Making the Grades
Ahh… the middle movie. The second installment of a trio offers both benefits and unavoidable problems. The plus is we have been introduced to the characters (okay, I admittedly haven’t read the book) so more time can be spent on developing the personalities of our legions of dwarves and elves… and a very important hobbit. But the downside is the conclusion, mainly because there isn’t one! Instead, think of this film as a big promotional piece leaving you wanting to see what happens next. And, indeed, creator Peter Jackson cuts to black at the very moment you are yearning for more.
In this film we pick up on the trail right where the first outing abandoned us. Our little burglar Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is still trekking toward the Lonely Mountain with a band of dwarves, led by the once-and-future King Thorin (Richard Armitage). On their rear is an ugly Orc (perhaps he has a face his mother could love) named Azog (Manu Bennett) who wants to kill the would-be monarch.
Hoping to lose their enemy, the little band looks for a “safe” shortcut that will provide seclusion. Thus they enter Mirkwood forest, and that’s where they encounter something that may make the audience a little squeamish—giant spiders. Thankfully Mr. Baggins is beginning to come into his own and saves the day with a sharp blade. However, their victory is soon squelched after they are found by the elves Legolas and Tauriel (Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly), who capture them and take them back to the elf kingdom.
It’s during their incarceration that this story starts to offer a little more meat than the first movie’s monotonous “battle, trek, battle, trek” pattern. Tauriel (a lone female character created by Jackson, due to Tolkien’s neglect of including anyone of the fairer sex) discovers dwarves are people too as she enjoys conversations through the prison bars with Kili (Aidan Turner). Yet there’s little time in this over two-and-a-half-hour flick for niceties. With the help of a golden souvenir from the previous movie, Bilbo manages to stage a jailbreak that leaves the elves, shall we say, over a barrel.
Now the dwarves can continue to their ultimate destination with the goal of reclaiming the kingdom of Erebor and putting King Thorin back on his throne. But first they must take a little detour to deal with a huge talking dragon named Smaug. This beast has stolen all of the dwarves’ treasures and also has possession of the Arkenstone—a special heirloom from Thorin’s family that the group is anxious to reclaim.
Parents wondering if Hobbit 2 is suitable for their family’s viewing need only take a look at the proceeding The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, because both contain the same style of violence and mayhem. That’s not to say either of these films are really children’s movies. Orcs, the ultimate bad guys, are prime targets for the most gruesome disposals. These include decapitations, impalements and arrows extending through both sides of their skulls. The giant spiders don’t fare much better and have the added possibility of inciting nightmares in young audiences. And booze appears to be a main food group of Middle Earth.
Still, for ‘tweens and teens looking for adventure in cinema-land, it’s hard to argue against this well executed film. Aside from the violence there are no profanities and only one instance of mild sexual innuendo (which I doubt was in the novel). There are the usual positive messages about working together, as well as a subtle nod toward seeing past ethnic differences. It felt more engaging due to a greater focus on a few key characters, like the aforementioned Tauriel, the dwarves Thorin and Kili, and our key protagonist Bilbo Baggins. In this outing the once timid shire-dweller shows a natural change of attitude towards the adventure, and demonstrates patience and the ability to use his intelligence to solve problems.
With enough popcorn and a visit to the “facilities” prior to sitting down for this epic, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has the potential to keep both hobbitual and casual viewers engaged.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug.
What is Bilbo Baggins learning about himself? Would he have made these discoveries had he stayed at home? Do we avoid “adventures” that could allow us to grow? Has the Internet and video games altered our perceived need to “experience life”?
What do the various “ethnic” groups in this movie discover about each other? Do you think they will ever be able to completely ignore their differences? What do they learn about working together?