The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t have the whimsical quality of adventure that was featured in its predecessor. Although there is comic relief a-plenty in the first half of the movie, as the sprawling journey continues late into the second act, the adventure is much more treacherous, with dark sorcery and a “shadow that grows in darkness.” The ring itself has an intensifying presence, which is necessary to raise the stakes for a sequel; it is at once employed by Bilbo in helping the heroes and undermining their cause.
As the dwarves journey back to Erebor, they come across many characters that are affected in similar ways by the growing darkness, and each responds to this knowledge in similar fashion. Beor, a “skin changer,” or man/bear (or ‘bare’ man, if you like, since he shows his backside in the moonlight after changing from beast to man) interests himself only in protecting his own land and borders. Likewise, the wood elves, including Legolas, only protect their territory. All, except the dwarves and Legolas’s love interest, are unwilling to take the fight to their enemy – which plays right into his hands. Laketown, for example, a wasteland that was once a thriving city, is allowing the dragon to sleep – unwilling to attack, allowing their enemy to strengthen.
For all their bullheadedness and mistrust, the dwarves’ courage is their redeeming virtue, even if they are forced to risk it all because their kingdom has already been taken. This irony is the connecting tissue in a story that covers a lot of geographical ground and many plot-lines.
However, the movie does fall short concerning the dwarves’ love of their kingdom. It would have been much more compelling with just a few more minutes of dialogue among the dwarves reminiscing over their lost home, in order to understand what it means to them and how it’s changed them. This, and allowing the camera to rest on the key characters for more than a split second so that the audience could read them, would have gone a long way in conveying their personal loss.
The way the audience sees their longing to reclaim their kingdom is in their willingness to fight Smaug, but they are a barbaric and stubborn people by nature anyway. This willingness by itself doesn’t clearly convey their deep sense of loss. There is great opportunity to sharpen the contrast between the dwarves’ love of gold and their love for the place they call home that isn’t touched on except in a few fleeting moments in the last hour of the movie. These moments are sandwiched between their journey to Erebor and the tension-wrought pause before they enter Smaug’s stolen treasure hoard.
Even so, the movie is supremely enjoyable, while intense, and the sequel keeps much of the same lighthearted spirit among the dwarves as they Forest-Gump their way through adventure, with some good fortune (a major theme in J.R.R. Tolkein’s books), help from friends and unwitting foes, and the power of loyalty.
One particular scene stands out above all, unifying other scenes that offer exposition of the worsening condition of Middle Earth. The dwarves and their thief, Bilbo, are deep in a forest, possessed by a spirit of deception. The deeper the caravan travels into the heart of the forest, the more saturated their minds are with deception and that carries a terrible weight. Bilbo climbs a tree to get his bearings, and once he clears the cover of the forest, his mind is free from confusion, duress and the growing anger that began to turn the group on itself.
Speaking as a Christian, this scene is a clear picture of the respite the believer needs from the world, in order to further the Kingdom of God here, and it is well paired with the picture of courage that is necessary in taking the fight to our spiritual enemy.