There isn’t much value in criticizing Peter Jackson’s goblin-sprinkled, Evangelined THE HOBBIT trilogy. Having just sat through the second film, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, I can confirm that the director continues to deliver a movie only the dustiest of archivists and Stephen Colbert could have possibly wanted. The connective tissue between this “prequel” series and THE LORD OF THE RINGS is pulled so taut that any attempt to steal lightness from the strings with a jolly stroke is met by stubborn unmusic. The first film AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY made Bilbo a side character in his own wash cycle tale of slipping, sliding and being saved by a classic Gandalf bon mot. The second film attempts to create intrigue around the return of Sauron which will be so important to the story of THE LORD OF THE RINGS but instead of offering new insight or maybe an allegory for Nazi Germany (as one might expect of elvish inaction) we get momentum halting asides and trips down future memory lane. It’s all well and good except that it is neither done well, nor particularly good.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
I want to talk about that trailer. Specifically, how much better the pacing and delivery is in the trailer versus the film.
There’s two parts that just don’t have the impact or cleverness when seen in the film proper. The part where Gandalf asks, “What did you find?” and the film flashes back to the finding of the ring then returns to linger on Bilbo for a beat before he chokes out a strained, “My courage.” In the trailer that moment is punctuated by silence, the exchange is quick and Gandalf’s reply of “You’ll need it” comes immediately afterward. It’s breezy with just a hint of foreboding. In the final film, Gandalf asks him the same thing three times, there’s more space between the dialogue and the overwrought score butts in, and in the words of a fellow Peter, insists upon itself. What’s lost in all that extra is the pitch perfect timing and enoughness of the exchange.
The other part which was so right in the trailer was the part where Smaug, the most awesomely realized dragon to ever be put on screen, taunts Bilbo to “step into the light” which is given a double meaning of “my fiery breath.” It’s such a cool, short punchline that has no equivalent in the actual film. Instead, Smaug becomes just another in a very long list of overly chatty villains that includes the Trolls, The Pale Orc, The Goblins, and the Spiders.
The lesson here may not be as simple as “less is more” but more of less certainly couldn’t hurt.