4 Stars — Powerful
The second of three films, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is amazing cinema. Directing the Hobbit films with the same astute skill he used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson has established himself as a master storyteller.
Presenting a visual and auditory feast in the fantasy world of middle earth, we are confronted with evil in its various forms and seductions. We are also provided with a variety of examples of how individuals respond to evil, from choosing to isolate and protect one's own people while caring little for those beyond our walls and borders to deciding to courageously enter into evil's lair and battle it without concern for self to varying gradations in-between. Each response has its limitations as we recognize that there must be a power greater than evil if we are ever to find peace on Earth.
The ensemble cast continues from the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as they pursue their quest in this second film. In the title role is the little Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). A creature of naïve innocence, Bilbo has nevertheless been thrust into a central role in the approaching conflict.
Written in 1937 by this British author, The Hobbit is an allegory for the growing danger in Germany that would eventually begin World War II. Dashing the hope that World War I had solved the problem, the growing realization that an even bigger threat is emerging is Tolkien's message. He also suggests that it is going to take normal people courageously confronting evil if England is to survive.
The blending of fantasy through the creation of otherworldly creatures of all kinds helps identify both the characters' unique skills and perspectives as well as the various evils and responses. The wizard fighting for good is Gandalf (Ian McKellan), while his counterpart who conjures up subterranean warriors is Saruman (Christopher Lee). The courage of the diminutive hobbit is matched by the courage of the dwarves and their leader, Thorin (Richard Armitage), a band of 13 who are determined to regain their kingdom that was taken from them by Smaug (voice by Benedict Cumberbatch) and to reinstate Thorin in his rightful place on the throne.
The elves are represented as two superior kingdoms whose unparalleled military skill seduces them into taking isolationist positions. But eventually they are brought into the battle by their protective care for the dwarves.
The ability of greed to cause us to go mad with the power of its addiction is a clear message of the story, as is our penchant for ignoring growing evil until it is too strong to easily defeat. These are messages for all time and all human experiences.
Also present is the analogous nature of evil's seductive power. This is seen in the form of a ring that Bilbo happens upon in the first Hobbit film. It is a power that gives him an advantage and yet, as he is quickly discovering, also calls evil to his side.
It is this battle between good and evil that is the theme of the films and the lessons provided by both Tolkien and Jackson that are valuable to all of us in our journey in life.
» When Bilbo decides to keep his discovery of the ring a secret from Gandalf, we can sense the growing seduction of its power. What secrets have you kept from those who love you and why? Did keeping secrets turn out to be a good decision or not? How so?
» The respect that Thorin eventually shows to Bilbo begins when Bilbo risked his own life to save Thorin's. How have you earned the respect of others? How have you been sacrificial in your relationships?
» It is difficult to imagine how evil can conjure up creatures like the Orcs who love to kill. What aspect of humanity do you think Tolkien was describing? Why do you answer as you do?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.