The second film in a trilogy is often the trickiest. Do it right and you’ll have an Empire Strikes Back or the Godfather II. Do it wrong and you might wind up with a Temple of Doom – good, but forgettable in the trilogy.
The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug falls into the previous category.
Sure, it takes liberties from the source material but that’s what movies do. It remains faithful to the big notes and moments of the story and that’s essential – unlike the second Jurassic Park movie which was garbage compared to the amazing book!
The crew first needs to be commended on their treatment of the dwarves. Peter Jackson and his team created 12 dwarves who in the book are nearly identical except for the comically large Bombur. Each dwarf has “a thing” whether it is the goofy one, the one who uses the hearing device, or the gross one with the axe in his head. You may not know the difference between Oin, Gloin, Bifur, and Bofur by name but you will recognize them all visually and that is no small task.
Secondly, the dwarves are likable. Sure, they’re surly and hate just about everything but from their humor to the way they work together as a team there’s something fun about the group. The battles were good in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy and the first Hobbit movie but one fight in particular seems to go next level with the teamwork.
Martin Freeman also delivers another great performance as Bilbo – the reluctant hero who often feels awkward and out of place but always seems to find just enough courage. He also lends a great sense of comedic timing to the movie and is a great balance of humor with the often funny dwarves.
But there is something in the Hobbit that really strikes on the deep, spiritual and theological level.
WARNING: VERY MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
There’s no mistaking that like most trilogies the second film is often the darkest.
2 scenes stick out in particular – one where Bilbo has a very Gollum-esque response to nearly losing the ring. Another, where Thorin becomes blinded by his lust as well.
I won’t go into the scenes beyond that but what makes Thorin’s reaction so saddening is moments before he almost gets it. You can see him remembering fondly moments but he mistakes what it takes to reclaim those moments. He believes it is the jewels he seeks and not the people surrounding him.
Christmas time can be the season of “just one more”. Just one more piece of pie and I’ll have had enough. Just one more present and I’ll be the best gift giver ever. Just one more gift and I’ll have everything I’ve asked for! Just. One. More.
But like Thorin, or even Bilbo, it is easy for us to lose focus and worship things.
It’s not the gift but the gift giver.
Greed drives us away from that and towards needing more to fill something that things will never fill. This second film hints at that and will surely drive it home in the third installment.
Jesus once said “And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.””
Covetousness is another word for greed.
Jesus went on to tell a story.
“And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
The man had become so caught up in his things that he had become poor in every other way, in particular, poor towards God. (story is from Luke 12. 15.21).
Jesus also said “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” – Mark 8.36
We don’t tend to look at it this way. More is always better than less, right? According to an AT&T commercial it is. Getting more has become our ultimate goal. We start out with noble intentions. Maybe to give our families something we never had. But it soon becomes about the more and not the family. We work harder to get further ahead because it pleases us. Meanwhile, we desert the ones we swore to take care of and neglect them until they finally have enough. Either they leave us or we have no meaningful relationship with them.
So what good is it to be rich in possession and poor towards God? What good is it to have things but to burn every relationship along the way.
The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug is a great question to us.
What do we expect from our stuff this Christmas? What do we expect from it at any time?
Do we expect stuff to save and rescue us? It won’t.
What our things can do is bring us closer to God and make us rich in spirit. When we leverage what we have to worship God as the ultimate Creator – the one who made “stuff” – then we will see it for what it is: a gift. Not an end, but a means to an end. A gift that can be used to express love and thankfulness to the greatest gift giver.