Today I happened to watch The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, and I found some elements of the movie to be noteworthy, noteworthy enough to at least provide the movie with some personal relevance. I would like to discuss that element right away, before I get to the spoilers and critical analysis. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (hereafter DoS) is, like Catching Fire , a movie that relates very strongly to the stage of life that I am in right now. Both DoS and Catching Fire are middle movies, and middle movies share some common factors with my life. For one, they occur as action has built up from earlier stories and the payoff of their plots does not occur until later, making them transitions. They are transitions where much labor occurs, but where one does not have the satisfaction of seeing one’s reward. This is a frustrating period of life, one that we want to be over, but over successfully, having developed our characters so that our destiny is a good one. Unlike the movies, in our lives, this can last for years and it’s hard to know when we have moved into a stage where we start to see some results to our lengthy narratives.
Sometimes movies are like that. They have a lot of labor and the payoff is not until later. Given that this particular movie has a lot of fights and dramatic special effects, but it ends unresolved in all of its situations. Gandalf is a prisoner after making himself the bait for the Necromancer, only to realize that Sauron is involved. Thorin seeks to restore his kingdom but is infected by greed for gold and only succeeds in getting Smaug to attack his allies in Laketown. Also, there is an invented elfin lady, Tauriel, who ends up involved in a complicated love triangle with Legolas and Kili (one of the dwarves). None of these situations are resolved in the movie, which makes it a bit of a frustrating watch in some ways, for those who like some kind of resolution.
In many ways, though, that frustration is structural in nature. The middle episode of a designed trilogy has frustration built into it. One begins in the middle of things, with a large amount of context already set in the first installment. Yet there is no satisfying ending, either, because the whole point of the transitional middle act is to set up the issues that need to be resolved in the conclusion. This structure is found in life, but it is not often a very satisfying place there either, because a lot of labor is undertaken without much to show for it. This is the stage where successes are built, where struggles are faced and where character is refined. Private victory precedes public victory. All the same, though, it is not always very enjoyable to watch that character development and that increasing pressure taking place, because we desire resolution.
How could this problem have been resolved more successfully than it was? There needed to be some victory in the film, some resolution in some matter. If one of the many struggles of the film had been resolved, whether it was in romance or in any of the many conflicts shown (killing Smaug, defeating the Necromancer, ending the isolationism of the Wood Elves), the film would have felt less incomplete. That is not to say that everything about the film was frustrating–it was a beautiful film to watch, and full of action–but the overall tone of the movie was one of build-up without any sort of release. It was desolate and transitional, a lot like the state of my life in 2013. Let’s hope that the resolution is worth it, in both life and in fiction. We have seen enough desolation for a while, I would hope.