Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On Smaug and Vader

Smaug.

Those who have read THE HOBBIT understand the weight he bares on its story. He is not just a dragon. Not just a villain. His presence looms over the entire narrative, both through his monolithic physical form, and also for what he IS.

Says GDT on the TORN message boards, "Smaug should be 'The DRAGON' for all movies past and present. The shadow he [casts] and the greed he comes to embody- the 'need to own' casts its long shadow and creates a thematic / dramatic continuity of sorts that articulates the story throughout."

Some LOTR folks may cringe at what I'm about to say, but I think it is a valid comparison: Smaug is Darth Vader with scales.

That's not to say that Smaug is Bilbo's father (although weirder things have happened - did you see BEOWULF?). When I make this comparison, I'm talking really about two things:

1. When most people think of the ultimate science fiction villian - they think of Darth Vader. Some even think of him as the greatest villain in movie history (I do!). His status as a symbol of evil, a symbol of dark power, is unquestioned. When you see the old Star Wars movie posters, it is the Darth Vader helmet that is looming menacingly over the heroes. Smaug needs to have that kind of presence, that kind of stature, in the minds of movie-goers. Given GDT's quote above, I think he has the right idea. Its not just a matter of making a "cool-looking" dragon. This is about building an iconic character that stands out from all other dragons in movie history.

2. The Star Wars saga is not about Luke Skywalker. It is about Darth Vader and the ultimate redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Each character in the film is linked in some way by Vader's destiny. Smaug's impact on THE HOBBIT is similar, although not so profound. It is not Smaug's destiny that fuels Bilbo and his cohorts, it is his "essence". His greed. His pride. These traits are at the heart of Bilbo and Thorin's actions and drives the story. One rejects them, the other is enslaved by them.

(Relatively, Luke rejects power when tempted by Vader in their final confrontation. Vader's "essence", I would say, is power.)

Just a few random thoughts - feel free to comment below. I'd love to hear your take, or if you think this is a worthwhile comparison.

5 comments:

E. Kubinek said...

That IS a good comparison!

The question is how do you portray that running theme or "Presence" with a character that isn't human?

In star wars people can see, and absorb, and believe in Vader's presence through the film because of the Force. You have characters with an explained extra sensitivity, and the viewer is able to follow it.

Elves have a heightened sense, but it isn't really defined as being psychic necessarily, just acute.

How does on portray the Shadow of Greed itself?

I am really looking forward to what GDT comes up with.

Steve Wilson, member said...

In addition to your excellent comments, I would add that a large part of creating the mystique for characters like Vader and Smaug lies not only with the directors and designers, but the actors in the given films.

For example: in Silence of the Lambs, the audience was afraid of Hannibal Lecter long before he ever appeared because of how he was described - we saw the fear and revulsion the other characters felt for him and took it on ourselves. Anthony Hopkins barely had to bat an eyelash to scare us - we already knew of what he was capable.

In the case of The Hobbit, the way the actors playing the Dwarves tell the story of Smaug will work similarly to create the dragon's menace. The more we see their hatred and fear, the more we see the real risk they are taking in trying to reclaim their treasure, the more I think we will enjoy the terror of that first sight of Smaug the Magnificent.

derringer01 said...

GDT has a much more difficult task than Lucas had. Films that have required a monster to work have been more miss than hit.

In this age of special effects monsters, Smaug can't be just "the latest special effects" fire-breathing dragon if GDT hopes to pull it off. Don't get me wrong, the dragon's design is very important but we are likely only to see a few shots of the dragon outside of the Lonely Mountain.

So the essence of Smaug's evil and terror needs to come not only from the look of the dragon but also from the look of the Lonely Mountain, the sound effects, the look and lighting of Smaug's lair, the music, and--especially the build-up of the monster throughout the movie.

The audience needs to believe Smaug is the scariest and deadliest beast ever seen in the lands of Middle Earth. Without the audience's sense of terror, Bilbo's journey becomes a "there and back again" adventure--in other words, your typical thrills without the chills, summer action blockbuster.

The more the filmmakers convince the audience that Bilbo and the Dwarves are on a crazy suicide mission, the better the movie will be. Imagine Frodo journeying to the Dark Tower with a bunch of Dwarves to steal precious jewels hidden away there and you have the sense of what GDT will likely be trying to create in The Hobbit.

DARTH SMAUG said...

aw3som3! i am a huge Lucas and Tolkein fan, I happened upon this article whilst researching a game-related issue involving the name of my characters in-game (City of Heroes), my main toon (as we call our characters) name is DARTH SMAUG.
When I found your post "On Smaug and Vader" I was like WOW! very, very cool. I will be looking for more good reads from your page.

~DS out.

Anonymous said...

Cool Comparison