The year is ending soon, sooner than you expected, sooner than you are prepared to accept. Before you know it, you will be packing your regret-bindle near to bursting with the accumulated disappointments of yet another 12 squandered months and toting it back to the place of your birth, where you and your family can temporarily ignore it while sitting down together for a nice ham. The unpacking will come later, after a couple of glasses of nog — oh now you’re going to have a light hand with the rum, Dad, really? — and a clumsy insinuation or two about that thing they won’t let go, the thing they’re forbidden to ever mention over threats of spending the holidays on a distant beach. Dear God, who are these people and how did they make you? Nog me again, Mom, nog me good. I’m gonna go to the living room and see if there’s anything good on in the fireplace.
If these are the thoughts that plague you as you realize time is running short before your yearly pilgrimage to Dysfunctional Bethlehem, may we suggest you set aside some time during this precious pre-family weekend to escape to the multiplex? We wouldn’t dare to tell you exactly what to see when you arrive there, but what we can do is arm you with all the information necessary to make the best possible decision about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the movie opening on the largest number of screens this Friday and the prohibitive favorite to wear the holiday box-office crown. Maybe it’s for you, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’re more of A Madea Christmas or repeat-viewing Catching Fire person. Read on and let us help you decide whether you’d like to dump $14 in loose gold onto a rude dragon’s treasure pile as a warm-up for the $400 you’ll soon lay on the couch of a napping therapist, because, really, your family problems are boring.
Do you have green eyes?
Green eyes are really nice. You should feel very lucky. You could have brown eyes, which are relatively boring. Or blue eyes, like crazy people. We bet you get complimented on them all the time.
READ ON. We are only asking you because we ALWAYS ask the next type of question first, and let’s NOT ALLOW ourselves to become TOO PREDICTABLE. It’s good to MIX THINGS UP, even if it’s just to make yourself FEEL SOMEWHAT BETTER about your LACK OF IMAGINATION.
Have you seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the first Hobbit movie?
We always seem to start with this kind of question for the latter installments of franchise films, as if your past ticket-buying decisions have dictated a path that delivers you, supine and broken-willed, right to the doorstep of a sequel. But in this case it’s particularly germane; you’ve made a very significant time commitment to the series. Maybe you’ve seen all 35 hours of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, including the Blu-ray bonus material of Peter Jackson personally hot-gluing surplus orc horns onto mangy sheep. Maybe you’ve seen all 146 hours of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which pulled off the not-insignificant feat of turning one-third of a slim book into a test of wills between completist filmmaker and exhausted fan.
SEE IT. Come on. What’s another THREE-ISH HOURS between friends who have wasted SO MUCH TIME together already? It would be STUPID NOT TO. It’s the blink of a flaming death-eye. Cool SAURON REFERENCE.
Were you disappointed by the first Hobbit movie, and bothered by its length?
There is some good news here, which might even lift the vague depression of realizing your previous time expenditures in the cinematic Tolkien universe have amounted to so much dissipated pipe-weed smoke blowing over the hastily abandoned Shire of your life. (Or do you prefer to call it Halfling’s Leaf? We can LOTR-wiki that shit with the best of them, Bilbro.)
Anyway: This one is better. Perhaps a lot better? It’s definitely shorter. And better-paced, at least to our recollection of An Unexpected Journey, which, admittedly, we only sat through in its entirety one time, because have you heard that it was 146 hours long? It was exactly that long, to the minute, we sundialed it ourselves. A full repeat journey is mathematically impossible for most responsible lifestyles. HBO has broken it into 19 parts. Sometimes we catch one of those and it still seems a little sloggy.
SEE IT. Really, it’s just 20 MINUTES SHORTER, but it’s a MAGIC-MISSING 20 MINUTES.
Did you like that part in the first one where the dwarves sang forever?
The dwarves don’t sing at all. And they certainly don’t sing their endless dwarf-carols to drag out the world’s longest hobbit dinner party like they did the last time. Do we sound almost weirdly upset about the singing? There was so much singing. It’s the thing we remember most vividly about An Unexpected Journey, other than that goblin with decaying scrotum on his chin. We still wake up clutching our face once in a while, hoping that we won’t find a testes-filled wattle dangling there; or some dwarves singing a song about it, and maybe poking at it with the butts of their dwarf-axes, because they are drunk, awful creatures.
SKIP IT. If you require MORE DRUNKEN DWARFAOKE, watch the first 45 minutes of the old one again.
Do you (still) believe that high frame rate is the future of movies?
You may recall that a crucial part of the An Unexpected Journey marketing campaign was Jackson evangelizing for the 48 frames–per-second presentation of the film, as that was the format in which it was intended to be seen, as well as the way he believes we will all be watching movies In The Future. This was also the format in which it was screened for critics, who, by and large, flipped the eff out.
It should be noted that HFR was only available on a small number of screens, that virtually everybody who saw it did so in the traditional 24 frames–per-second way, and that the movie went on to gross a billion dollars worldwide.
It should also be noted that everyone who experienced The Hobbit in HFR ran from the auditorium screaming “I am not ready for this!” and poured molten popcorn butter into their pulsating eye sockets, so disturbed were they by the reality-shattering clarity of the images.
So no one’s pushing HFR hard this time. You can find it if you’re determined, but only in theaters where the butter spigots are safely behind the concession counters, because never again.
Find one of the HIGH FRAME RATE showings and SEE IT. It’s like when Bilbo PUTS ON THE RING, but instead of making everything LOOK ALL WAVY, the world BECOMES A SCARY-ASS 1978 BRITISH SOAP OPERA with VERY REALISTIC DRAGONS.
Are you a Tolkien purist?
If you’re the type of person who’s upset that Jackson put Legolas into The Hobbit films for fan service — or if you’re the type of person who’s even aware that Legolas isn’t supposed to be in these films — you are probably going to poop your tunic over how they invented the character of Tauriel for storytelling purposes.
Things become significantly more complicated for Tolkien purists who also happen to occupy the quirky subset of Lost fans who did not find the character of Kate totally off-putting, because Tauriel is, of course, played by Magic Island pariah Evangeline Lilly. Good luck to the unfortunate souls trapped in the intersection of that Venn diagram, wherever you are. Life must be interesting for you.
SKIP IT. Though you HAVE TO ADMIT that Evangeline Lilly was born to PLAY AN ELF who ENRAGES NERDS.
Do you like dragon stuff?
When the dragon’s name is right there in the title, it’s a solemn promise to you, the event-movie consumer, that you will be presented with all the dragon stuff you desire. Due to the immersive nature of the 3-D environment, you will be able to imagine, with very little effort, that your theater is a vast treasure chamber beneath a mountain kingdom, and that you yourself are an ancient lizard luxuriating under a shifting blanket of the unimaginable wealth you’ve hoarded. You will understand how annoying it is when your slumber is disturbed by a chatty thief attempting to distract you with transparent flattery while he pilfers an enchanted trinket. You will begin to fall asleep again right in the middle of the conversation, because, really, how much do the two of you have to say to one another? How many times can you pursue a motormouthed halfling over undulating dunes of gold, touching off avalanches of shimmering coins, before you run out of strategically deployed small talk? Yes, yes, you’re an all-powerful dragon with a lot of money, please ignore the dwarf army trying to reclaim its subterranean empire, and hey, nice eyes, handsome. A lot of times, apparently.
So yeah, there is dragon stuff. If anything, there is too much dragon stuff. But that’s the hazard of turning one book into three movies. This is the dragon movie.
SEE IT. Come on, DRAGON STUFF! Are you really going to complain about TOO MUCH DRAGON STUFF on your deathbed? PROBABLY NOT.
Are you a Cumberbitch?
Smaug (pronounced “SMOW-g”; the key is imagining you are eating cotton candy while standing on the mossy cliff above the Welsh coast, overlooking the churning, gray sea) is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. But you knew that if you are a proper Cumberbitch.
SEE IT. Brandercheeks Chumberwuzzle did not spend a lonely week with MOTION SENSORS glued to his MAJESTIC CHEEKBONES for you to IGNORE THIS ONE, like you did the JULIAN ASSANGE movie. Come through for him this time.
Do you find hobbit feet disgusting?
Ugh. Ugggggggggh. You see Bilbo’s feet like a thousand times. Seemingly every wide shot of the heroic Baggins is marred by his giant, flat feet floppity-flopping around like a pair of hairy, oblong pancakes. There are probably some very good reasons in the source material why the creatures with the absolute worst foot situation refuse to wear boots, but if they can defy Tolkien’s canon to invent a lady-elf with a taste for dwarves (we didn’t mention it before, but she’s also into dwarves), they can definitely fabricate an excuse for hobbits to visit the Shire cobbler before they set out on their adventures.
Unless you want to be HAUNTED FOR ALL YOUR DAYS by the image of Bilbo happily flopping around Middle-earth in those GIANT HAIRY RUBBER NIGHTMARE-TWINKIES, we strongly suggest you SKIP IT.
Do you like treacherous, narrow paths and/or winding, crumbling staircases?
There is no surface that the insane, unlicensed architects of Middle-earth won’t attempt to traverse with a treacherous, narrow path or a winding, crumbling staircase. Everywhere, paths and stairs. There’s a disappearing, madness-inducing path through a spider-infested forest. There are stone stairs carved into the sides of mountains, yawning with jagged gaps like a busted smile. They wind down into caverns, through the stilt-houses of Lake Town, up into the tree fortress of the Wood Elves.
If An Unexpected Journey was all about running and falling down, the Desolation of Smaug is about paths and stairs. We suppose this is an occupational hazard for unexpected journeys. Gotta get to that mountain somehow.
SEE IT. There’s not much MORE TO SAY about all the CRAZY STAIRS you will see. M.C. ESCHER, Y’ALL.
Have you ever pondered the physics of dwarves in barrels as they float down the rapids, pursued by orcs?
SEE IT. Spoiler alert, you will also see DWARVES IN TOILETS. But the physics of a DWARF IN A SHITTER is not NEARLY AS COMPLICATED.
Does it bother you when Gandalf decides to embark on an inscrutable side quest just when the gang could use a powerful wizard the most?
Gandalf is always pulling that shit!
You’re so SICK OF THAT NOISE. Hang around for a HOT WIZARD MINUTE, Gandalf, you friends need you! SKIP IT.
Beheadings: Are you in or are you out? You’re in, right?
Decapitation aficionados are going to be super-happy with this movie.
SEE IT. Elves be HACKING OFF SOME HEADS. Who knew those beautiful creatures have a REAL NASTY HEAD-LOPPING STREAK?
Are you still thinking about the hobbit feet?
There is no point in your life when you will ever be able to think about anything else but hobbit feet.
SEE IT. We’re starting to suspect you’re just covering up for a PRETTY DISTURBING FETISH. Don’t DENY YOURSELF THE PLEASURE. It’ll be OUR LITTLE SECRET.
Elves must have nicer feet, though? Like, they’re all pedicured and smooth, except for maybe an exquisite blond braid down the middle?
They probably take good care of their feet. They’re a meticulous sort.
No. NO NO NO. This is OVER.