December 24, 2013 – 4:50 am

Something’s amiss in the state of Mirkwood. In this follow-up to Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, The Desolation Of Smaug (2013), Critic After Dark Noel Vera decries the lack of skin and the “S” word in Tolkien’s oh-so-long trilogy.

Putting it out and aside, my official position on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - overblown, overlong, overproduced, even thinner on characterization than the first (we have no equivalent to the unsettlingly suspenseful battle of riddles between Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and creepy reptilian Gollum (Andy Serkis); we do get a scene between Bilbo and the outsized Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) which sadly involves little wit and even less riddles).

The eccentric charm of Tolkien’s Middle Earth has largely been supplanted by elaborate action sequences, some of which are shaped suspiciously like amusement park-style theme rides (Middle-Earth Barrel Flume - With Pursuing Orcs! Erebor Mountain Forge Slide! Molten Gold Body-Surfing!), all at a Higher Frame Rate and in smashing 3D.

On the other hand you do get Freeman, whose deer-in-headlights expression backed up by a steely core of decency makes for a more intriguing protagonist than his wet-noodle nephew Frodo (the incurably spaniel-eyed Elijah Wood).

A weaker chapter in the proposed trilogy, though stepping back for the longer view I find it better provisioned with humanity and humor than its longer, more epic (though Jackson tries very hard to catch up), far more solemn (more soporific?) predecessor.

So: got that out of the way for what I really wanted to discuss -


Where is it? Where’s the copulating in this cornucopia of incident and narrative? Where’s the real fun? Are wicks really so dry, weapons all uncocked - is the gunpowder all wet, p’raps? How do people reproduce in Middle Earth?

No issues about humans - at one point Bilbo and the dwarfs arrive at Laketown, and we see women, children, families - the necessary building blocks for a thriving society. But the band had also visited the wood elves of Mirkwood, and you wonder: where’s the fairer sex?

We have one girl - Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) - who basically has the attention of Legolas (Orlando Bloom, reprising his role); who has the attention of the rest of the elves? Is the situation similar to The Smurfs, where Smurfette looks mighty lonely, if not totally out-of-place? Is this a we-didn’t-think-of-it-so-we’re-clueless deal, or a we-know-but-are-not-talking deal? Or is Tolkien kinkier than even I suspected?

Alas, I doubt if the latter could ever be the case; something rotten in the state of Mirkwood - but at least it’s confined to the wood elves. In the other pictures we glimpse she-elves in Rivendell, and one even plays a major role - Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel, a sort of cross between Queen Elizabeth and Smurfette.

And the dwarfs? In all the movies I have not spotted a single she-dwarf. Have the dwarfs hidden them that well? Why hide them? Is Jackson so afraid he couldn’t make them look pretty, hence the apparent absence?

Sex is one of the great sources of drama, the giving and withholding and pursuing of it some of the strongest motivation any character can have, in any genre of literature. Granted Tolkien wrote The Hobbit originally for kids - when his sequel expanded into a three-volume epic and he revised Bilbo’s original adventure to conform more to the tone and narrative of Frodo’s latter, couldn’t he have tossed a she-hobbit into the Fellowship?

Nothing sells better than romance, maybe even rom-com, and boy, this endlessly expanding franchise (fifteen hours (I’m estimating from the running times of original releases) and counting) could use a lot more com, maybe even more explicit rom. Lilly’s Tauriel is a good start, she has twice the presence and charisma of Liv Tyler’s Arwen; couldn’t she have flashed a shoulder, maybe chased Orcs in bikini leather?

It’s gotten so bad I’ve started giving Smaug a second look and, as voiced by the inimitably throaty Benedict Cumberbatch, he (she?) sounds like a salacious, seductive little devil. Isn’t there a Mrs Smaug, just to spice things up a little more? I wouldn’t mind a little worm-on-worm action - no waitaminute wasn’t there a movie where a dragon hooked up with a donkey…?

Yes there was and, come to think of it, the dragon-vs-hero action in the earlier pic was better, for being shorter, faster, far less pretentious. Funnier too - it parodied similar fantasy moments, and action scenes in general. Some good musical numbers, and the ending was actually affecting - the barely disguised disdain for all things Disney being the cherry atop this delectable treat.

An irascible Dreamworks adaptation of a children’s book, better than Jackson’s multimillion dollar fantasy? But that’s what you get when you skimp on skin: dissatisfied viewers, booing at the screen and tossing their rubbers - not all empty - and yelling: “Show us the honey!”

Note: You can also email Noel Vera at [email protected]

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