Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tolkien Month Part 5: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

     Well, this is awkward. This article is not only the last part of our “Tolkien Month” series, but it is also (probably) the last article of “Reel Christianity”. And yet, the movie I’m writing about is not that great, in my opinion. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a huge “Hobbit” fan, or even a big “LOTR” fan, but I have been pretty underwhelmed by these “Hobbit” movies. I really hope next year’s “There and Back Again” at least doesn’t end like a suspenseful TV episode like these other two have.

     Anyway, I apologize for the complaining. “The Desolation of Smaug”, which seems to me to be just as bloated as “An Unexpected Journey”, follows Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, Thorin Oakenshield, and the rest of the dwarves on their quest to defeat the Necromancer and restore the dwarves’ land. And again, I’ll cut to the important stuff in this article, because the movie adds an unnecessary subplot with a bunch of Elves (including Orlando Bloom’s Legolas for some reason) and extends their journey to the dragon much more than it needed to be.

     While Gandalf is off doing some other stuff (my assumption is Ian McKellan’s contract limited the amount he had to be in the movies), Bilbo and the dwarves escape an Orc attack, although dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) is wounded in the midst of battle. They encounter Bard (Luke Evans), a man who helps the dwarves escape by hiding them in barrels of fish on a ship he takes to his home in Lake-town, where his son and two daughters are waiting for him. But after suspicions arise and the dwarves are exposed, Thorin has to defend himself, Bard (a descendant of some men responsible for the Necromancer’s attack in the first place), and the rest of the dwarves.

     Eventually, after most of the group has gone further on their quest and a few others stay behind with Kili to look after him, Orcs attack Lake-town, and Bard takes a lead role in defeating them while Legolas and a female elf named Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who Kili falls in love with and who was written only for the film, come to help too. But Bilbo, Thorin, and the others (while Gandalf is still away and apparently in a battle with Sauron himself), use a map to find a hidden cave filled with treasure where the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch in the only performance worth remembering) sleeps.

     Bilbo looks in the cave for the Arkenstone, a glowing white jewel that belongs to Thorin’s ancestors, but wakes up Smaug in the process and begins a battle with him. The dwarves come and fight with Bilbo against the Necromancer, and they seem at one point to outwit him by burying him in molten gold, but Smaug seems to easily get up out of it, shake off the gold, and go flying toward Lake-town to destroy it. Believe me, it’s an abrupt ending, and it wouldn’t have had to be if Peter Jackson had just made “The Hobbit” in two parts instead of three.

     I think the thing that really frustrated me about this film, however, was the fact that I planned to identify Christ-like figures within the film and could not find any big ones. “The Lord of the Rings” had better character developments that helped me find them there, but not “The Hobbit”, and that’s why I really enjoy “LOTR” more than these films. However, there are still a couple characters that learn to sacrifice their safety that I’d like to talk about here.

     The first is Bard, who comes from the line of Girion, of the City of Men who ruled during Smaug’s attack years ago (which is driving the dwarves to go and reclaim their homeland… at least I think that’s what’s going on). Bard, whose wife is dead/abandoned/make-believe, leaving him with his three children and seemingly down on his luck. He seems similar to Aragorn from “LOTR” in that his ancestors are known for abandoning their morals during a crisis, and he has fears that he will either be solely remembered for that and/or he will do the same when the time comes. (Now that I think about it, that’s actually a cool character study. Good job, “Desolation of Smaug”.)

     But when the dwarves approach him (well, okay, bribe him) to take them away from the impending Orc invasion to a safe place, Bard has a choice. He can support them in their journey and keep them from harm, or he can take their money, rat them out, and not worry about them. And at one point, it does seem like he is selling them to another man—but it turns out he is making a deal to fill the barrels that they are hiding in with fish to sneak them into Lake-town. Bard’s sacrifice and desire to help the dwarves’ cause could cost him a lot, and when the film ends with Smaug headed towards his home, it seems that Bard did indeed risk his life to save the dwarves.

     But Bard did what he did to save the lives of others—and possibly to redeem his family line—and risking his neck to save others’ is the kind of sacrifice Christ made. And I understand that none of the sacrifices that any of these characters make in any of these movies amounts to that of Christ, but as human beings (or elves, dwarves, and Hobbits in these films), the least we can do to repay Him for it is by offering up our own lives. And as the theme verse of the month says, our sacrifice should be that of Christ: “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2b)

     The other Christ-like example that I’d like to discuss from this film, however, is much less obvious: Thorin Oakenshield. In fact, in a lot of respects, Thorin seems to be the character farthest away from a Christ-like figure. He’s bitter about the taking of his homeland. He’s distrusting towards anyone he crosses paths with. He gives up hope easily. And his motives for reclaiming his homeland in the first place seems to be for selfish motives—and probably is! At the mountain containing Smaug’s lair, as the dwarves hear from outside a battle going on inside between Bilbo and the dragon, Balin (Ken Stott), one of the older dwarves, tries to convince Thorin to lead them all in and help him, but Thorin refuses.

THORIN: I will not risk this quest for the life of one burglar!

BALIN: Bilbo! His name is Bilbo.

     Thorin, to be frank, is kind of a jerk. However, after searching his conscience, he decides to lead the dwarves inside and help Bilbo (not before immediately asking Bilbo if he found the Arkenstone, of course). He tells them before creating the molten gold:

THORIN: If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together!

     My hope is that Thorin Oakenshield becomes a little more humble in “There and Back Again” next year. But until then, I have this to say. Thorin has selfish tendencies, disregard for others, and motives in the wrong places. However, who among us has not? I can even point to figures in Scripture who were selfish and consequently disobeyed God. As written in 2 Samuel 11-12, King David slept with Bathsheba and had her husband killed in battle, and God reprimanded him. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lied about their offerings to God and were subsequently struck down by Him. And even the Apostle Peter denied knowing Jesus three times after He had been arrested and was immediately convicted. There are so many Biblical figures—and so many of us readers, including myself—who are guilty of being so, so selfish.

     But here’s the shocking news: there is grace for us. Christ died so that we may live, and because of this, we no longer have to let ourselves be enslaved by selfishness, because now we have a Lord who we can constantly turn to for help. Check out what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:

     For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (6:9-14)

     I have no idea what “There and Back Again” is going to look like (hopefully I won’t hate it), but I am looking forward to the redemption of Thorin Oakenshield, his land, and everyone in the world of “The Hobbit”. But I also pray for us in this world, that we can daily forsake the desires of our flesh and strive for the desires of Christ.

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