Thursday, 26 December 2013


I suppose I should be used to it by now, but there are times I just hope beyond hope that I won't be let down again. Hollywood, you've left me bruised and spat upon too many times to count. Just give me my Tolkien unspoiled and I'll be good. Please!

No such luck. I'm a man of simple tastes. I'm not one to complain that a kids’ book, barely 250 pages long, is made into a trilogy. Hell, I love Middle Earth. I wish it was a pentalogy. But for a movie to be considered good in my book it has to stick with me for at least a day. I have to want to see it again. The Desolation of Smaug fails in this, but like any real love I'm going to put more love back into it and hope it pays off in the future. Take it from me, this is how you get through the tough times, guys. And these are tough times for our side.

First, to be fair, if action and gorgeous scenery is enough to make you part with the price of admission and a bag of popcorn, you should be fine. The landscapes this time around were just as gorgeous as we've come to expect from this franchise. At one point, particularly as the band of dwarves was making its way through the Mirkwood forest, I found myself wishing I had paid the extra price for a ticket to the 3-D showing.

It's also worth keeping in mind that this is Act II. It's not meant to stand alone. Do yourself a favor and watch the first installment before watching this one. It will help you cope with any let down.

Even as the middle act, this film ends on a dark note for many of the main characters, and only after seemingly non-stop action sequences. Little room is left for character development or even a pause long enough to allow us to care that things are looking bad for our heroes.

Perhaps that's why the abrupt ending — which is destined to define abrupt endings for at least a generation — comes off as damn near insulting. An attempt at deepening the worth of a couple of characters is made, using the tried and true inter-species love triangle. In this case the threesome is between an elf vixen, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Legolas (played by an oddly waxy looking Orlando Bloom), and dwarf stud, Kili (Aidan Turner), but it just falls flat. It could be my own prejudices against inter-species love talking here but I'm sticking to my guns.

The title character himself, Bilbo Baggins, seems robbed of the spotlight in Desolation. Again the culprit is too great a focus on action. Martin Freeman seems to have an allergy to intense action roles. They try, I'll give them that. But he's stronger when he's bumbling his way to heroics, which makes him perfect for this part, just misused in this installment.

I know having a ring of invisibility seems like it would make everything easier. God knows I could use one. But if you're going to invent half the story anyway, why not make using the One Ring a little more of a challenge and build up some tension for the audience: Spiders got your friends in a bind? POOF! Problem solved. Companions in prison? POOF! Problem solved. Just a little suspense would have been nice.

Desolation of Smaug is similar to An Unexpected Journey in that the band of thirteen dwarves offers plenty of comic relief. I don't know what it is, but when elves are decapitating orcs it's an act of beauty. When dwarves do it – it’s hilarious!

Their battles with orcs and giant spiders manages to be fun without going as overboard as they did last time in the Goblin City, where they somehow managed to hack, slash, trip, and stumble their way into the complete annihilation of that entire population.

A hard day's Orc.

Art is often the product of its time and this film is no exception. So much is added to the original book in order to make this a workable trilogy. The screenwriters (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro) had to add emotional ingredients that simply didn't exist when the book was originally authored. In this case, especially in the last installment, those ingredients had a decidedly post-WWII, Christian Zionist flavor. At the risk of sounding like a guy who tastes Jews in his sandwich, it's as if the writers felt compelled to draw upon the real world forced exodus of that peculiar tribe from the Levant and apply it to dwarves, thus guaranteeing prime victim status and sympathy in the minds of a mostly Western audience.

To recap, the sons of Durin (dwarves for you readers who don't have your geek on) were booted out of their home, Erebor, by the evil dragon Smaug, in a style reminiscent of the Roman sacking of Jerusalem back in 70 AD. The king of Erebor at that time, Thrór, had grown diseased in the mind with his greed for gold. He had piles of it the size of small mountains! That kind of focus on the Material, as any Pharisee will tell you, buys you a visit from a dragon of one sort or another. From that point on, those dwarves were forced to live in a state of diaspora as merchants, tinkerers, and smiths.

Goldsmiths too, I'm sure.

The band of dwarven adventurers, led by the heir to the throne, Thorin Oakenshield, wish to retake the realm they lost fair and square, but don't earn much in the way of sympathy from the other races of Middle Earth. Not even their own dwarven kin like the idea, which is why there are only thirteen dwarves on the entire planet willing to help.

Our hero, Bilbo Baggins, like any good follower of John Hagee's ministry, comes to accept that these poor dwarves need a home like the one he has back at the Shire. And never mind the fire-breathing dragon the size of an aircraft carrier currently occupying that land, a home they shall have!

Despite that cheap ploy used to garner sympathy for Thorin and company in Hobbit #1, I found myself instantly sympathizing instead with Bard (Luke Evans), the troubled citizen of Laketown, who seems to be the only one capable of recognizing what disaster awaits those who help the dwarves back to their ancestral cave city. By the end of Hobbit #2 we learn that Bard's fears are vindicated.

As an aside, Bard also benefits from looking more like Orlando Bloom in this movie than the real Orlando Bloom does. Very strange!

This sentiment switcheroo is obviously intentional on the part of the writers. To help audience members along who might be a little too much in the Zio-dwarven camp, the writers introduce us to the villainous and despicable Master of Laketown character (Stephen Fry), who gives Thorin's mission his blessing. And, whether it's his willingness to abandon companions or his unwillingness to negotiate for a release from Wood Elf prison, Thorin himself comes off as an even bigger jerk than last time. Mission accomplished: going back to Erebor is officially a bad idea now that we've reached Act II and my sandwich loses that kosher taste.

From the Alt.Right/New Right/Dark Enlightenment perspective we find the more interesting story occurring among the elves and the Guardians of Middle Earth (the wizards and a few select elven monarchs).

The king of the Wood Elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace), long ago adopted an isolationist stance based on his past experience with dragons and the evils of the world. His sense of stewardship toward his kin leads him to abandon the dwarves in their hour of need against Smaug's attack; a completely understandable position. Where he goes off the track, however, is in thinking he can just shut himself off from the rest of the world in his woodland kingdom.

This describes the separatists on our side of the political spectrum who seem to think our answer to the ruin of Modernity lies in shutting ourselves off from it. You can delay the forces of chaos, maybe, but they will bust down your door when they are good and ready. I'm a separatist too, don't get me wrong. It's just that we better understand that this position has its limits.

Tauriel: hot Hobbit
It's the female elf, Tauriel (yes, another Hollywood hottie who also happens to be a master at archery), who challenges Thranduil's view and asks, “When did we allow evil to become stronger than us?”

She isn't just spouting off some "We are the World" nonsense either. Though she may end up making a dwarf/elf baby after the events of Hobbit #3, for now she recognizes the formidable might of her people, the value they would have in a coalition of good, and she understands it is in her peoples' long term interest to at least temporarily overlook the differences between elf, dwarf, man, and hobbit, so that the greater goal: ridding the world of orcs, goblins, giant spiders, and trolls, can be met.

Of course in Middle Earth they have the benefit of evil being right out there in the open – hideous and blatantly sadistic. In our world defining evil is a more complicated matter. Or is it?

Meanwhile those Guardians of Middle Earth, modeled on Plato's philosopher kings, have their eyes focused on the future. A RadTrad can't help but gush. This is what our rulers should be. Damn the liberal democratic world! The events surrounding Erebor, the dwarves, and the dragon are one thing; a current event, possibly even a distraction. But the Guardians are on the hunt for occult forces growing in the shadows. They know this is their role. And they know how to sniff out trouble before orcs are playing the knockout game on the streets of Osgiliath. If we had only a fraction of that kind of wisdom in our leadership!

To lesser men and women like us there could be nothing more terrifying than a flame-spewing dragon. Gandalf, however, ventures into Dol Guldur because he knows it's the power-seeking connected to the dragon that poses the greater danger. That angle is spelled out more clearly in Hobbit #1, another reason to watch it first.

Desolation of Smaug, as a stand alone, presents the favorite of Guardians, Gandalf, abandoning his crew in their hour of greatest need. Those familiar with the book know otherwise, but the heavy dose of magic flinging in this installment leaves me longing for the Gandalf who is always ready to dispense the kind of wisdom that comes with living the equivalent of three hundred human lives. I'm not saying it was overdone in the way George Lucas ruined Yoda with light-sabers and acrobatics. Far from it. It's just that to me Gandalf is more interesting when he gives us insight into what is happening beyond the events playing out between the sword-slingers and monsters.

On a lighter, and final note, Hobbit #2 finally delivers its first Black resident. You won't even need a quick set of eyeballs, as the camera focuses on this townsperson at least twice to make sure you notice. I'm sure Peter Jackson feels this buys him an "Escape the racist accusation" card.

Not so fast, Pete!

For some reason, likely a "racist" one, this lone Black extra is cast in the Middle Earth equivalent of Detroit – Laketown (eerily evocative of Motown). For all their focus on aesthetic quality, this team of Kiwi filmmakers had to eventually cave in to the forces of political correctness, who have been crusading for a rainbow Middle Earth since the release of The Lord of the Rings trilogy a decade ago. No doubt this token Black will only wet the appetites of the Multicult and accusations of even deeper levels of racism are sure to follow this act of appeasement. Say a prayer of thanks that filming is complete for the Hobbit series and gird yourself for Hollywood’s adaptation of The Silmarillion.

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