Wednesday, December 18, 2013

You Take the Dragon; I’ll Take the Elf: “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

Movie Review by Jack Silbert
Finally—a nasty dragon! Between the Shrek series and How To Train Your Dragon—even going back to Pete’s Dragon and magical Puff—I’m worried that recent generations of kids don’t have the proper awe and respect for those fire-breathing baddies. Well, enter Smaug (who is not to be confused with Godzilla’s old foe, the Smog Monster).

As with most children’s sequels, you probably already have a pretty good sense whether this is appropriate for your kids. Did they handle the first Hobbit movie? Then buy your tickets for this one.

Martin Freeman returns as Bilbo
And, if your children have watched the Unexpected Journey DVD 4,000 times, they likely won’t need to brush up on the events of the first film. For the rest of us, Desolation of Smaug opens with a handy flashback scene: Gandalf the wizard (played by Ian McKellen) tells Thorin (Richard Armitage)—the dwarf who would be king—that bad guys are on his tail so he needs to snag a special stone, reunite the seven dwarf families (no, really!), defeat the villains, and reclaim his rightful throne.

Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Then we are thrust right back into the quest to Lonely Mountain, where Smaug the dragon guards that mysterious stone. But before we get there, the dwarves and good ol’ Bilbo (Martin Freeman) have many thrilling challenges to face. Some people complained that Part I started off way too slow. Part II is packed with action sequences almost beginning to end: a dude who changes into a bear, some scary giant spiders (who am I kidding, I’m even scared of regular-size spiders), whitewater rapids, ugly Orcs, swords, Orcs beheaded with swords, arrows, Orcs shot by arrows, and the aforementioned Smaug, who is both erudite and totally terrifying. When he utters, “I am fire. I am death,” it is chilling. No wonder: he’s voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. Playing fire and death has become something of a specialty for this formidable actor.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel
But the real revelation is Tauriel, perfectly portrayed by Evangeline Lilly. She is truly exhilarating from the moment she appears onscreen. What an excellent character for your daughters to emulate (minus the deadly archery acumen), and for your sons to reassess how they view women in the movies. She’s smart, tough, independent, and never “in distress.” Evangeline Lilly is completely beautiful here without being sexualized. And Tauriel never defers to Legolas (Orlando Bloom once again behaving Elvish princely).

We also get a little humor (there is an unfortunately out-of-place “what’s in your trousers” joke) and romance, a contextual definition of “desolation,” along with lessons in loyalty, acceptance of others (dwarves and elves and humans), and the burden of family history. Can we live up to the past? Can we transcend it?

Sure, it may feel like we’ve seen it all before … and before … and before: The good guys on an epic quest to obtain a mystical object while simultaneously, a slowly-gaining-strength embodiment of Pure Evil is forming a massive, ominous army. But we must remember that, for a lot of this stuff, Tolkien was there first, and director Peter Jackson expertly presents and expertly paces the very rich source material. Even after two hours and forty minutes, I wish I didn’t have to wait a full year for Part III.

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