THE HOBBIT: The Desolation of Tolkien
I loved the first Hobbit movie and hated, hated, hated the second. It was stupid on every level of stupidity. It is rightly to be called THE DESOLATION OF TOLKIEN.
Before swan-diving into the sewer of total stupidity that is the DESOLATION movie, my intractable Southern courtesy requires that I say something good about this movie. Well, as it happens, there was not just one thing good about this movie, there were three: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage. They played their parts so well, that I feel I have met the real Gandalf, Bilbo and Thorin.
Sylvester McCoy did his best with what he was given, but the movie maker put bird poop in his hair. Which is not, come to think of it, so very different from what the movie maker did to us, his audience. This was to make Rhadaghast the Brown, the divine and august Istari who journeyed from the Blessed Lands beyond the Uttermost West to aid Middle Earth in its dark hour, to be as silly-looking a human whoopee cushion as possible.
On to what I hated with a nerdrageous passion that knows no sense of proportion: let us start at the beginning.
Let us start with the poster. Who is missing from this picture? Hint: it is the character the movie is named after. He is also missing from most of the film. Apparently he was drowned beneath an inundation of padding. He will be missed.
Second question: which three characters in this poster do not appear in the book called THE HOBBIT on which this movie is loosely, very loosely, somewhat supposedly almost inspired by something like part of maybe the name?
On to the first scene: One of my favorite scenes in THE HOBBIT is the meeting between Gandalf and Beorn. Gandalf, being a wise old man, does not bring in thirteen dwarves and a hobbit all at once and beg hospitality from the fearsome and proud freeholder whose homestead dares the eaves of Mirkwood itself: nor does he use any charm other than his charming demeanor. Instead he toys with Beorn’s curiosity as he tells the story of their adventures so far, introducing each pair of additional dwarves, as if by a slip of the tongue, so that the fierce freeholder is won over. Had this scene been in the film, it would also have brought the audience up to speed.
You see, the scene is charming because it is a children’s story, and in children’s stories, tricks like this work, and they do not need to be magic tricks. Gandalf comes over as a wise man, a counselor, not a magic-powered superhero.
The drama here is that the dwarves are stranded without any gear or provision or provender, and if the lonely and stubborn Beorn, a man distrustful of travelers and beggars who has no love for dwarves, does not help them, they starve and the quest fails.
Gandalf also drops a hint that Beorn is not as he appears. Some dark secret, redolent of the supernatural, clings to this figure somehow able to survive in the eave-shadows of a cursed and haunted wood.
No, instead Beorn’s dark secret is revealed from the get-go, and he complains about having been enslaved and his people exterminated, and it as about as hamfisted and heavy-handed a characterization as can be crammed into a five minute clip of film, and nothing comes of it and it comes from nowhere, since the dramatic tension of having to win his alliance lest the quest fail does not exist in this version.
His makeup is stupid, as if he is the Middle Earth version of Samson, who, instead of having his power hidden in his hair, has it hidden in his eyebrows.
He looked like Freddie Jones in his Mentat get-up in the 1984 film version of DUNE. I was expecting him at any moment to chant: “It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning…”
There is a scene where the dwarves want to keep the ponies loaned by Beorn but their overlooked last member, Bilbo, reminds them to keep their promises – at which moment the looming shadow of a bearlike shape is seen on a ridge nearby, watching them, silent as an angel of vengeance. Or at least that is in the book.
I do not remember that scene, which is the first step of Bilbo’s character arc to becoming the hero of the company, as being in the film. Maybe I had to get up to get popcorn. I do remember the eerie hints of Beorn’s true nature not being present in the film, but instead a garish special effect, maybe tossed in for a pointless reason.
Wow. I am already weary under the heavy load of stupid things, and we have not even reached Mirkwood yet. How about a mini-vacation, dear reader? There were two other thing that were not just done right, they were done brilliantly: the gateway to Mirkwood looked like a gate should look if long lost elves had carved it; and there is a scene, taken straight from the book, where Bilbo climbs a tree and for a moment sees the winds of the world above the leaf-gloom, and beholds the black butterflies of Mirkwood in the sunlight. Peter Jackson did that scene, and did it perfectly.
Now let us descend back down into the abyss of poor filmsmanship like Bilbo reluctantly shimmying down the tree away from the sunlight, smiling clouds, and fluttering butterflies. Farewell, one good moment! Hail, boring inanity!
The quest enters Mirkwood, and Gandalf leaves them with the warning that they are not to depart from the path. Leaving the path is bad.
In the book, as in any number of old myths, fairy tales or medieval legends, they are indeed lured off the path due to weakness of character. In the book, the dwarves see what seems to be the campfires of a gay company dancing and feasting with music and rich ale and savory meats, and when they blunder off the path toward the vision, it turns out not to be men but rather forest elves, who vanish in a twinkling, as by magic, and the dwarves are left dazed and asleep amid the mossy forest roots.
In the movie, they try not to leave the path, but then they get stoned at Woodstock, because maybe they dropped some bad acid, man. The vibes turn bad, man, it’s a bad trip! And Bilbo turns and sees himself. WHOA, this is so heavy, dude!
Okay. Does anyone who has ever told a story to a child actually need lessons in how it is done? The rule is very simple. Adults will allow you to cheat the story. Children won’t. If the story says that only Love’s First Kiss will wake the sleeping princess, an adult might allow you to pull an ironic trick such as having the prince be the villain and the sister’s love save the princess. But no kid will allow it. It is cheating. There is an unspoken contract, as binding as if enforced by an unsmiling and clear-eyed king who rules with a rod of iron, between the teller of the tale and those who enter the tale. The rule in children’s stories is that you don’t say things you don’t mean.
Gandalf tells them not to leave the path. He does not mean it. If he meant it, the dwarves would be tempted to leave the path due to a weakness of character, or fear, or hunger, and the hobbit would remind them to stay on the straight and narrow. Get it? It is the first rule of story telling. Maybe it is the only rule. Story telling is serious and telling a children’s story is even more serious, because children are more severe critics than adults, and their sense of justice is more finely honed.
Other complains? I have a Brazilian, which is a number larger than a Cotillion.
There was not enough Mirkwood in the film. It was supposed to be murky, and seem endless, and gloomy and forbidding, and you were supposed to feel lost. Instead the dwarves zipped through the endless miles of gloom in, what, like an afternoon? Did they even camp overnight?
Time for another vacation from stupidityland. There was something that was not in the book but that was so damned cool that it almost makes up for the disappointment of Beorn.
When Bilbo puts on the ring which he got from Gollum, he can hear the spiders talking and understand their evil speech, for he is partway into the shadow realm.
Ah, I loved that idea. It was way cool.
Then there was a fight scene where the film maker threw gallons of glop in three dee toward my eyes. Vacation over.
In the book, Bilbo lures the spiders away from their prey, the helpless dwarves, by calling them names, such as Lazy Lob, Crazy Cob, and Old Tomnoddy and, of course, Attercop. It is classic Jack-taunting-the-Giant fairy tale gimmick, as fresh and ancient as Eastertide, where the little guy lures the big guy with eight legs clustered eyes and a pincer mouth away from the prisoners.
Vocabulary trivia time! Attercop —n. 1. a spider. 2. an ill-natured person. [Old English attorcoppa, from ātor poison and cop head]
In the movie, no such luck. No such attercop. Instead we get a WORLD OF WARCRAFT style CGI fight with giant spiders. Now with extra glop.
This film was like being hit in the head over and over with a hammer, and with each blow, the IQ of the audience dropped another few digits. At this point a particularly fierce blow of the Stupidity Hammer struck home. Yes, fans, it was time for Legolas to come onstage!
I do not know if you have ever played Dungeons and Dragons or any of the various role playing games that occupied my youth, but if you had, you would be familiar with the phenomenon called ‘the moderator’s pet NPC.’ This is when a moderator introduces a character into the adventure who does everything better than any player character, and the entire universe (the moderator’s invented universe, that is) showers him with blessings and love. You might see a similar phenomenon among writers of fan fiction, when they intrude themselves into their favorite scene as ‘Mary Sue’ the ensign who saves the Enterprise.
Well, watching Legolas, a character not in this book in any way, shape or form, I felt I was watching the moderator’s pet NPC in action.
It was like seeing Legosue, not Legolas.
And then came another blow of the Stupidity Hammer: the interspecies romance between the cute elf-girl and Kili, who for some reason did not look at all like a dwarf.
Look here, I am a married man, so I have been forced by the wife under the threat of domestic displeasure to go see my fair share of romances. Cowering and uxorious, I went. These included BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY not to mention the remake of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, which I simply adored. Romance, like children’s fables, has a simple rule. The couple needs two things (1) some strong reason for them to be together and (2) some strong obstacle which keeps them apart. The drama of romance consists of item (1) against all odds and beyond all hope overcoming item (2).
But in the movie now and hereafter to be called, the Desolation of Two Hours of My Life That I Will Never Get Back Again, there was item (2), namely that the two creatures were not of the same order of being, not to mention the Son of Earth was in the dungeon of the elf-king; but there was no item (1). What did they have in common, again, exactly? What did she see in him? What was the basis of their mutual attraction?
Time for another mini-vacation from the endless blows of the Stupidity Hammer! We get to see a scene set in the underground halls of Thranduil the Elf-king. Whatever else Jackson does wrong, he does his set direction right, does his art direction right, and every prop and weapon and artifact and smallest thing looks simply perfect. I loved the set of the throneroom.
AN-NNN-ND then, for a small but very painful smack of the Stupidity Hammer, we get to see Thranduil’s face melt for a second, as if he is hiding by enchantment (an enchantment that slips when he is angry) some old scar from where the dragon burned a huge hole in his cheek so that all the teeth of his skull are visible. Or maybe his face was burned by acid only on one side, and he hates the Batman so much, that he will flip a coin to see whether he will spare his captives or kill them. And he only steals things related to the number Two. Yes, that is it: Thranduil is Two-Face. But whatever he was, he was not like a Tolkien character.
Ergo the scene where Thranduil kills an orc after the helpless prisoner cooperates is not because the director forgot that no Tolkien elf would ever break his word of honor in such a sadistic and low and nasty way, not even to an enemy; no, the orc just lost the coin toss! (That noise you just heard was the sound of my brain sloshing against the scuppers of my skull under the impact of the Stupidity Hammer.)
Of course nothing comes of Two-Thranduil’s melty face, except to show that he hates dragons. Because otherwise there is no reason to hate a dragon, because we all love them, right?
Then the Stupidity Hammer lashes out again, this time as blow to the groin of every man in the audience, because, SURPRISE! The lovely and eternally young elf-maiden, instead of doing elf-maidenly things like dancing in the moonlight on the surface of enchanted lakes or singing magical songs to beguile the watchful terrors of Thangorodrim, turns out to be Xena the Warrior Elf Princess. Yes, she is the roughest, toughest most kick-ass Spartan Marine Navy SEAL Special Forces Ninja Battlebabe in the entire warrior-harem of the elf-lord’s politically correct gender-neutral and gender-accommodating fashion-model army. She makes as much sense as a platoon of bathing beauty Cataphracts or the dread and dreaded Playboy Bunny Brute Squad.
All medieval and classic cultures of the ancient world, including those on which Tolkien modeled his elves, routinely expose their young and marriageable women to the fortunes of war, because bearing and raising the next generation of warriors is not needed for equality-loving elves.
Equality-loving elves. Who are monarchists. With a class system. Of ranks.
Battles are more fun when attractive young women are dismembered and desecrated by goblins! I believe that this is one point where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien (and all Christian fantasy writers from before World War Two) were completely agreed upon, and it is a point necessary in order correctly to capture the mood and tone and nuance of the medieval romances or Norse sagas such writers were straining their every artistic nerve and sinew to create.
So, wait, we have an ancient and ageless society of elves where the virgin maidens go off to war, but these same virgin maidens must abide by the decision of their father or liege lord for permission to marry?
At that point, another blow of the Stupidity Hammer descended, when we see Gandalf, all by his lonesome self, wandering into the stronghold of Dol Guldur.
In the book the stronghold of Dol Guldur was, you know, a stronghold. Hence the name. That means it was a fortress, filled with soldiers of the dread sorcerer known only as the Necromancer. In the book, while the scene is not onstage, the hints dropped imply that Gandalf and his brother wizards of the White Council put forth their strength and assailed Dol Guldur and drove Sauron forth. “Assailed” means they besieged the place, which means they parked an army in a circle around the tower, battered the walls, used catapults and trebuchets and battering rams to crack the gates: you get the picture.
Instead, in the movie, Gandalf waltzed in, tells Rhadaghast not to waltz in, gets mugged by orcs, and then Sauron shows up as a huge black special effect, and telekinetically pins the old man up against a wall — and does not kill him.
Okay. Time for another lesson in story-telling. This is a lesson which, unlike the others, only modern fantasy writers know, and which not all children or all women fans of romance know. This is because in the old days wizards were never the main characters; they were either wise councilors and prophets like Merlin, or they were antagonists whose curse or enchantment was the main obstacle to be overcome.
But when the wizard is onstage as the main character, you have to adopt what I call the Jack Vance Rule. (I call it this because Jack Vance is the first author successfully and adroitly to have applied this rule in his THE DYING EARTH). The rule is (1) The wizard has to be able to do something unusual, or else he is not a wizard (2) he cannot do everything, or else there is no drama; therefore (3) the story teller has to communicate the reader whatever the dividing line is that separates what the wizard can do from what he cannot do, so that the reader can have a reasonable expectation of knowing what the wizard can and cannot do.
In Jack Vance, the rule was that wizards could only force into their three-dimensional brains the ultradimensional and reality-warping syllables of at most three to seven spells a day, which, once they were spoken, evaporated from the wizard’s brain like a dream at waking, their force expended, unable to be spoken again. Sound familiar? It is such a simple and clear and elegant rule for how to limit magic that Gary Gygax used it in his Dungeons and Dragons game, which then outstripped Vance in fame, so that modern readers often find Vance disappointingly similar to a D&D game.
Any rule will do. In GREEN LANTERN comics, the magic ring can do anything as long as it is green, and it is helpless against the color yellow.
In the book, Gandalf does not need his rules defined because he is not a main character. He is a wise councilor and a wonder worker in the fashion of Merlin. He never does anything more magical than throw a pinecone full of napalm at a warg, lock a door, break a bridge, or hold up his staff to forbid an unclean spirit entrance into a gateway. He is roughly as magical as your average Army chaplain who carries a flamethrower.
In the movie, however, the wizard is a main character who faces another main character, also a wizard, in a duel of magic. The results are lame and stupid because the audience sees a bunch of meaningless lightshow effects, with no idea of what allows either side to win or lose. I felt like astronaut Bowman entering the spacewarp of the monolith. Wow. Pretty lights.
My only consolation is that this lame duel of magic was nowhere near as lameriffic as the wizard duel between Gandalf and Saruman in FELLOWSHIP, which consisted of old men flying about on wires slamming each other into walls with their green lantern style telekinesis.
This also was the main drawback of the HARRY POTTER movies, by the way. In the final duel between Harry and his Dark Lord (same job, different guy), they point their wands at each other. Then they grimace. Then they point their wands at each other even harder.
Bilbo is not onstage during all this. Where is the Hobbit in this film, allegedly called THE HOBBIT, again?
Ah, but then we see Bilbo. After his friends are captured by wood elves, using his ring of invisibility, he sneaks into the buried palace of the elf lord. Unseen, his wily eyes spy out that the elves drink wine imported from Laketown, and float the empty barrels downstream as part of their trade and traffic with the human settlment.
He waits until the jailor is drunk, steals the keys, frees the dwarves, and, instead of attempting to sneak them past the heavily guarded upper gates, takes the dwarves to the loading dock beneath the wine cellar, seals them in the barrels, and clings, still unseen, to a barrel himself as the unsuspecting elf prentices pole the empty barrels downstream to the Laketown. It is simple and brilliant. Unfortunately, he gets a wetting, and takes a headcold: little bit of realism, if not comedy relief.
Oh, no, wait. That is not what happens.
Just then, just when I thought I would be free from the repeated blows to my tender head of the Stupidity Hammer, the Stupidity Hammer rose up from the shining screen, drew back, whirled hugely and with great force and might and main slammed me right between the eyes so my brain squirted out my ears a yard past my shoulders in both directions.
Bilbo does not seal the barrels.
I will wait for you to recover in case you just got the sensation of a Stupidity Hammer clonking you from the computer screen. They I will repeat myself, because it is so dumb you might not believe me:
Bilbo does not seal the barrels. He leaves the tops open.
So the dwarves are perfectly visible, by which I mean visible to the eye, by which I mean not hidden. By which I mean people with eyeballs can see them, such as the elf-people from whom they are allegedly trying to escape.
Bilbo leaves the barrel tops open when he is dumping the barrels into the water, which is a substance, so I am given to believe, that enters openings and makes things wet inside, and sometimes even sinks things.
Now the Thirteen Stupid Dwarves and One Stupid Hobbit are floating away on the smooth and placid river. Ah, but with another and fiercer blow of the Stupidity Hammer, I now see that the river is a rock-filled rushing rapids of white water which no one would ever float barrels down as part of their trade and commerce, and which is guarded by a water-gate that stupidly cannot be lowered in time, and which is prone to sudden attacks for no reason by hordes of stupid goblins, so that an endless, endless three-way battle between the barrel-dwarves, the dancing and skipping acrobat elf archers (including their young women!) and the roaring and ever-missing goblin horde. It is like a ride in a fun carnival! Except stupid!
As I was in the theater, gripping the popcorn-stained carpet in my teeth because I was dazed from the blow of the last Stupidity Hammer, and I started to stagger weakly to my feet, when, lo and behold! I was treated to the sight of a roaring dwarf sticking his arms and legs out through the wood of the barrel bashing enemies left and right.
This was the only moment in the whole sucktastic movie when any dwarf warrior actually does anything effective against his hereditary foes, the orcs. Roaring dwarf wears barrel. Arms, legs, stick out. The wood acts as armor, and he rolls on people and stuff.
And therefore a giant hammer of pure stupidity lashed out of the screen and felled me again. I lay mewling, clutching my head with my sweaty hands, whimpering for my Mommy to make it stop. MAKE IT STOP!
But it did not stop. It. Did. Not. Stop.
For awesome Legosue in his awesome flying trapeze artistic awesomeness had to flip across the screen and shoot goblins full of arrows. I wish he had had a boxing glove arrow, or one that shot out poisonous smoke, or one that had a lit stick of dynamite lashed to it. That would have been EVEN COOLER!!!! And then Legolas could have joined the Enterprise as the newest midshipman recruit yet saved them all from the Klingons, and Lt Uhura would have fallen in love with him.
Well, the Legolas Movie went on for a few more hours, and we got to Laketown. Every fan of Tolkien was eager to see the George RR Martin like intricacy of the political by-play between the various Machiavellian factions of Laketown. We all remember the dashing smuggler, known only as the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, who is trying to sneak past the secret police and the border guards to free French Aristocrats from the guillotine of Laketown, right?
Eh? What is that you are saying? There is nothing like all this crap I just made up in anything written by Tolkien? That it would only have bogged down and sullied the rather clear message about greed and ambition versus the virtues of a simple life which THE HOBBIT represents? Oh. Well, yeah. You know that and I know that but Peter Jackson does not.
Excuse me, I must take a moment to consult my inner orc:
Peter u bagronk sha pushdug Jackson-glob búbhosh skai!
So, what happens next that could possibly be even stupider and make even less sense than what I have said so far? OF COURSE! Kili comes down with a headcold or a war wound or something, and since dwarves are wimps who give up as soon as convenient, he has to be left behind, so that Agog the Disrespectful, that orc who has been hunting Thorin with the menacing intensity of Tommy Lee Jones hunting Harrison Ford in the remake of THE FUGITIVE could show up in Laketown for another endless, endless scene of elf wonderboy Legolas shooting orcs with his elf wonder bowmanship! YEAH!
Oh, yes, you recall all those Dwarf warriors and warlords who go to war, and cut things in bits with axes and are as doughty and terrible as all getout because they do not retreat and they never get tired and they are ferocious and tough as the rocks they cleave? And strong as enough to slay orcs in secret wars hidden in dank tunnels far beneath the earth?
Remember those dwarves? Those dwarves are not in this movie.
No, in this movie, the wife and the little children of the smuggler do more damage to the attacking orcs than the dwarves. The dwarves are here for comedy relief.
Oh, and instead of goblins, who, you know, act like a horde of barbaric and vicious fighters, and do things like cover the battlefield and use scimitars and recurved bows to shoot enemies, in THIS movie there were ultrasupersneaky ninja-goblins! Looks like the Stupidity Hammer landed a solid blow on my medulla oblongata!
We have a scene where ninja-goblins are wafting across rooftops, using their ninja-karate-magic to hide from the guards. I am sure I saw a scene where they used suction cups to climb a skyscraper or special radioactive insect clinging powers, but maybe I am confusing them with The Shadow, or with the Spiderman. Or maybe Peter Jackson was.
Okay so then there was another fight, this time between ninja-orcs and the awesome flying acrobat ninjette-bowgirl elf. I think her name is Arrowette or Artemis or something.
Just kidding. To be quite honest, the actress Evangeline Lilly is not only quite attractive, she handles both the demands of the acting and a physical stunts very well. Indeed, I am afraid I have a bit of a crush on her, with her long lustrous hair, her finely chiseled cheekbones, her kissing-soft feminine lips, her soft curves aching with the promise of luscious loveplay … Oh, wait a minute. I am think I am looking at Orlando Bloom. Er, never mind. Sorry, Miss Lilly.
Just when I picked myself again off the sticky floor of the theater, blearily wondering where the Hobbit character after whom this movie was apparently named might be hiding, BAM! The familiar Hammer came down again. This time, it was a scene where Orlando Bloom is standing a zillion feet away from the evil orc bounty hunter Slopgog the Unmentionable or whatever his name is, and he does not shoot him with an elf arrow.
I sat there, rocking back and forth with my eyes crossed, and through the stream of drool and vitreous humor leaking down my chin I muttered again and again, “Shoot him with an elf arrow. Shoot. Him. With. An. Elf. Arrow. SHOOT HIM WITH AN ELF ARROW!”
But no. No elf arrow was forthcoming.
Blogsnog the Debunker or whatever his name strolled in a leisurely fashion down the narrow walkway of Laketown, not ducking for cover, and meanwhile no one was calling for the town guard, and the elf guy continued not to shoot him with an elf arrow.
You see, the film slimer, er, maker, wanted this scene to be like a gunfight in an iconic Western, with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne staring at each other with narrowed eyes as each strides menacingly ever closer, spurs jangling with each step. Of course, in a Western, both are armed with revolvers, and both are wary of making the first move lest the other man prove fast enough to draw and shoot first, but then both shooters want to close the distance to improve their aim. That is what makes such scenes tense.
Here was what makes a sense spectacularly NOT tense. One guy has a gun and the other had a knife, or a club, or maybe strangling wire or even a stick of butter, because no one gives a rat’s fart for what the other guy has because you can shoot him first.
If you have the weapon that, you know, shoots, you can shoot the guy who has no weapon that shoots, and so there is no downside to letting him see you go for your gun, or, for that matter, use a winch to load your crossbow in a leisurely manner, because you can raise it and turn him into a pincushion before he can attack you with his club or strangling wire. Or stick of butter.
In such a case, he will be running toward you at full speed, because if he walks a menacing walk, well, that give you time to roll a cigarette, light it, put your foot in the stirrup thingie on the crossbow, clamp it to your belt winch, and crank the string back, yawn, read a magazine, drop a bolt in the slot, check the grease on the bolt, aim, make vacation plans, check the wind speed, and fire a bolt through this heart and left lung and out his back in a three-dee spray of unnamed orcish life fluids.
Unless you are superspeed acrobat the wonder elf, in which case you can shoot him nine times a second and spell out your monogram in his vital organs.
Well, who cares? Neither character was in the book anyway. I think I lost consciousness at that moment, overcome by the fumes of the butter-substitute substance coating the theater floor between the seats. I woke a little later, and elfboy still had not shot Urgslug the Irkisonic, or whatever his name is. My wife had to stuff a wide handful of popcorn flavored food substitute into my face, in order to smother the broken, wretched burbling — shoot him … with … an elf arrow.
Of course, the wife was shouting SHOOT HIM at the screen during this event, so the point of her behavior was not clear. Maybe she remembered that I invited her to this turkey, and we paid for many children and my mother in law.
I was semi-conscious for a long and dreary and utterly pointless scene where the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was looking for the one last remaining black harpoon thing what was the only McGuffin that could kill the dragon, and then only when fired from a standing catapult that looked like it had been designed by the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. Why there were not a hundred of these, and scores of giant harpoon shooters, I do not know. But I am glad that Ishmael and Queequeg will appear in the sequel.
As it turns out, it did not matter that I, or for that matter the script writer, were only semi-conscious because, as with everything else in this movie, nothing comes from the scene and nothing led up to it.
Please, let no purists tell me that Bard and his Black Arrow were indeed in the book. You are mistaken. You are confusing them with Kirk Douglas’s character Ned LAND in Disney’s TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. He is the one who harpooons the evil dragon with his dragon harpoon. In Tolkien, Bard the Archer shoots an arrow. Got it? Arrow. Pointy thing. Flies. Like what the superelves use.
The next time I regained consciousness, it was in time to view one of my most favorite scenes not merely from Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT, but indeed from all literature whatsoever. You know what scene I mean!
Bilbo, donning his ring of invisibility, is pressured by the justifiably frightened dwarves to sneak into the lair of the loathsome wereworm, Smaug the Great, who is found asleep on the heaps of horded gold.
Bilbo steals a single cup, the smallest trifle, and this wakes the dragon to wrath, who emerges from the mountain on wings of flame, and finds and destroys the dwarvish camp, and eats their ponies. The dwarves flee into a secret door, hiding in an upper corridor, unwilling to go down and see what Smaug is about when he returns, shivering with rage, to his unclean burrow.
Those of you who are keen on literary references will see the parallel. In BEOWULF we recall the nameless escaped slave who, happening upon the grave of dead kings, enters it seeking shelter, and instead finds the wereworm aslumber on the heaped horde.
… At the awful sight
tottered that guest, and terror seized him;
yet the wretched fugitive rallied anon
from fright and fear ere he fled away,
and took the cup from that treasure-hoard.
He steals a cup to bribe his lord to receive him again and forgive his escape attempt. But
the sequel is horrific:[…]
When the dragon awoke, new woe was kindled.
… discovered soon
that some one of mortals had searched his treasure,
his lordly gold. The guardian waited
ill-enduring till evening came;
boiling with wrath was the barrow’s keeper,
and fain with flame the foe to pay
for the dear cup’s loss.—Now day was fled
as the worm had wished. By its wall no more
was it glad to bide, but burning flew
folded in flame: a fearful beginning
for sons of the soil; and soon it came,
in the doom of their lord, to a dreadful end.
The whole point of the scene is the difference between a good and kindly lord, one who
open-handedly rewards his brave earls for their faithful service in battle, and the insane greed of the dragon, who cannot bear to part even with the smallest trifle, but who knows every article and implement and coin to the smallest detail.
As in Beowulf, so here. This second time Bilbo enters the stifling lair, the canny dragon wakes, and sweeps the dark around with his hypnotic, penetrating eyes, but Bilbo is invisible. Bilbo is clever enough to amuse the dragon with flattery and riddles, putting the noisome monster off his guard.
I am pleased to say that my favorite line—or at least part of it—appeared in the midst of this mockery and wreckage of one of my favorite books.
“The King under the Mountain is dead and where are his kin that dare seek revenge? Girion Lord of Dale is dead, and I have eaten his people like a wolf among sheep, and where are his sons’ sons that dare approach me? I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong, strong. Thief in the Shadows!” he gloated. “My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”
And then, as by now we should have suspected, the steam-powered Stupidity Hammer caved into the front of my skull with the force of a pile driver. Because Bilbo took the ring off.
Okay, I get it. I get the idea. This movie is a sequel to the successful FELLOWSHIP, and the audience knows the ring is actually the One Ring, and therefore major mojo and bad news and so on. It is supposed to simply scream EE-VIL-LL whenever it appears on screen, and ergo again Bilbo has to yank it off his finger as often as possible so as not to become a shadow beneath the vaster shadow of the Dark Lord. I got it. I got the concept.
But the execution of the concept was a big, fat skull-whack from the now all-too-familiar Stupidity Hammer.
Smaug can defy armies of men and elves, but when a three foot tall burglar materializes right in front of his nose, he can suddenly neither bite nor strike nor breathe fire. Or, rather he does all these things, but is suddenly effected by some odd nerve disease that makes it impossible for him to control his limbs, so the bane of the Lonely Mountain, the destroyer of kingdoms, the scourge of Esgaroth, he flails and spits flame and hits to the left and right of his targets.
Just so we are clear on this point: Smaug suddenly and for no reason find he cannot kill a perfectly visible hobbit, because Bilbo suddenly and for no reason thought it was a good idea to doff his magic ring while standing before the dragon ergo so as to make himself perfectly visible.
Well, things go from bad — no, excuse me, they were already WAY past bad. This dial had been cranked up to eleven when the meter only goes to ten — things go from inexcusably stupid to indescribably stupid.
I should not attempt to describe it. The pain … the pain …
And yet I must! It is my penance for having spent real money on this turkey and inadvertently aided the forces of brain-gag by rewarding them for this craptastic jerktrocious smegbladder of a film. My money crossed their palms! Peter Jackson went out and bought himself a Starbucks cup of coffee with the four bucks he got from the forty dollars I spent on tickets! Forgive me, O Muses! I MUST SUFFER! (And you shall suffer with me, dear reader.)
The next scene is almost too stupidcallafragilisticexpeallidumbass for words to describe it. In fact, in the last sentence, was something that was not a word and did not describe it, proving my point. But what happened next is this:
When the dwarves heard the ruckus of Smaug unable to kill Bilbo, they decided Smaug must be the biggest pussywillow in Middle Earth, and unable to hit the broad side of a lonely mountain, because the twelve (or is it ten?) short men scrambled down into the lair and stronghold of the diabolical monster who killed WHOLE FINGOLFIN ARMIES and KINGDOMS and CRUD LIKE THAT because he is MORE OF A BADASS THAN FINGON GODZILLA!
Where was I? Oh, yeah, on the floor, in the fetal position, weeping blood from my eyes and brain goop from my ears, calling on mommy to make it stop. But. It. Won’t. Stop.
The comedy relief pantomime dwarves, who could not manage to fight a group of shrimpy, non-fire-breathing goblins except with elf acrobat-ninja help while wearing comedy relief barrels, now attack Godzilla. The rockets of the jets and the gunfire of the tanks of the Japanese Self Defense Forces can do nothing against the monster, and wading through the high tension power lines only enrages him, so he ignites a petroleum refinery.
But the dwarves come to attack him, and their plan is to dance on his nose.
They ignite the furnaces, thinking perhaps that hot things will hurt the demon-serpent whose inward parts are filled with fire hotter than any furnace in Middle Earth can achieve. Good thinking. If that works, you and Thor head out to find the water-breathing sea-serpent coiled around the world and drown it. In water.
Now, no doubt you are asking — well, if the dwarves are so hardcore balls-o’-brass brave in this scene, why were they so cautious about the army-eating dragon earlier? I mean, this is a monster that eats armies. He deep fat fries them and eats whole armies.
I dimly recall that there were some scenes of short people swinging on long lines, unless I am confusing this with a similar scene where Frankenstein’s monster while trying to escape from Dracula was spidermanning across a deep chasm in the movie VAN HELSING. Or maybe that was Spiderman trying to escape from Doctor Octopus atop a speeding train. Or maybe it was the last board in the famous video game DRAGONSLAYER made by that guy who animated RATS OF NIHM. I dunno. It is all a popcorn-oil-flavored blur now.
With the infinite weariness of one who wishes only to die and be reborn due to bad karma as a stinging centipede, I pried open one gummy, tear-crusted eye and focused it dimly at the great shining screen of neverending movie dumbness.
I saw a giant statue of a dwarf king made of molten gold fall over on the dragon. It hit the dragon and he shook it off, sending expensive droplets, worth a thousand dollars an ounce, off in every direction. He is not hurt in any way.
That was the plan.
It was a two step plan: Step (1) dance on the dragon’s nose and then Step (2) construct or find a conveniently placed Lady Liberty-sized master mold of a cast statue of Durin the Great or someone, fill it with the molten gold conveniently stacked and prepared in the furnaces, which conveniently all heat up to the proper temperature and need no crew to work any of their moving parts, and wait until the flying version of Godzilla, the guy who EATS WHOLE FUNDIN ARMIES is hovering on his vast batlike wings right in the exact right spot, and drop the entire molten statue on his head, because he will be too surprised and stupefied to use his vast batlike wings to move eight meters to the left or two meter up and ergo avoid the falling Lady Liberty-sized but still hissingly molten statue of Durin the Great or someone.
Ah, but not to worry, because the third part of the plan, right after the dragon shakes off the molten gold because it cannot hurt him in any way, is better than the first two parts! In the third part of the plan, the dragon shakes off the molten gold and opens his mouth and breathes out fire which kills every living thing in the chamber where he is and all the corridors and chambers to each side of him, as he destroys everything in his vast, inhuman, unstoppable rage.
The dragon then uses his nose like a bloodhound, and scents his foes, if any survived, and follows them one by screaming one, slithering his snaky body into narrow spaces if need be, or if the prey attempts to hide in holes too small for him, he vomit fire on them, burns up all the oxygen in the room, and laughs while they die.
Failing that, he topples titanic pillars and statues to block any escape exists he discovers, and then goes to the main gate and takes up a position and waits for them to starve to death, all the while shouting out mocking riddles to them, or perhaps catching the king’s deer and, with puffs of his fiery breath, cooking the venison so they can smell the savory fumes.
Whoops, I am sorry, that is not the third part of the plan. The third part of the plan is that the dragon loves the idea of people breaking into his lair and taking his stuff, and he does not really want to disturb them, and so he flies away to go attack Laketown, perhaps because he is miffed at the customs agents who are stopping the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and mad about the treatment of French aristocrats.
To be continued in our next episode. Perhaps there will be even less of Bilbo in Part Three.
Let us be clear on that last, dumb, super dumb, stupidly dumb scene of dumbfounding dumbness.
Got the plan?
Let us review, one more time, the steps of this awesome, awesome plan: 1. Send down Bilbo. 2. Have him take off his magic ring while standing directly in front of the dragon’s nose. 3. Listen for the sound of the dragon inexplicably not killing the hobbit in one eighth of one second. 4. Rush into the dragon’s lair. 5. Hope he misses you while trying to swat you. 6. Dance on nose. 7. Swung on things, run in circles. 8. Hit him with a zillion cubic feet of molten metal. Watch to make sure he is not wounded or inconvenienced in any way as he shakes it off. 9. Watch as he flies off for no reason whatsoever, during the one moment when nothing in Middle Earth or Upper Heaven or Lower Hell could possibly have forced him to depart, namely, the very moment when someone is trespassing on his horde.
Since that was the plan anyway, I wonder why the plan was not to forget about the stupid map and key and Durin’s Day and all that rigmarole, march into the front gate, hope dragon misses, et cetera, and watch him fly off to go burn Laketown, and then gather up as much loot as your donkeys can carry. Repeat every week for 151 weeks or until you have all the hoard.
The paramedics had to haul my broken and bleeding body and wet, soggy brain out from the theater after the riot police, mistaking my hysterical leaping and gargling caused by post-traumatic movie disorder for a threatening gesture, had been forced to club me down, and as I was dragged away, leaving a long slimy snail trail of popcorn butter-flavored oil behind, my last words could be heard, as weak as twitching ants blinded by exposure to fumigation fumes who crawl out into the sunlight to die: “Shoot… him.. with… an… elf… arrow….”