The Hobbit: Get Ready for Smaug to Desolate

The trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is finally here. Only question is, Why do we have to wait another six months? I can’t get to the theater fast enough for this.

Radagast returns. Smaug is terrifying. Giant spiders and Beorn are finally on our doorstep. Even Legolas is back, and seemingly has a huge role to play (which is awesome!). The cast and crew are bringing a bigger, more epic story than the original book ever could. And even as a Tolkien devotee, I have to admit, I am absolutely delighted with that decision. Everything about this is shaping up into something incredible, and I couldn’t be happier.

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The Small Things

I learned today that March 20th will be the 85th birthday of Fred Rogers. As I have said already, he is one of my inspirations and role models. No matter how dark things can become, no matter how strong evil seems to be, Rogers helped remind us all that there’s no reason to give up or give in. He showed us what “the faith of a child” looked like, and reflected the patience and goodwill of the God he served. If I can one day become half as genuine and kindhearted as he was, I’ll count myself blessed.

To make the coming week even sweeter, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be out on DVD the day before. I love just about everything about that film, including its sweeping scope and exciting battles and marvelous creatures…but the quieter, more poignant moments (like the one below) brought tears to my eyes. And they still do, no matter how many times I watch them.

It shouldn’t matter that it’s not in the book. That scene feels very much like something Tolkien would write, doesn’t it?

Today I finally realized another reason this scene might hit so close to home for me: Gandalf seems to echo not only Tolkien, but Rogers as well. It shows the best of Rogers’s faith and philosophy, the kindness and empathy that I give up on all too easily.

The greatest heroes among men are not necessarily those who command massive armies or wield the loudest voices. Often they are the people who excel at the small things, the “simple acts of kindness and love” that every person can mirror and pay forward.

Happy early birthday, Fred. Thank you for reminding me and millions of others and showing us what unconditional love looks like. Thank you for being a leader in quiet humility. Thank you for being exactly who you seemed to be.

My Return to Middle Earth

Well, I am back from seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. What did I think of it?

Hobbit

Run like the wind to the cinema! Go! Now!

Peter Jackson and company have taken us back to Middle Earth, which of course is already a compelling reason to go see it. But they also fulfilled my hopes and dreams, doing justice to Tolkien’s timeless book while adding layers to the story. I was grinning through most of the film, and was completely enraptured. The performances are astounding, especially the main three: Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen is back and amazing as ever as Gandalf the Grey, and Richard Armitage holds his own as the charismatic, intense king of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. Andy Serkis delivers a Gollum that is even more convincing and remarkable than the one in the trilogy, if that was possible.

Of course, the special effects and landscapes are beyond beautiful (New Zealand is proof that there is a God). The Dwarves are by turns hilarious and rip-roaring awesome. Howard Shore delivers a terrific musical score that stirs the heart and puts visions of dragons and fires and grand adventures in your mind. Really, must I go into detail? It felt like going back home. I could hardly be happier with the result. In fact, I have to confess something that might be blasphemy: I liked it more than the book. There are fewer times when Bilbo is saved by “sheer luck.” He has to rely more on his own wits and the assistance of the Dwarves or Gandalf to get him out of sticky situations. Plus, all of the extra stuff they’re pulling in from Tolkien’s appendices gives the movie a greater epic quality, and heightens the stakes of the main adventure to the Lonely Mountain.

Of course, it seems as if some aren’t nearly as delighted about it. Critics and nerds across the world are in fidgeting rage over this film. Did they kill Gandalf at the end? Nope. Is Smaug the dragon wearing a tutu? We don’t see much of him, but I didn’t notice any pink lace.

Evidently, the reason everyone’s tying their undergarments in a slip knot is the deliberate pace of An Unexpected Journey. Yup. A deliberate pace. All right, if your heart attack is over, I’d like to calmly explain why this shouldn’t earn the movie a paltry 65% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies require an audience who is in it for the long haul. The beginning of this film does require a little patience. And the scene with the three trolls around a campfire, though fun and funny, might have benefited from a bit of extra editing. I grant that much. But why should these count so heavily against the film, when Jackson has made it clear that he will be spinning a much larger tapestry than what Tolkien’s children’s book alone could hold? He is fleshing out Middle Earth itself, casting light on the milieu of Tolkien’s astounding creation.

Given such circumstances, I find a nice slow beginning not only acceptable but arguably necessary. It’s the same reason I didn’t object in the slightest to Return of the King having “too many” endings. I’d just seen ten hours of an epic story unfolding through three movies and dozens of characters. There had better be a lot of endings, so we can be satisfied that each character and subplot gets some kind of resolution even as the larger tale slowly draws to a close.

I’ve been going through Orson Scott Card’s book Characters and Viewpoint (which I highly recommend), and one of the latest chapters I’ve read devotes several paragraphs to showing how Tolkien is a storyteller who focuses on the world, fleshing it out to show us a place so convincing and detailed, you believe it might actually exist. Tidy narratives and compelling characters do sometimes find a place in the setting, but the attention is on Middle Earth itself. This is even true of The Hobbit as a book, which is a shorter adventure tale. Even here, where the plot is much more reined in than Lord of the Rings, Tolkien takes his time to show us the people of Dale, outline the customs of Hobbits, flesh out the family line of Bilbo Baggins, and makes us feel the anguish of the Dwarves whose mountain and treasure has been cruelly stolen by the dragon Smaug. Even here, Tolkien makes the world as much a character as Gandalf or Bilbo or Thorin.

The director and writers are taking their time to set the stage for a grander story, a story I can’t wait to see unfold. I have come to trust this crew of people, given what they accomplished with Lord of the Rings. If they want to tell a larger tale through this new trilogy, they are more than welcome to do so.

Well done, ladies and gentlemen. You have delivered one of the greatest movies of the year, and you captured my imagination all over again.

First Scene from “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

I know I have talked quite a bit about the new Hobbit movie in recent weeks, but this is one bit of news I just couldn’t neglect to mention. After the premiere in Wellington last night, the first short clip has emerged. It’s the moment when Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves have found a weapons cache and the old wizard decides to give Bilbo a very valuable gift.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!