There and Back Again

This morning, my wife and children joined me in the earliest showing of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  The important question, the first one my friends asked: “Was it worth it?”

Yes, Precious, yesss…

Smaug fixed much of what I saw as flaws in the first film.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but An Unexpected Journey was certainly not what I expected. The emphasis on humor, the frenetic pace from one seemingly unconnected peril to the next, and the adventures of Radagast and his woodland creatures… it wasn’t just the unconventional framerate that had my eyes rolling. That said, we saw Unexpected in 3-D, and we are not fans of 3-D to begin with, so that skews my perception a bit. And the Rings trilogy set a very high bar.

From the first few moments in dingy Bree’s most famous inn, to the familiar chase across lush fields toward refuge with pursuit hot on their heels, to the lofty spiraling underground architecture of the dwarves… this felt like home.

Jackson does a wonderful job transporting viewers into a variety of settings across Middle-Earth. Just as in the book, there are details throughout with no real explanation given other than that this is a fantastical and mysterious world. There’s fan-service as well, or perhaps Jackson is letting us see his own self-directed fan-service. It’s clear he loves his work.

The Tombs of the Nine Ringwraiths? Who doesn’t want to see that? Let’s throw that in.

Exploration of Dol Guldur and hints of the upcoming conflict of Lord of the Rings? Why not tie it all together?

Legolas joking about a hideous dwarf boy named Gimli? Heck yes. Everyone chuckles, an inside joke meant for all to enjoy.

Freeman’s Bilbo is magnificent and believable, and Sir Ian McKellin is incapable of disappointing audiences. In fact, everyone gets to show off some awesomeness. Gandalf goes toe-to-toe with dark forces; Legolas and new addition Tauriel the strong female character both engage in orc-slaying that is literally beautiful to behold; dwarves put the smackdown on several foes; even Bilbo gets his stab on not once but several times.

And then there’s Smaug. Oh, he’s a beauty. “Truly the tales and songs fall utterly short” of his magnificence. It’s fitting to worry when a main villain is pure CGI, but if anyone can pull that off, Jackson’s a good bet. Smaug comes across as transcendent, so above the hobbit burglar and his dwarf companions, so without fear… until they push the right buttons.

There were a few moments I wondered what the dwarves were thinking. Their grand first plan to thwart the dragon isn’t really explained; suddenly it happens and you realize, “Oh, that’s what they were trying to do, I guess.” It leads to some great visuals of an enraged dragon and the destruction in his wake, but that’s about it.

Also, if you haven’t heard, it ends on a cliffhanger. People are still surprised by this. The book has been out for a while now, and Lord of the Rings makes it clear certain people survive, so there’s a limit to the suspense in a few cases. Spoilers: Legolas does not die in this movie. Neither does Bilbo. More spoilers: They don’t die in the next movie either.

Come understanding that the story won’t be over when the credits roll, and you’ll be fine — and fans will be in rapture from the start. Jackson throws wide the gates and waves us in to enjoy the wonder and splendor of Middle-Earth. I love being there; I can’t wait to go back again.

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