“Spectacle” used to be a common word in cinema, something that had to be seen on the big screen, something more than just a movie, something you experienced. I don’t think I could use “spectacle” to describe a lot of recent movies, but The Desolation of Smaug was definitely an experience. If for no other reason, it clarified vividly for me what it would be like to be in the presence of a dragon. Dragons have of course been portrayed countless times in film, but none have captured the essence and soul of a dragon quite like Peter Jackson.
It occurred to me the second time I watched it (the first time I was too amazed to think) just how inspirational and useful this portrayal of Smaug is for writers who wish to write in the fantasy genre. For me, there is the technical issue of this version of Smaug having the anatomy of a Wyvern (two legs and two wings instead of four legs and two wings) but this interpretation of dragons is becoming more popular anyway with other fantasy worlds like Skyrim, and I give Peter a pass here because no wyvern is that fricking huge, or even that intelligent.
But what strikes me most about this portrayal of Smaug is his personality. The nature of dragons can change drastically depending on which tales you want to derive your inspiration from. Most portray them as little more than large, fire-breathing lizards, and it suits those tales well enough. Some raise them to an almost god-like status, but the more popular and more traditional tales place them somewhere in between on the power hierarchy. Tolkien himself seemed to equate their power with that of the Balrogs (or highly powerful warrior-angels). An inherent sense of power and lust for precious things is a recurring trait.
Even little nuances in this Smaug reflect important factors in the common natures of dragons, like the fact that he makes sly remarks but never actually laughs, indicating a sense of wit but not necessarily a sense of humour. It’s a fine line, but an important distinction, and perfectly fits the personality of a creature that is intellectually superior to humans but still technically classed as an animal or a beast.
Another nuance being his almost supernatural appreciation of treasures, as if he can sense the value of an object and therefore wants to possess it. He senses the presence of Bilbo’s ring, though describes its worth more than its power. And the ability to detect any item that’s been stolen from his possession is mentioned in the book itself.
A more obvious personality trait is of course his obsession with his own majesty, and refusal to let his name go unpraised, even if he fully intends to eat the one praising him.
Of course, I could also be reading into this a lot more than what the writers intended. But I’m a writer myself, it’s my nature to read into things and draw inspiration from various places however likely or unlikely they may be. This portrayal of Smaug has given me a new and deeper appreciation for the characteristics of dragons – a picture not only of their appearance and power but of their heart as well.