom and laugh at their misery? It's been years between the loss of the mountain and Thorin's quest to return. Why is Azog so patient? If he cares about killing Thorin, he would have done so sooner. If he doesn't care enough, he wouldn't show up at all, or show up only coincidentally. Jackson could have eliminated the number of years that passed, but he clearly demonstrates the length of time by making a middle-aged Balin in the prologue, who becomes white-haired for the rest of the movie.
So, in the movie, Azog is there antagonizing Thorin, somehow knowing about Thorin's quest and somehow deciding to care several years later. This would be less of a problem if Azog were interesting. No, he's just some angry guy with a metal bar through his arm-stump. There's even a ridiculously stereotypical scene where he kills another orc for "failing him". Soooo boring. Even more pointlessly, they give him and his fellow orcs a language. Orcs generally use the common language when they mix together because there are so many variations in orc-tongue, so it seems like a waste of time to give them a language. It's no substitute for interesting characterization.
Actually, the main trouble with the movie is that there are several baddies to make interesting. There's the Necromancer, the spiders, Azog, Smaug, and to a lesser degree, Saruman. Putting Azog in the mix and making the spiders anything more than territorial monsters is entirely unnecessary. Simply amping up the Necromancer and what he intends to do will be fine enough, and definitely more focused.
One of the things that was actually pretty weak in the book and is even more weak in the movie was the motivation for Thorin and his crew actually going to the Lonely Mountain in the first place. In the book, the motivation was basically that Thorin wanted to go to his anscestral home and do something. Thorin never specifies what exactly. Probably he wanted to go scout it out and see what he could do to outsmart the dragon, or maybe have Bilbo steal enough treasure to buy an army to kill Smaug. The end of the book makes it pretty clear that Thorin had no specific plans, and Gandalf does notice the silliness of the quest, despite being troubled by Smaug.
The reason this gets a little more bizarre in the movie is that Gandalf seems to think Thorin can accomplish something, despite the fact he has only twelve dwarves and a hobbit on his side and lacks any anti-dragon weapons technology. To make this worse, the coming of Azog, as well as the fact the under-mountain orc king knows who Thorin is (I'll get to that later), makes Thorin's company somewhat irrelevant. The reason he would go with such small numbers is to be a more efficent scouting party and not attract undue attention from Smaug. If you're being tracked by a vengeful, albino orc, chances are Smaug is going to notice sooner and give Thorin more attention once he arrives.
Forward with the nitpickery, however. The movie introduces some racism elements by having Thorin distrustful of elves. This is a bit strange, as Elrond and his group are not related to the Mirkwood elves, and it's the Mirkwood elves that betrayed Thorin by not helping him with Smaug (note that this only happened in the movie. In the books, the Mirkwood elves and Thorin's family were never very close. Also, the elf king in the book would never had betrayed the dwarves if they were). This plot element is okay, I guess. Doesn't really add anything but the dwarves acting stupid.
However, one thing I did like is that when the dwarves did eventually make it to Rivendell, Elrond actually acted like a person. Throughout LOTR, Elrond was a stiff statue, and very boring overall. Don't get me wrong, I like Hugo Weaving. He just was directed into statue-hood and ended up being mostly a joke about "Agent Elrond". Here, he actually smiles and talks like a real, normal person. He has a statue moment or two, but nothing serious. Unlike Galadriel, who is something of a sick obsession for Peter Jackson, as this movie makes abundantly clear.
I'm getting pretty tired of his Galadriel. To me, she was the worst part of The Fellowship of the Ring movie, and her other scattered appearances in the LOTR trilogy were generally underwhelming. My favorite of her appearances was when she appeared to a passed out Frodo and gave him the strength to move forward. Aaaand then he promptly gets stung by a spider, entirely negating Galadriel's effort. Lovely. Her best scene ruined.
In this movie, she's just so darn weird. She acts so unearthly and fake it's ridiculous. At one point, she, Elrond, Gandalf, and Saruman were all having a meeting, and she spends the entire meeting walking slow, melodramatic circles around the others. And at the end of this meeting, she clasps Gandalf by the hands, looks directly into his eyes, and says she'll be there whenever he needs her. Holy crap, Galadriel. Don't you remember that you're a married elf? There's a dude named Celeborn that happens to be your companion and father of your children. Why the crap are you hitting on a dang Istari?
Whatever. You get what I mean when I say this is a fanfiction, right? Anyway, Saruman is at this meeting, because he isn't revealed to be evil until LOTR. I was glad to see Christopher Lee again, and seeing more of Saruman's machinations is a good way to make the story interesting. However, he came across as too obviously demented in this movie. He's objecting to every little thing Gandalf says without coming up with logical and calm reasons why Gandalf is "mistaken". Saruman is an eloquent speaker, and it's strange to see him basically being a boring dissenter stereotype. Come on, if he's like this the whole time, then for what reason does Gandalf seek this guy's advice during Fellowship of the Ring? If Saruman is so contrary all the time, then wouldn't Gandalf ignore him if he needed to do something serious?
Well, the basis of the meeting is so that these high up muckedy-mucks can discuss the apparent return of the Necromancer and whether or not Thorin should be allowed to continue his quest. Thing is, these guys have no reason to suspect that these two issues are connected, and yet they seem very quick to think that these issues are. In fact, they aren't connected at all. The only reason Thorin's quest might have anything to do with the Necromancer is that the Necromancer might, for whatever reason, decide to manipulate Smaug into working for him. However, what is Thorin's journey going to do affect this? It's not like Sauron is going to change his mind about using Smaug based on the actions of thirteen dwarves. And while there's no reason to suspect Thorin and co. will actually succeed, will this really have any appreciable affect on how Smaug reacts to the Necromancer? Do these elves and wizards really have any reason to stop Thorin, as they think they should in the movie (in the book Elrond merely looks at Thorin's map and comments, doing nothing to stop him from going forward).
What's more, do these muckedy-mucks have any right to stop Thorin? It's Thorin's home, not theirs. The Necromancer's use of Smaug is more theory than fact, and even this doesn't give them the right to interfere, unless Thorin were to have some magical potion that makes dragons stronger, which in fact he does not. Moreover, Elrond rules only over Rivendell, and Galadriel over Lorien. Gandalf and Saruman are advisors, not kings. None of them have the slightest jurisdiction over any northern territory or dwarven citizens. At most, all they have the right to do is give or withhold advice and support. Gandalf only has say in Thorin's company only because Thorin allows him to have that say, and at any time Thorin could tell Gandalf to leave and it would be within his rights to do so. Sure, it would be stupid, but it still remains his right. It's stupid for them to try and stop the dwarves, unless they want to create a grudge against dwarvenkind right before they try to stop the Necromancer.
But whatever. Gandalf contrives a way of sneaking the dwarves out of Rivendell, which feels really stupid, but what are you going to do? In any case, the dwarves then head for the Misty Mountains, where they hope to pass through and head north. This is where Jackson creates his biggest goof of the movie: rock monsters. Rock monsters have never once appeared or been mentioned in the books, nor do they belong to Tolkien's mythology. What's more, these monsters appear out of nowhere, without explanation, and just start fighting one another. The dwarves - oh no! - have found themselves on the knees of one such monster, and have to find a way to get off, which they manage to do after a really dumb scene of CGI madness. Do the dwarves ever mention that rock monsters have lived there for years? Maybe give an explanation for why they are beating each other up? Ever express the slightest curiousity about them or how to get away from them? No.
All this really does is remind me of a similar scene in C.S. Lewis' the Silver Chair, where the three protagonists run into a band of rock giants who wake up and start playing a game of cock-shies. However, the Lewisian scene is far better:
- The countryside has already been explained as a land of giants.
- There is a point to the giants' activity, namely that they are playing the only game they understand.
- Puddleglum has a solution to getting past them, which is to walk away calmly without attracting the giants' attention.
- There is no really cheap moment where the characters escape what would have been certain death in real life. The reader believes in their ability to survive the situation.
This is really an insult to Tolkien. Tolkien always got on Lewis' case about mixing mythologies, and here Jackson is, throwing in rock monsters in a world where none exist. Tolkien's magic in writing has always been his ability to make mythological things seem real. Rock monsters who appear and fight for no reason is unreal and cheap. If Gandalf is so worried about Smaug following Sauron, then why isn't he worried about virtually indestructable rock giants?
This is the point where the movie really jumps the shark. Reality? Gone for good. Instead, the dwarves are soon falling through an orcish trap, going down a rocky slide for yards and yards, all without busting so much as a nose. No bruises, bleeding, or broken necks. The orc king, who at this point has had little contact with dwarves, suddenly knows who Thorin is and what Thorin wants. One of the things I liked about the book was the possibility they might have believed the dwarves' story about just passing through to see relatives. This makes the point where they find Thorin's sword, a sword famous for fighting against orcs, a lot more dramatic, because it changes the dwarves' potential fate from slavery to certain, torturous death.
Bilbo gets separated from the others at this point, and then he has the best scene of the movie with the other most competent character, Gollum. The riddles in the dark scene was not too over-the-top, had good acting, and made sense. The only thing that bothered me about it is when Gollum disappears for a moment but you can hear him giving the next riddle in their riddle contest. The echoing of the cave is a bit too much and it becomes a little hard to hear. Other than that, it's a really good scene. Actually entertaining, and Gollum does what he should have done from the very beginning of LOTR: come across as scary.
Oh, and another problem. There's a scene where Bilbo is using the ring of power to be invisible, and he's standing there with his sword close to Gollum's neck. Bilbo is questioning himself about whether or not he should kill Gollum. The problem with this scene is that Gollum is just standing there, not doing anything. He's not sniffing around, glaring, crying, or trying to find out where Bilbo went. He's just there, standing perfectly still without knowing that Bilbo's sword is an inch from his neck. That feels unrealistic. He should at least be snivelling or something.
As for the dwarves, they meet up with the goblin king, where again Jackson is unable to hold back from the lowbrow: the orc king is fat, disgusting, and has a huge double chin. I hardly think that orcs would listen to anyone who can't personally wring the necks of those that argue with him. In a scene that far too closely echoes Gandalf's Moria scene in Fellowship, Gandalf stands on a bridge and beheads the orc king, who basically stands there and lets him do it. Gee, I'm on the edge of my seat.
The dwarves make it out of the Misty Mountains first, and an invisible Bilbo hears them talk. They complain about Bilbo, saying that Bilbo must have run away home. Um, excuse me, but if everyone fell into an orc horde, then isn't it far more likely that Bilbo would have been killed or captured by the orcs? Or do you think that hobbits can magically escape danger? The Thorin in the book was much more interesting, when he grudgingly admitted that the only honorable thing to do was go rescue the little hobbit. It was that combination of honor and annoyance that made Thorin so interesting. He was a great, tragic king character, not a modern emo-kid in old fashioned clothes.
From then on, the movie just completely fudges the book. There was a really cool scene in the book that was so much fun, where the dwarves have to run from wolves and hide in trees. Gandalf sent bolts of colored fire down to scare the wolves, and it becomes a real battle, where the good guys can either win or lose. Unfortunately, the wolves are the servants of goblins, so it's not long before the goblins come and figure out they can use Gandalf's fire to burn down the trees. It's as much a battle of wits as it is a physical fight.
In the movie, it's not fun. It's just the dwarves crawling up a single tree while Captain Boring, I mean Azog, rides in on a warg and has the tree knocked down.
A note about the wargs. I suspect that during the LOTR movies, Jackson didn't like their design, but just had to work with it due to time limitations. That must be why the wargs in this film are so much cartoonier. They are, technically speaking, more frightening in appearance, as the angles of their face are sharper and imply evil more easily. I actually find them less frightening, as they just look like cartoon monsters.
Take for example Skeletor, from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Technically speaking, he's scary-looking, as he's a really buff guy with a skull for a face. However, are you scared of him? No. He's too obvious, and besides that, he's only animated. The wargs in this movie are just the same way: cartoony and CGI. And the thing about CGI is that it's very difficult to make scary. The reason the older wargs were more scary is that they were unnatural looking. They didn't look like normal wolves, and the strange roundness of their heads and tiny eyes made them look alien in away.
All writers, remember this: to be weird is more scary than "scary". At least in the fiction world. If a warg existed in reality, it'd be scary enough either way, because reality always adds an extra layer of scary. None of us are scared of Skeletor as he is, but if you met a dude one day with a skull for a face, you'd probably flip out simply from how strange it would be to see, even if you weren't scared of him directly. It's easier for reality to be weird because things that are common in fiction are utterly bizarre in real life. But since this is fiction and the audiences have seen more, the writers have to try a little harder.
Thorin totally loses his head in the movie. Think about it. If twelve of your closest friends, a good wizard and a hobbit you feel responsible for are all hanging from a tree that's about to fall from a cliff, what's the more logical thing to do? Try to help the stragglers up, or going face to face with a mounted orc?
Let me teach you something about sword battle that you may already be able to guess from common sense alone: a dude on foot is highly unlikely to defeat a dude on a horse. And if that dude is not on a horse, but rather on a vicious warg that wants to kill you as much as he does, then well, your chances of death are much higher than your chances of victory. Admittedly, Thorin was in a bad spot, but it would have been more logical to try and find some way of escape, like maybe finding an open spot on the cliff, than to rush headlong into a battle against Azog, particularly since none of Azog's crew would let Thorin out alive even if he did win.
But whatever. I'm sure some people were entertained by the fight scene. As far as that goes, it wasn't too bad a fight scene, I guess. Thorin and co get rescued by eagles, which I did like. What I did not like was that the eagles were given no personalities. In the book, they were their own culture, much like the dwarves or the elves. They had their alliances, territory, likes, and dislikes, just like everybody else. I really looked forward to seeing the eagles' homes, only to have the character deposited on some rock where they can see the Lonely Mountain in the distance. Lame.
That's where the movie ends, to be picked up again next year when the other comes out. Okay, I guess. Honestly, while I did do a crap ton of nitpicking here, this movie was both better and worse than the LOTR trilogy. Worse, because it did not receive anywhere near the love from its cast and crew that LOTR obviously did, and better, because it has descended to the realm of action movies, and you can only nitpick an action movie so far, because action in and of itself is not entirely a serious genre. Cars flying into helicopters generally only happens in cartoonish settings, and yet are still enjoyable for being cartoonish. That's exactly like this movie. It's dumb, but not lacking in entertainment value. Especially if the thing that most entertains you is nitpickery.