Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Not Quite A Review of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

When we were little boys, my brothers and I had what we called "playings." We would gather together a cast of action figures and other toys, characters would be assigned, and a general plot selected; then the playing would begin. Sometimes the storylines of history, movies, or favorite books would be chosen, and in that case a special rule was invoked: we could personally embellish the characters and the details of action, but the broad strokes of character and plot must be maintained. What we have concluded about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is that Peter Jackson & Co. are having a playing on the most enormous scale and with the best set of action figures in the world.

The reactions to DOS (as The Desolation of Smaug shall now be referred to) has basically fallen into two camps. There are the Purists who regret every deviation from Tolkien's work, and there are the Film-Fans who love having an exciting movie. The Purists dislike the dilation of time and space (the voyage from Beorn's house to the Lonely Mountain seems to take about a week at most), the introduction of actions and characters not in the book (the wood-elf Tauriel getting to do all the stuff Arwen didn't get to do in the LOTR films), and the ramping up of action (need movie excitement? just add Orc-chases!). The Film-Fans, on the other hand, are glad that all the slow, establishing moments of The Unexpected Journey are over, and the adventure can begin in earnest. They love the exciting impetus of DOS, with its swiftly unrolling tapestry of fights, escapes, scenery, and original revelations of different characters and situations. The almost three hours passes in a snap, and watchers are definitely left at a point of wanting more.

As for myself, I am somewhere between the two camps. I wish Jackson & Co. could adhere more closely to Tolkien, but that ship sailed a long time ago. This is their "playing"; as long as they don't deviate too far (and how far is too far?) from the given characters and storyline, I don't mind some embellishing or festooning or time compression. As apologists have said countless times now, this is, after all, a movie and not a book. Jackson & Co. have left themselves an out, of course: they feign that the book of The Hobbit is Bilbo's memoirs, edited and with omissions, and that the movie shows what 'really' happened (and I can see why he would want to leave out the embarassing "melting gold" incident). Oddly enough the things that bother me most are conceptual deviations from Tolkien, like the idea that the Dwarves (a notoriously hard-headed and practical people) are operating on prophecies, or that a "simple Sylvan wood-elf" like Tauriel can use healing skills like a high Eldar. But I came out of the theater in a happy and exalted mood, having enjoyed DOS quite a lot.

So we are left with a gaggle of questions and speculations until the final movie. Does Bilbo already have the Arkenstone? (Probably.) How will Bard get out of prison to kill Smaug? Did Gandalf deliberately get captured to force the White Council's hand? Are Kili and Tauriel headed for a fore-doomed conclusion, or will they sneak off secretly together to avoid the ire of both their kindreds? Will Saruman have a tempting encounter with evil in Dol Guldur? And what about...Naomi? For the answers to these, and other burning questions, tune in for the next thrilling episode of Jackson & Co.'s playing of...The Hobbit!

Friday, December 27, 2013


`Facts,' murmured Basil, like one mentioning some strange, far-off animals, `how facts obscure the truth. I may be silly---in fact, I'm off my head---but I never could believe in that man---what's his name, in those capital stories?---Sherlock Holmes. Every detail points to something, certainly; but generally to the wrong thing. Facts point in all directions, it seems to me, like the thousands of twigs on a tree. It's only the life of the tree that has unity and goes up---only the green blood that springs, like a fountain, at the stars.'