The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Peter Jackson has inserted a mountain’s worth of embellishment in the second installment of The Hobbit, but does that rob the movie of its quality?

Before I get into reviewing the movie, I want to make one thing clear.  I am not here to appease the wrath of Tolkien-worshipping fanatics.  I love Tolkien.  I’ve read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I still think they should have made The Hobbit first since Lord of the Rings is a sequel, and The Silmarillion is very close to the top of my reading list.  With that said, I refuse to feel obligated to honor his work as though it were the Bible itself.  Movies are going to be different from the books, because (WARNING: Heart-attack-worthy shocker coming) they aren’t the books.  (I warned you)  I’m not doing a movie-to-book comparison here; I’m simply reviewing the movie.

With that said, let us continue.

The last movie left us with Bilbo and company after our (second) favorite little hobbit has obtained the ring, to the ignorance of the rest of the party.  The bulk of this installment follows the company as they make their way to the mountain with a company of orcs trailing behind them.  If possible, it’s an even more adventure-oriented tale than the last time around, with introductory material out of the way.  Bilbo and the dwarves fight their way through giant spiders, woodland elves, vicious orcs, and ruthless masters to get to the mountain.

While Thorin is still given a great deal of attention, the unsung hero highlighted in this film is Kili, who forms an unexpected attachment to she-elf Tauriel, and shows bravery that is nearly unmatched, even by his royal uncle.  During one battle, when the dwarves need to get past a gate that will allow them to float along the river in barrels, Kili lunges from his barrel into the fight in order to open the gate.  Even after receiving an arrow in the leg, he continues to fight, and even fights injured later on in the movie.

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This may seem somewhat insignificant in terms of worldview, but it’s actually the key to the film’s message, even the saga’s whole message: bravery.  When at the mountain and Bilbo is faced with possibly running into Smaug, Balin gives him a chance to turn back, which he declines.  Balin comments that the bravery of hobbits never ceases to amaze him.  Tauriel shows bravery when she defies her king, chasing after the dwarves and Bilbo, insisting that the looming darkness is indeed their fight, and they cannot abandon the rest of the world.  Bravery.  Even when you could remain safe, rushing into danger for the sake of others.  This is a truly Christian worldview.

That’s not the only appeal of the film, either.  The action sequences, while somewhat repetitive, are very cool, especially when the dwarves are escaping on the river.  This scene is especially representative of the movie, because it’s doused in comic relief.  The entire movie is done this way, which keeps it entertaining and somewhat hearty even with the dark forces that are brought to light in this film.  Those two forces are difficult to balance, and in the end the film doesn’t balance them very successfully, with the epic darkness winning out over the heartfelt adventure.

It’s the darkness, however, that connects The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings.  Gandalf’s investigation of the dark forces leads him to the forces of Sauron, who we see as a dark mist of shadow, still finding a way to command his forces.  Amazingly, while having even less physical form than seen in The Lord of the Rings, he’s far less abstract than he was in the beloved trilogy, and a far more impressive villain.  This adds a feel of impending doom that will undoubtedly bring viewers back for the third installment, especially when the ending cliffhanger is considered (I’ll leave those of you that know the story to deduce what that is).

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As in the last movie, I was very pleased by the appearance of Sylvester McCoy as Radagast.  Their involving of him in this story gives some comical effect to the part of the story that would otherwise be much darker.  He’s entirely void of seriousness, however, and it’s cool to see another wizard in the mix.  As a matter of fact, my only complaint about Radagast is that he isn’t in the movie enough.  He’s a very cool character, and is also played by one of my favorite actors of all time.

Then, at the end of the film, we get to Smaug.  I had a lot of expectations built up for Smaug, and I was not disappointed in the least.  Benedict Cumberbatch does a fantastic job with the voice, and he’s done so well that you almost forget he’s a CGI dragon.  That’s important, because if I have any nitpicky complaint, it’s that the film uses way too much CGI (Legolas’ horse is CGI for crying out loud).

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So here’s the thing: if you can accept that the filmmakers are not bound to treat the book as the holy word of God, it’s a good film.  If you can’t, it’s your loss.

I for one am thrilled that there’ll be a third one.

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