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Experiencing The Desolation of Smaug

            If you want to enjoy The Desolation of Smaug, you need to forget Tolkien’s The Hobbit because Peter Jackson’s movie strays quite a bit from the novel.  I’ll explain how, but I also want to reflect on the mystifying and perhaps troubling experience of going to the theater.

            Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was excellent.  Its chief weaknesses were his limited additions to Tolkien’s storyline.  The first segment of his cinematic version of The Hobbit increased this tendency and in addition began to rewrite parts of the story, much to its disadvantage (See my post “Hobbits as Heroes” ).  Peter Jackson intrudes even more in The Desolation of Smaug.  The result is that you get some fast-paced elf action, a literally incredible dwarf challenge to the dragon and a very well done Smaug, but the greed of the dwarves, the mystery of Beorn and the gloomy oppression of Mirkwood Forest are lost. 

            Jackson also makes a couple of errors.  Dwarves going down the rapids in open barrels would meet a watery grave, not make a thrilling escape while threatened by orcs. Furthermore, how did the dwarves manage to have all that money after they had been imprisoned by the wood elves? 

            However, the most baffling moment of the evening for me actually came at the conclusion of the film.  Immediately upon its completion little lights came on all around the theater.  People were checking their cell phones.  It was most wondrous strange.  I would attribute my perplexity to a generational difference, but patrons of all ages were doing it.  People didn’t talk about the movie.  They certainly didn’t remain seated and think about it or even savor the movie for a little longer.

            What does this mean?  I am sure that no one was dealing with an emergency or had an appointment they needed to verify on a Friday night.  In fact, I’m not sure anyone was actually calling another person.  No.  It would appear that for most of the moviegoers the experience was over, and it was time to move on to something different.  A couple of patrons whom I observed more closely were working through the various icons on their phones to find something that interested them, something that would stimulate them visually, I suspect.

            As my colleague Trent Leach, who has an excellent blog by the way (, never tires of reminding our students at Cair Paravel Latin School, amusement literally means “not thinking.”  I am concerned for my “amusing” fellow human beings because not thinking makes them less human and more like beasts, passively absorbing the stimuli of the entertainment industry like Nebuchadnezzar grazing cow-like on the grass after having lost his mind.  Ironically, by not reflecting on the entertainment, they also lose out on the pleasure that comes from discussing with others what they had just experienced.             

            If anyone has some other explanation for this behavior, please enlighten me.  In the meantime, The Desolation of Smaug is a middling fun fantasy adventure movie.  Watch it, if you want, but if you do, go out with your friends afterwards, grab a bite and talk about it.  Or far better yet, read Tolkien’s Hobbit and really have some fun.  If not, you’ll experience a desolation far worse than any dragon could bring upon you.


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