The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug – Christian Review
Parental Guidance Issues At A Glance…
Content Requiring Parental Guidance…
Violent Content: In quantity, it is not as violent as, say, The Return of the King, but in quality, it is the most graphic violence of any Tolkien movie that Peter Jackson has done. We see beheadings. We see severed heads in gruesome close-up after they are chopped off. An Orc’s body twitches uncontrollably after the head is cut off. Arrows pierce the heads of Orcs in gruesome detail. Heads in general do not fare well in this film. And the giant spiders are N-A-S-T-Y. Lots of detailed close-up of spider’s fangs and mouths opening wide for victims.
Sexual Content: A man’s bare buttocks are seen for a few moments. In addition, Peter Jackson and his team of writers have found it necessary to place a brief sex joke common to our modern culture in this film. Despite the fact that it sounds like a poorly written joke from a cut-rate modern comedy, Jackson insists on having a male character make a joke to a female character about “what’s down his trowsers.” Even if I were not a Christian and all moral considerations were suspended, I would find this incredibly annoying because it is a blatant projection of our American culture into a fantasy world. It hurts the believability of the film for a brief moment. Jackson could have had his characters stumble on a 7-11 gas station in the middle of Mirkwood Forest and pick up some slushies for the road, and the effect would have been exactly the same: completely out of place and stupidly jarring. I went to the theater to escape into the far away wonder of Middle-Earth, not listen to adolescent jokes that belong in the next dumbed down Owen Wilson – Vince Vaughn comedy. Thankfully, it’s only a passing joke and is soon forgotten. Middle-Earth recovers from it quickly.
Alcohol/Drug Content: None. Gandalf put his pipe away for this movie.
Frightening/Intense Content: It is definitely on the scary, intense side of PG-13. If you’ve seen any of Jackson’s Tolkien films, then you know the drill — except for this one add a dragon and more gruesome gore than any of Jackson’s previous movies. Please don’t bring your kids. Heed the rating guidelines and only bring 13 and up. The ratings are there for a reason.
If you’ve ever lost your home or traveled far away from it for longer than your heart could bear — or if you’ve been separated from someone who was a proverbial home for your heart — then you likely have a vivid understanding of the word “homesickness.” It is very similar to the grief we feel when we lose a loved one. It is a deep blue melancholy with a tinge of fear, something that pervades every moment of your life, and its ache is always lingering in the background of every thought and emotion. Yet, at times, it is bittersweet because it is mixed with pleasant memories of the place or person you miss.
That bittersweet ache for home is the beating heart of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit film series. It is his overarching thesis, and it is how he pays tribute to Tolkien’s writing, which has the same unmistakable melancholy.
For example, by the end of the first film, An Unexpected Journey, a hobbit, a group of rugged dwarves, and a wandering wizard — as odd a company as that is — have bonded around the plight of the homeless dwarves. Bilbo has learned to empathize with their pain after becoming homesick for the Shire; he has realized that he has a warm, comfortable home to go back to, but the dwarves do not. This motivates him to stick with the dwarves and do whatever he can to help them get their home back.
However, as they continue their journey in The Desolation of Smaug, things do not go as planned. When Gandalf disappears to attend to some mysterious business to the south, they’re forced to face the dangers of Mirkwood Forest alone; and, if they can, make their way to Lonely Mountain, the former home of the dwarves that is now home to, shall we say, a new tenant.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
It was better than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and I greatly enjoyed that first film. This sequel was almost three hours long, but I did not want it to end. It had all the right stuff: Jackson’s breathtaking visual compositions, the haunting music, and his artful motifs that captured the ache of homesickness.
What surprised me, however, was how the film was much less Bilbo-centric than the first movie. With a few exceptions, the most entertaining and emotionally powerful moments came whenever the dwarves interacted with the elves. They were the highlight of the film.
Those interactions were also where Jackson embellished Tolkien’s text the most. Jackson is known for searching obscure footnotes in Tolkien’s writing and adding those less familiar elements to his films. However, as Gandalf said in the first film: “Every good story deserves embellishment.” This, not surprisingly, has drawn some serious ire from critics and fans alike. I, however, disagree with those critics and fans. If you knew how much of a diehard Tolkien fan I am, you might be surprised that I’m not protesting Jackson’s diversions. I actually quite enjoyed his embellishments. They added a surprising emotional depth to the main storyline that would not have been there otherwise.
This brings me to a point that I have wanted to put in writing for years. When a fan of a book sees a movie adaptation of it, the common response is, “Well, the book was better than the movie, of course. You really have to read the book.”
However, it is my theory that there is no movie adaptation in history that is better than the book, assuming it is a half-decent book. Why? Because the way you experience a book is completely different than the way you experience a movie. Reading a book will always be superior to watching a movie because you invest hours, days, even weeks into reading the book; and you’ve done so at your leisure in ideal environments like libraries or quiet rooms.
With a movie, however, you will spend three hours tops in a dark room with strangers noisily eating popcorn next to you; and this is all the time you will have to spend with the director’s interpretation of the characters and the environment. Not only that, but with a book, you are engaging your imagination to do some of the work. It is a proactive journey that demands more from you. You are not sitting slack-jawed in front of a screen, passively allowing images and audio to wash over you.
What a person is really saying when they say the book is better than the movie is that, in general, the experience of reading is better than the experience of watching a movie. Instead of criticizing the movie itself for somehow committing blasphemy against the novel, they should start a literacy foundation and encourage people to read more. Reading will always be a better experience than watching a movie when it comes to story immersion.
In addition, filmmaking creates its own weather system of artistic urges, and, when you’re someone who loves to create, it can be very hard to resist the urge to create something new. We should cut directors some slack, especially when their embellishments help the adaptation work on-screen in the very limited amount of time that the director has to tell the story.
Not everyone feels that way though. One reviewer condemned it as “alt-Tolkien fan fiction.” My wife Amy said the movie should be renamed The Hobbit: The Desolation of Tolkien, which made me laugh. She meant it as a joke, but I suspect some fans would repeat her suggestion with great seriousness and righteous anger.
I should also note: some critics did not like the large amounts of “trudging around in the forest” as the characters go from battle to battle without end. However, I think it works — primarily because it captures the sense of homelessness, which is the overarching vision of the film series. They’re wanderers and nomads without a reliable place to rest or find food, and The Desolation of Smaug captures that experience powerfully. Critics who didn’t like this, in my opinion, have forgotten what Jackson chose for his primary motif for the series: homesickness.
It is also fun to see Legolas back on the big screen with Orlando Bloom doing an excellent reprisal. This element adds a surprising atmospheric twist to the world of The Hobbit, and it makes me want to revisit The Lord of the Rings films. Richard Armitage continues to prove that he was a superb choice for Thorin. I predict that he will become the next big A-list male lead in Hollywood.
Also, if you can see this movie in High Frame Rate — which is an option in some theaters — I highly recommend it. Although it takes getting used to, its realism is almost shocking. It feels less like watching scripted scenes filmed by cameras and more like watching real events take place as if you were there in person. It mimics the visual quality of our eyesight. Somehow this reduces the grand larger-than-life “I’m at the movies” feeling, but the trade-off is worth it. The realism adds surprising emotional power to everything that takes place in the film, from the smallest gestures to the biggest fight scenes.
Redemptive Qualities and Conclusion
Besides the dragon, my favorite part of The Hobbit (whether book or film) has always been, and continues to be, Bilbo Baggins. He is such an appealing character simply because he is so much like a normal human being: he is risk averse, he prefers being home surrounded by safety and comfort, he isn’t particularly outstanding in any one thing, he’s not a saint but he’s a nice guy who tries to be polite, patient, and helpful when he can, he’s cautious and is easily frightened in dangerous situations; but when the pressure is on, difficult circumstances bring the best out of him. In the first film, Thorin says Bilbo looks more like a grocer than a fearless burglar. And it’s true. That’s why we love him. The beauty of The Hobbit film series is watching an ordinary grocer be transformed into a brave adventurer. And Martin Freeman hits all of those qualities with absolute believability.
However, what surprised me the most in this movie was how much I enjoyed the dynamics between the dwarves and the elves. It caught me off guard, but it really made the movie.
Most importantly — at least for the sake of Jackson’s vision — The Desolation of Smaug swells with the classic Tolkien bittersweet melancholy. You feel the pain of wandering, the homesickness, and the pleasant ache of remembering home and missing it at the same time.
Overall, this movie has wonderful redeeming qualities despite any just criticisms it has earned. The film inspires each of us to push forward into the shadowy darkness of the unknown, march through the lonely suffering of life when it comes, and be brave in a selfless way — not for our own glory but for the sake of the fellow travelers who are with us.
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