Chapter Twelve, Revisited
When it was first announced that this film series would be split into three movies I thought long and hard about where the break points would be that comprised the start and finish of film two. The former was easier because the arrival of the Eagles to save Gandalf, Bilbo and the Dwarves not only seemed like a logical ending for film one but it marked the point at which we would be one-third of the way into the book. The latter, the ending of film two, was a little trickier to pin down. On the one hand you see the need to build momentum to a sort of climax (like the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers) but also it had to leave you wanting more.
I originally guessed that Smaug’s attack on Lake Town would close out the second installment so I had gone so far as to examine chapter fourteen “Fire and Water” last year in anticipation of The Desolation of Smaug. But the movie ends just as the dragon is headed off on his mission of destruction. Incidentally, this point is right around the two-thirds mark of the book. Peter Jackson decided to create a cliff hanger going into film three but there was still the problem of needing a climax for The Desolation of Smaug. So they created one, which I will explain shortly.
When we left off with Bilbo he and Balin were discussing the task on which he was about to embark. In the book, he actually makes two trips. The first is to investigate the dragon and in the process he recovers a gold cup to prove his talent for burglary. Smaug stirs, noticing the cup is missing, and flies out of the mountain, destroying their camp and killing their ponies. At this point there is little choice left but to send Bilbo back down again and, under the cover of the Ring’s invisibility (a power the Dwarves are now aware of), try and discover some kind of weakness or vulnerability they can exploit.
In the film all of this eliminated and rather than merely investigate the situation Bilbo is instructed specifically to find the Arkenstone and bring it back to them. Also, the revelation of the Ring and what it can do for Bilbo is eliminated. In fact, he may never unveil his secret in the film version at all (other than to Gandalf).
Because of this change, the whole encounter with Smaug is very different than in the books. After initially being invisible, Bilbo reveals himself and the dragon - though menacing - does not try to kill him at first and tries to get as much info out of this stranger as possible. Smaug suspects that the Dwarves sent Bilbo in to do their dirty work and believes that Thorin, son of Thrain, is behind the whole thing. During this conversation, Bilbo does spot the weakness of a missing scale on Smaug’s underbelly. He was already told of it by Bard back at Lake Town. The legend is that, with this hole being exposed, Girion had only needed one more black arrow to kill the dragon but never got to fire it, and that arrow remains in Bard’s possession.
Now to the dragon itself. Weta Workshop (with the designs of Alan Lee and John Howe) did an excellent job of creating Smaug. Its face reflects motion capture technology taken from Benedict Cumberbatch very much in the same way that Gollum’s expressions came directly from Andy Serkis. But since the tech in this process has advanced so much farther in the last ten years the effect for Smaug (and Golllum for that matter) is even more remarkable. Jackson uses sweeping shots and multiple angles to record Bilbo’s desperate attempts to elude the dragon.
Now, whereas in the book Smaug decides to fly off to Lake Town right away we get the new scene that I alluded to earlier. At the sounds erupting from under the mountain, the Dwarves fear that Bilbo may perish and go down themselves to investigate. What follows is a cat and mouse chase throughout the vast expanse of the underground kingdom in Erebor. Eventually, Thorin figures out a way to trick Smaug into igniting the long-dormant forges to heat up the hardened vats of gold. The tension builds as we begin to understand Thorin’s plan which unleashes the now molten gold, covering the dragon and appearing to drown him.
Back at Lake Town, Legolas is pursuing the fleeing Orcs and has a chance to go mano-a-mano with Bolg himself. It’s a tough fight between the two but just as the Elf appears to gain the upper hand, Bolg escapes on his Warg and heads out across the long bridge that connects the town to the shore. The last we see of Legolas is his pursuit of the Orc chieftain. Where he gets the horse from is anyone’s guess. But it is as a result of Legolas’ departure that I presume Thranduil will get news of these events causing him to march on Dale for a claim on the treasure – more specifically the mysterious white jewels we keep seeing and hearing about.
As for Tauriel, she stays to try and heal Kili’s apparently mortal wound using the Kingsfoil found by Bofur. This scene really sets up the connection between the two. And it is reminiscent of the manner in which Arwen tries to pull Frodo back from the wraith world after Aragorn treats his shoulder which was stabbed by the Witch-King in Fellowship. Now, in my opinion, I generally like most of these parallels that Jackson makes with the first trilogy. But I have to be honest in that I think this particular scene is a bit much. Perhaps Kili will be portrayed in the next film as being “damaged” the way Frodo was from his wound. But the effect of a poisoned arrow from an Orc, in my mind, doesn’t equate to that which is caused by an evil ancient weapon wielded by a Ringwraith.
The audience must wait for the third film to find out Kili’s fate but we all know he’s going to survive this. The goal here is twofold: to strengthen the bond between Tauriel and Kili and make his eventual death all the more heart-breaking. I’m sure Jackson will achieve this to maximum effect in the next movie.
Now rumblings are heard from the mountain and Bard, who was imprisoned by the Master’s men, warns that the dragon is coming and begs them to let him free. He clearly has it in his mind to try and use the last black arrow. And this will be Bard’s opportunity to seize the leadership role to which he is destined by his lineage.
Before the film closes, we head once more back to Dol Guldur where Gandalf is shown captured and imprisoned (not unlike the way he was by Saruman atop the tower of Orthanc in Fellowship). He watches helplessly as Azog leads a huge Orc army out of the fortress, heading North to join battle with the free peoples of Middle-Earth: Men, Elves and Dwarves at the behest of Sauron.
Back to the mountain, it at first appears that Smaug is vanquished by the ocean of gold washed over him. But he emerges, more enraged than ever and shakes it off. All his fury is turned toward Esgaroth as he speeds his way to rain fiery destruction on the defenseless town.
Bilbo looks out at the dragon, deduces his intentions and wonders aloud to his horror “what have we done?”