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The Hobbit

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

by Kavish Chetty / 13.12.2013

New Zealand has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world, apparently because there’s nothing to do there – except, perhaps, LARP (live-action roleplay) among its exquisite natural landscapes. Indeed, much of The Desolation of Smaug carries itself with the charisma of a tourist document for the country, a cinematic brochure which lingers on sprawling expanses of forest and mountain. Here, Peter Jackson and assorted associates have elaborated dress-up and role-play into a multi-million dollar spectacle – only saved by the hipster redemption of fantasy, the merciful powers of “nerd capital”. The film is otherwise, irrescuably lame. It’s also something of an Aryan wet-dream, where Nordic-nosed elves and ye mass assorted of porcelain tone can congregate in a confected world where there are multiple species of capable tongues, and literally no black people at all – save two nameless paupers of darker hue, faces in the grip of melancholic registration, in some arbitrary port-town. Middle-Earth can imaginatively accommodate dwarves, elves, halflings and humans, dragons and the orcish – but “blackness” it seems, is beyond the realm of fantasy.

The Hobbit

Perhaps the producers should have purchased rights to the title Long Walk to Freedom – because if this series of films has been about anything at all, it’s been about how a world bereft of automobiles and aeroplanes forces its subjects to journey endlessly upon exhausted legs, to accomplish goals that could otherwise be satisfied by a casual Sunday drive, getting you home in time for Carte Blanche. Once again, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his cohort of dwarves and other species of vertical disadvantage find themselves on a long-ass walk, in splendid excess of two hours. In the convoy of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), rightful heir to the Kingdom of Erebor, the company must move through a series of grim episodes in order to combat the ancient dragon Smaug and reclaim their historic estate. Certainly, Jackson’s work here approximates more a “reimagining” than an adaptation, having plundered source materials and sleuthed through appendices and footnotes, bloating Tolkien’s original 300-page children’s tale into a three-part epic of CGI and monstrous special-effects, interpolating characters and scrambling the original chronology… the result is very much an end-of-year blockbuster in the spirit of our age.

The Hobbit

Legolas, the slick archer makes a return in a much-cooler incarnation, dispatching orcs in gruesomely-fathomed choreography. The only problem is, he still has the face of Orlando Bloom, and no amount of dexterously-dispatched arrows will cure the character of that smirk. If The Hobbit was appropriately subtitled “An Unexpected Journey”, then this middle chapter should surely merit the tag “An Expected Journey” – journeying and slaying of things is the order of the day, first through the Mirkwood with its bloated arachnids and their tangled webs, and then through Elvish territories on toward Lake-Town, and finally, the Lonely Mountain, snarled nest of the ancient wyrm. The dwarves are more manageable this time around, likely because they no longer persistently burst into drunken sing-along, with all the urgent compulsion of Aishwarya Rai in a Bollywood jol. And some new characters make their impression: principal among which is Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the “strong female lead”, and Legolas’s equal in agile murdering, who’s relatively entertaining up until she falls in love with a dwarf, surrendering herself to usual fate of women in action cinema: romantic interest, untameable loins.

The Hobbit

I’ve struck a harsher tone here than can be considered fair: to those among the audience who can vriet the Tolkien mythos, this film bests its predecessor and capably offers up the usual wares of this kind of fantasy – it has not the dynastic intrigue or anarchic whim of Game of Thrones, but rather the usual, merrier, more questing elements of the genre. Stephen Fry makes an appreciable cameo as a gluttonous feudal master, and Benedict Cumberbatch voices the malevolent Smaug. By the final act of the film, dear Smaug, mighty intellect and desolator of civilisations, reveals himself to be rather less cunning than one would have hoped, and the concluding act drawls on forever in extended chase sequences and might-voiced monologues. What’s most perplexing, in fact, is that The Hobbit does not come to an end here, when the last minutes have all the setup available to extinguish the franchise. As to what the hell will actually happen in the next movie, with almost nothing in the way of interest remaindered after this one, is beyond my pessimistic prognostications. Desolation of Smaug is a desperate but entertaining new incarnation of the franchise – but what would have truly pleasured is Alejandro Jodorowsky behind the camera, fucked up on LSD and turning this palette of fantasy tropes into something truly imaginative, and beyond the borders of what is to be expected by a commodity-centric world.

The Hobbit

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RESPONSES (9)
  1. Kenni says:

    Great article. I haven’t watched the movie, but I expect I will thoroughly enjoy it. Nevertheless, you raise some good points – particularly about the whiteness of the LotR franchise, and the absurd attentuation of The Hobbit into 3 movies. It can’t possibly be on artistic grounds – that approach would require 8 or 9 movies for The Lord of the Rings. Sadly, no. It is a crass and cynical ploy to milk a wildly popular franchise for every cent it will relinquish. I expect at least two movies dedicated to The Silmarillion.

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  2. Enrique says:

    Why would you presume that JRR Tolkien would ever be concerned with authoring a story whose goal it is to incorporate people of the non-porcelain tones? And what would the goal of such a novel be? To appease the PC elements of our culture?

    The fact of the matter is that the Hobbit is a story written by a European (white guy) that includes inspiration from European myths (white guys) and European languages (white guys). Hence all of the white elements.

    That being said, if a black African wrote an epic novel or series of novels and did not include those of a porcelain tone, would you also find fault?

    Last but not least, what exactly was the point of you pointing out the color of the people who inhabit the LOTR universe? Why not just enjoy the story and leave it at that?

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  3. muddebunker says:

    Sloppy review dude.

    Your’e smart enough to know that there is nothing at all about the life or learning of Tolkien that would have made him anything less than true to the myths which he was trying to synthesize and re-imagine for his age. There were feck all dark peeps in those stories so why would you demand the director re-imagine this?

    How much worse would it be if he did. we’d then end up criticising him for destroying art in the name of PC foolishness. Any black characters would merely be jar jars in such misplaced vision of the LOTR universe

    Movie is super kak though

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Kavish, you’re a bitch in a permanently bad mood, maybe you need some white cock.

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  5. Sipho says:

    Review: Film sucks cos no blacks and no cars.

    Bet you loved Fast & Furious

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  6. Anonymous says:

    But Tolkien was born in the Free States, South Africa and later moved to Europe.

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  7. Mox says:

    All you people pointing out the question of race in Tolkien’s writing…why are the only brown people in the LOTR universe evil?

    Why include brown people if you’re only reason is to wrap them up in the age old “swart gevaar” symbolism. Refer to them as the Easterlings and all the baggage that comes with the European idea of the decadent and savage Orient or the East. All the movies have done is reinforced that idea.

    The world of fantasy is still, in the year 2013, dominated by a very Anglo-Saxon perspective where black is bad and white is good. This was a good review, all of Kavish’s reviews are perfect, especially for members of the Global South like South African’s, where we need to unpack the baggage of the pop culture we chronically digest.

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  8. Larry Klimt says:

    What a lame angle – going racial. So is that the only way to write a review from the SA perspective? Well I didn’t see any Asians, Native Americans or Indians for that matter. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT THAT!!! and there were no Jews and Armenians or Kurds. Enrique is 100% correct in his arguments. Also, if you want blacks, just pretend its the orcs – their complexion is dark enough to create the illusion you seek.
    @Mox – when an African (or any one else) writes a fantasy series and describes its characters as the black people of Africa, and that book(s) happens to be an international hit and carries such clout over a few decades, then we can talk about black people making an appearance its movie rendition. Until then, Tolkien films will be made as he wrote the books and no racial consideration shall be given, no matter what fallaciously philosophical or leftist-liberal spin you place unto it.
    Also, fantasy is largely a European school of literature and its stories of old must be portrayed as their authors envisioned them. I mean, if they made a movie based on African mythology and they cast white actors to play the humans of Africa, I would laugh in its face – it would be complete bullshit, if it strove to portray the story devoid of modernistic themes.
    Here is what people like you do to historical literature; you best start thinking about the consequences you propositions hold: http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/jan/05/censoring-mark-twain-n-word-unacceptable

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  9. scruffyan says:

    i think Mox was also referring to the Lord of the rings, and the Haradrim, who were characteristically oriental brown-skinned people who served the dark forces of Mordor. But anyhow, i think the cultural biases of Tolkien are well established.
    I am now incredibly ravenous for Jodorowsky’s Middle Earth…..

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