After all the thrill and adventure of The Desolation of Smaug, you’re going to wish there was more to watch. Well, there is, only it’s not necessarily more of The Desolation of Smaug (not until the extended editions on video, anyway). Instead, it’s other movies that I’ve selected as necessary viewing for those who’ve seen the new Hobbit movie. It doesn’t matter if you liked Smaug or not, because many of these titles are preferred predecessors and alternatives, anyway. Others consist of early movies starring prominent members of the cast or just movies that I was personally reminded of and have now made the excuse to share.
From the very well known to the very obscure, the long and the short, there’s bound to be at least one title here for you to enjoy in however much time you have leftover following another lengthy trip to Middle-earth with Peter Jackson. This weekend’s list includes 13 titles, one for each of the 13 dwarves in the movie — though not every selection is necessarily tied to a dwarf. That was just my idea of being clever, plus the fact that such a long movie with a lot going on naturally got me thinking of more movies than usual. Check out my recommendations below and share any others you believe are relevant to mention.
There are plot SPOILERS for Smaug after the jump, of course, since many of these picks are relevant to various parts of the movie.
You can’t spend 161 minutes watching a bunch of dwarves going from one adventure to another and winding up imprisoned in almost every chapter and not recall Terry Gilliam’s 1981 sci-fi kids movie. Here you only have six little men, and their new companion is an 11-year-old boy instead of a Hobbit. And the magical elder who sometimes pays them a visit is the Supreme Being instead of a wizard. It’s also funnier, scarier and more clever. On top of that, Time Bandits features (older) Bilbo Baggins himself, Ian Holm, playing Napoleon for the first time (he went on to play the diminutive ruler twice more).
The Singing, Ringing Tree
A single dwarf appears in this 1957 DEFA fairy tale film credited to the Brothers Grimm yet not actually based specifically on any of their stories. More importantly, though, it involves a man who turns into a bear, though not in the same manner that the skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) does. If you grew up in the UK and are of a certain age, you may have a greater fondness for this Communism-spiked cult classic than even those who saw the original version in East Germany. The clip below comes from the British release, complete with voice-over narration continuously talking over the non-subtitled German dialogue. If you can, please seek out a copy of the whole film (there are bootlegs on YouTube if that’s your best option), as it’s one of the weirdest children’s films you’ll ever see.
In a Better World
After that last recommendation, we need a serious pick to relate to Persbrandt’s introduction into the Middle-earth franchise, and this winner of the 2011 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film is a very worthy choice. He plays a doctor from Denmark who works with refugee patients in Africa and eventually is tasked with hosting the local warlord when this enemy is in need of medical treatment. In Smaug, Persbrandt plays a man who is tasked with hosting a bunch of dwarves when these enemies of his are in need of shelter. The two characters ultimately deal with their unwanted guests in different ways, and yet both have an inverse relationship to rage, as well. Beorn is modeled after the berserkers of Norse folklore and myth, his bear incarnation a transformation possibly tied to when he gets angry, yet he’s the more welcoming of the two characters in the end — although the doctor in In a Better World doesn’t exactly go savage on anyone either.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The second Terry Gilliam movie on this list is the 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s creative nonfiction classic about a drug-fueled trip to Sin City to cover different events there. The part of the movie I thought of while watching Smaug is below, when Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) wakes from an excessive binge and has a flashback in which he sees himself and says, “oh shit, that’s me.” I had my own flashback to this bit when Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves are walking through the Mirkwood forest and having some loopy hallucinations, including one where Bilbo turns around to see himself walking behind him. I do wish this surreal sequence went on longer.
The Thief of Bagdad
As far as I know, the first instance of giant spiders in cinema would have been the original 1933 version of King Kong, but their scene was deleted and lost forever (Jackson included his own take on the scene in his 2005 remake). So the first actually existing debut of this kind of creature, which our heroes encounter in the Mirkwood forest, was likely seven years later in Powell, Berger and Whelen’s version of the Arabian folk tale. In one of the thrilling fantastical sequences, the heroic thief Abu (Sabu) must climb through a massive web and fight a massive arachnid on his way to steal a jewel from a massive statue. It’s a massively entertaining adventure film and properly has a DVD out through the Criterion Collection. Now, as for the first movie to have multiple giant spiders, a la the scene in Smaug, I really have no idea.
Available on Hulu Plus via Criterion.
Life of Pi
I don’t include Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel because of its CGI character (the tiger, Richard Parker) nor because it’s another spectacular fantasy adventure film nor because it beat the first Hobbit installment for the visual effects Oscar earlier this year. I include it because, like Smaug, Life of Pi has a female love interest character who wasn’t in the book. In the Hobbit movie it’s the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), and in Pi it’s the teenage girlfriend, Anandi (Shravanthi Sainath), seen dancing in the clip below.
The Adventures of Tintin
Jackson was a producer on this Steven Spielberg-directed animated adaptation of Herge’s beloved graphic novels. He may even still direct the sequel once these Hobbit movies are all done. The additional link between the films is in the constant comparison between the acclaimed barrel escape from the Mirkwood Elf Kingdom in Smaug and the awesome chase sequence in Tintin, seen below. They’re the best parts of both movies, though unlike with Smaug, the Tintin action was the only part of that movie I liked.
Irish actor Aidan Turner gets a pretty nice break in the second Hobbit movie as the only dwarf besides Thorin to really get a storyline. He plays Thorin’s nephew Kili, who is severely injured with a poisoned Orc arrow and who is also a figure of affection for the invented female elf character, Tauriel. As for his previous film work, there’s not a lot. He appeared in this year’s YA adaptation The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and before that he’d made his debuts in a couple of shorts. The first, The Sound of People barely shows his face (watch it here), while in the second he’s more prominent as one of only two characters. Titled Matterhorn, this short is a decent showcase for him and involves a somber joke of a plot. Watch it below.
Cold Comfort Farm
I loved seeing the great Stephen Fry show up late into Smaug as the leader of Esgaroth (aka the “Master of Lake-Town”), but I was also disappointed that he’s got so little to do and has so little screen time. Hopefully his part is bigger in the next movie. For now, we can go back and enjoy him in this quirky 1995 BBC adaptation of Stella Gibbons’ 1932 novel about a young woman (Kate Beckinsale) who goes to live in the country with her relatives. Fry plays a fellow writer who is interested in her. As a bonus, Gandalf himself, Ian McKellan, also co-stars as a scene-chewing preacher whose wife is the main character’s cousin (see him at the end of the scene below). After this, if you want more Fry, check out his Golden Globe-nominated leading performance as Oscar Wilde in Wilde, which also has another fellow Hobbit actor, Orlando Bloom, in a minor part in his film debut.
Reign of Fire
It’s really terrific seeing Smaug rendered so enormously and menacingly in this new Hobbit movie, as too many dragons in movies are friendly creatures of the luck and cartoon variety. Some are tamed, others are wonderfully magical to begin with. As for the scarier, villainous type, there’s always Dragonslayer and the ridiculous Q: The Winged Serpent, but I’m a big fan of this underrated action fantasy starring Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey and a ton of fire-breathing monstrosities ruling over England. And none of them even have exquisite accents a la Benedict Cumberbatch or Sean Connery or Barnett Parker.
Available on iTunes
Girlfriend in a Coma
Probably the oddest selection after The Singing, Ringing Tree, this 2012 British documentary (yes, named for The Smiths’ song) about the sorry state of modern Italy is a fascinating attraction, combining animation, talking heads (including filmmaker Nanni Moretti, actor Toni Servillo, author Umberto Eco and recently resigned Prime Minister Mario Monti) and readings of the Divine Comedy with Cumberbatch portraying Dante Alighieri in voice only. Just as his voice is the only thing we get of him in Smaug, as Smaug the dragon. You must watch the trailer here but the clip below is a sampling of Cumberbatch’s audio bits.
Available to stream via Distrify
In this third installment of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s reboot, we’ve now got 13 characters in the primary mix, just like in The Hobbit (minus Bilbo and Gandalf, that is). We’ve also got a Beorn parallel in the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” relationship to Andy Garcia’s character and a nasty old dragon of a man (Al Pacino) whose treasure our heroes are out to bust free, in an act of revenge. Meanwhile, both movie franchises have a member of the main group who loves to eat all the time. Although Brad Pitt’s character, Rusty, mainly only has this trait in Ocean’s Eleven, he is still best aligned with the heavyset dwarf Bombur (Stephen Hunter). Is it possible that the final Hobbit movie will fit better with this movie since that’s when Smaug will be defeated and his treasure usurped? Perhaps. If only Soderbergh had split this sequel into three parts.
The Hobbit: There and Back Again
This may seem obvious, but it really isn’t. After many people were disappointed with the first Hobbit, the audience for Smaug is going to be significantly decreased (we’re already seeing box office numbers indicating this to be true). But that movie also didn’t end with the sort of edge of your seat cliffhanger that this new one does. The way Smaug concludes (or really doesn’t conclude), there is no way you can not return for There and Back Again. It’s basically scientifically engineered to have you where you can’t wait for another year to go by to find out what happens next.
Buy your tickets as soon as you can