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Bilbo returns

(Warner Bros.)

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Bilbo returns

<em>Desolation of Smaug</em> makes for a monstrously entertaining movie

The biggest release of the month will arguably be Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (PG-13), the second of a three-part adaptation of Tolkien’s 1937 novel. Early reviews are already lauding its praises, calling it a “vast improvement” on the lucrative first installment, which, despite a few entertaining scenes, was a snooze. That didn’t seem to inhibit box office receipts for the 2012 film, which were over $1 billion worldwide.

Unlike its plodding predecessor, The Desolation of Smaug jumps right into the story, following the dwarf party as they seek refuge from the orcs with Beorn the skin-changer. The quest keeps on at a good clip until the dwarves are snagged by a monstrous batch of spiders and imprisoned by the isolationist elf of Mirkwood, King Thranduil. 

At this point, Jackson’s plot gets entangled with an elfish love triangle between Legolas (a slightly older, but dashing as ever, Orlando Bloom), Tauriel, an orc-slaying She-elf of Jackson’s imagining (Evangeline Lilly), and a diminutive Aiden Turner as Kili the Dwarf.

Thankfully, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) comes to the rescue and saves everyone from a Middle Earth–induced doze, launching one of the most entertaining and humorous scenes in the film involving barrels, dwarves, a smorgasbord of hideous orcs, and a dollop of elfish mojo. This is Jackson-action-fare at its best, and for a few moments he manages to capture the winsome humor of Tolkien’s tale.

Written as a children’s story, the book focuses not only on Bilbo’s deeds of derring-do, but on his growth from a safety-loving hobbit to a brave figure of legendary renown. The book is filled with original, species-specific poetry and just enough bad guys to be frightening but not terrifying.

Unfortunately, in Jackson’s effort to capitalize on the oodles of money available in another Tolkien franchise, he lopped off much of the droll humor and childlike innocence of the original and added more Mordor darkness than necessary. This doesn’t ruin the movie, which is definitely entertaining, but it does transmogrify Tolkien’s original intent and moves the prime age of the audience from childhood to early adulthood.

It comes as no surprise then, that the diverting charm of the dwarves barrel-rolling escape from Mirkwood is lost in the icy, grey mist of Lake-town, where the travelers find themselves in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. The next sequence covering the dwarves’ interaction with Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), their grand send-off from Stephen Fry’s Master of Lake-town (who has a couple of sly political one-liners), and their entrance to the mountain could have been cut in half. 

Truth be told, what everyone is waiting with bated breath for is the great, the terrible, the most fantastically created computer-generated dragon of the 21st century—SMAUG! And he is no disappointment.

Voiced with a masterful blend of seductive evil by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug is everything a treasure-hungry dragon should be: vain, terrifyingly beautiful, and malicious down to the last glittering scale. According to some, he is the highlight of the overly long movie. It’s hard to disagree.

Smaug’s villainous cunning and serpentine sparkle overtake the final sequences of the film, leaving everyone feeling the burn of his breath and their sore muscles as they exit the theater to wait another year for the final installment of the franchise.

In the meantime, I’ll be reading the book to my kids, watching as they hear the story for the first time of a home-loving hobbit who becomes a hero and the adventures he has going there and back again. That will truly be epic.

Listen to Christina Darnell’s interview with Devin Brown, author of The Christian World of the Hobbit and Hobbit Lessons: A Map for Life's Unexpected Journeys, on The World and Everything in It:

Comments

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  • Anonymous (not verified)
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    The Narnia Series has magic! We should condemn and burn those books. *Please note my sarcasm*

  • DRN
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    Having just re-read "The Hobbit," and now having watched the first two of Peter Jackson's (what will be) three Hobbit movies, it makes it clear again how the post-modern worldview cannot leave original texts alone. Whether using the historical texts of the Bible, or using  fictional texts of a book like "The Hobbit,"  the desire is re-make the story into one's own personal and subjective experience and encounter with the material. The question is not what the text means, the question is what does it mean to me.  The actual objective meaning and intent of a text is not allowed stand on its own. As a result, Tolkien's story is simply a jumping off point for Peter Jackson to tell his story. "The Desolation of Smaug" is an insult to Tolkien and a travesty, and is nothing more than a nearly 3 hour violent video game. As is true with the Bible and all good literature, it is best just to sit down and read the text for oneself, and turn the TV and the movies off.

  • Homeschool lady's picture
    Homeschool lady
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    @AlinNC:  I apologize if my message came across the wrong way.  Again, my family's DVD rack contains movies that are certainly secular in nature, and some of them contain content contrary to biblical truth, but there is a line that should be drawn.  If Tolkien did not intend LOTR to be an explicit Christian allegory, that's fine.  But he did compare Gandalf (who died and then came back to life dressed in white robes and banished Sauron to a fiery prison prepared for him--can't only Jesus do that?) to the Holy Spirit.  And again, what about characters who claim to have powers like and act like gods/goddesses?  Good story for sure, but what many of the characters are doing is what the nation of Israel, at Mt. Sinai, would label blasphemy.

  • Joe M
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    The diverting charm is lost, but the movie is a success? This review seems to want it both ways, satisfying the sensibilities of adult fans while catering to the cojones of video game fan boys. Which is it, thumbs up or down? You seem to say thumbs up, which suggests you are choosing to buy into the "Amusing Ourselves To Death" mentality. WORLD, how old are your reviewers, anyway? It's great to cultivate new talent, and I agree we want to reach the rising generation... but not cater to them, which I sense you are beginning to do.  Youth is great, but it is not the hope of the future. Sanity is.

  • Estel's picture
    Estel
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    It bothers me so much that so many reviews say that loyal Tolkien fans won't be disappointed. But . . . we all are.Also, to add to AnnaS and AlinNC, Tolkien said his books were Christian in the same way a tree is Christian. It doesn't need Bible verses all over it, or to look like a cross. The tree is just God's creation and points to Him. I don't remember which letter of his that was in.

  • WORLD User 94453
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    @Homeschool lady:  I respectfully disagree with your analysis.  Tolkien never intended for LOTR to be an explicit Christian allegory, but his Christian beliefs still come through.  The Ring is a very clear metaphor for sin.....Sin's allure and temptation, and that in the end it destroys a person.  Plus LOTR is classic good vs evil, an epic quest, noble characters (self-sacrificing, humble and servant-hearted), themes of redemption, and characters willing to lay down their lives for each other and the greater good.  Plus, I recommend you read The Silmarillion, which is a prequel to LOTR, of a sort.  Evolution is not part of the cosmology at all.  Middle Earth is a world brought about  by a Creator. You say otherwise, but you sure seem to be saying that any story that is not an explicit Christian story is not worthy.  I disagree.  While Tolkien never intended such, his Christian worldview shines through very clearly. 

  • Homeschool lady's picture
    Homeschool lady
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    Regardless of what the movies are like, what about the concepts behind Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to begin with?  They are stories based by necessity on evolution (Middle Earth is so named because it lies between "prehistoric" and "modern" times), and they involve magical and mystical characters who do things contrary to the word of God.  What about the character called the "star kindler" because she created the stars?  Last I heard Jesus was the only one who could do that and claiming to be God or have God-like abilities was called blasphemy.  Plus, the Ring itself.  The Ring of Power?  Really?  Can it get any more obviously based off of mythology and magic, both of which push God completely out of the picture?  I'm not saying every movie should have the gospel in every frame (there are many secular movies that I enjoy very much) but I think Christians can do better than this.

  • Anonymous (not verified)
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    What many fail to understand and most Tolkien fans surprisingly don't seem to know is that Tolkien himself wanted to go back and revise The Hobbit in light of the material that he developed in The Lord of the Rings.  When he originally penned The Hobbit he had no idea where the story would lead, and as he began work on the demanded "sequel", it quickly grew into the massive work we all know and love as the subsequent trilogy.  In the process, Middle Earth, in all its history and lore expanded to the point he had to create the Appendices at the end of Return of the King to include everything.  Ever the perfectionist, he wanted to rewrite The Hobbit to better fit into his more mature vision of Middle Earth.  Much of what Peter Jackson & Co. have tried to do is incorporate the history from Tolkien's timeline in ROTK Appendix into the concurrent events of The Hobbit, albeit not always successfully.  (I could really do without the Legolas-Tauriel-Kili??? romance angle.  Bleh.)  To characterize this decision as purely a money-grabbing ploy is unfair to the hundreds of crew and cast who have worked so hard to bring Middle Earth to life.  Frankly, I'd rather spend more movie-going hours in that world than just about anywhere else.  ;-)  <><

  • Dr Patrick
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    I've been disappointed with making this entertaining for an older group of young people.  Just last hear I thought I would read the book aloud with my 11 year old daughter (17 year old had seen the Lord of the Rings and had no interest in actually 'reading' the book.  My daughter and I were almost finished the book and I decided (mistakenly) to watch the DVD of the Fellowship of the Rings, knowing it was a step up in terms of violence in a movie she had been accustomed to.  You know already what happened.  Once we saw the movie she had no more interest in reading the books like her brother; only in seeing the other movies.  She was enamored with the violence, and although she can still watch the movie, I limit how often and continue to limit other similarly violent movies.  The visually entertaining (?) violent action has overshadowed the intent of the books.  It is very difficult for young teens to grasp Tolkien's intent and apply it to life, when the images of the movie have so hooked their minds and hearts that all they want is more of the same!  Frustrated.  Narnia seems to do a better job of keeping the story aimed at the original audience of the books.  I hope their next installment holds to that.

  • SNelson
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 04:04 pm

    After what Jackson did to the book in the first installment, I have no interest in taking my children to see this one; we have taken to calling it The Desecration of Tolkein. Bilbo is not fierce or strong, so he saves the day by being clever, something Peter Jackson does not understand. So everywhere Tolkein in clever, Jackson throws in a fight. Blah! No one should see this travesty of a betrayal.