More fun than a barrel full of dwarves

Hobbit lightens up with ‘Desolation of Smaug’

by Willie Krischke

Now that we’re two-thirds of the way through it, “The Hobbit” trilogy is forming up to be Middle Earth-lite. It’s an entertaining series of movies for any and all who thought “Lord of the Rings” was far too serious and grim. Though it occasionally takes stabs at being “epic,” these Hobbit movies are far more interested in just having fun in an imaginary world. Granted, they’re just as violent and bloody as the Rings movies, but even the violence is played for cheers and laughs.  With that in mind, I’m going to run through “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug” with an eye for its goofiness and fun-loving spirit.

Bereft of their ponies at the end of the last movie, Bilbo and company take refuge in the barn – or maybe the home? – of a bear who turns into the vaguely Native American-seeming Beorn (“once my people were many... we were here long before the intruders from the North took our land.”) He doesn’t like dwarves, but he really hates orcs, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so he equips the company with what they need and sends them on their way. 

At the edge of a dark and dangerous forest, Gandalf suddenly decides he has more important things to do, and leaves Bilbo and co. to fend for themselves with hardly a word of explanation. My theory is that he just really, really hates spiders, because that’s the next trap they fall into – big hairy nasty eight-legged freaks that cast sleepy spells around them and wrap them in webs.

All except Bilbo, who has climbed up a tree to get some fresh air, so naturally is well positioned to save his friends, which he does, with the help of his magic ring. But in the process of fighting the arachnids, the dwarves are rescued/captured by wood elves, who are sort of the Michigan Militia of elves, running around the woods heavily armed and not giving a damn what happens in the wide world beyond the trees. Legolas is one of them, and he looks exactly the same as in “Lord of the Rings,” because, of course, elves don’t age, and neither does Orlando Bloom. He moves like Bruce Lee with a bow and arrow, and seems to need no more reason to kill orcs than I need to swat fruit flies in my kitchen: they’re there, they’re annoying and they’re kind of gross.

Legolas has a thing for Tauriel, a she-ninja elf, but her eye is caught by Fili, easily the best (and most elvish) looking of the dwarves. Of course Bilbo managed to slip the grasp of the elves, and is once again able to free the dwarves from their captors. Bilbo loads the dwarves in barrels and sends them racing down the river and over waterfalls, all the while fighting elves and orcs from inside the barrels, like some secret bonus level in Donkey Kong. It’s the best, most exciting and fun-loving sequence in the film, and also the one with the most gruesome, hideous and hilarious orc kills. That’s the great thing about a film whose bad guys are hideously ugly and stupid incarnations of evil; you can kill them six ways to Sunday and laugh about it without the slightest bit of squeamishness.

Meanwhile, up North, Gandalf meets up with Radagast for about two seconds, then deliberately walks into a trap and ends up in a cage. Because the movie wasn’t quite long enough. We do get to meet Sauron, but this part is confusing; is he the eye from the Lord of the Rings, or is the pupil of that eye strangely man-shaped? Is Sauron the pupil of the eye? Does it matter? Why is this scene in the movie?

After the barrel scene, Bilbo and the dwarves head toward a singularly unpleasant town built into an icy lake. It’s like Venice, with canals instead of streets, but in North Dakota. Everyone there is miserable, as you’d expect. They manage to gain the support of the sleazy town master, who possesses possibly the worst comb over ever seen on the big screen. So they head for the dragon’s lair.

It is here that Bilbo, who manages to find his way in after Thorin and Balin and all the other dwarves have given up and headed back down the mountain, once again saves them. And then once they’re inside, the dwarves have the gall to tell Bilbo “this is what we brought you for” and send him down alone to face the dragon and find the magical jewel they are looking for. So after he saved them from the spiders, then the elves, then found the one and only secret way in to the dragon’s lair, they basically offer him up as dragon bait. Nice guys, these dwarves.

Smaug the dragon is fantastic. At times it seems like Peter Jackson and Co. skimped on the CGI in this film; there are several scenes amongst the orcs that look like they were made for a video game. But when it comes to Smaug, the CGI team is at its best. He is fantastically huge, and moves with real weight and power. He also, surprisingly, has a personality, and suffice it to say that Smaug is pretty smug. He loves taunting Bilbo when he should probably be eating him, and can’t pass up a chance to boast about his own majesty and power. The scenes – which make up the final half hour or so of the film – are really thrilling. 

“Desolation of Smaug” ends on a cliffhanger – as all good middle films in a trilogy should – with Bilbo uttering “What have we done?” as the screen fades to black. Watching the film was a goofy, giddy good time, not unlike a barrel ride down the river. Don’t take it too seriously, don’t compare it to the book (always a bad idea) and it’s a lot of fun. I enjoyed it a lot more than the first film, and it’s got me looking forward to the finale. That’s progress.