In which 2014 wants to eat you for dinner and The Desolation of Smaug is revealed as an awkward sequel to Blade Runner.
Long about the second imagination-numbing meet cute—in which replicant Evangeline Lilly and replicant Aidan Turner execute their romantic sub-plot algorithms with the machined precision of highly efficient synthetic organisms—it struck me how much 2013 has been like The Desolation. 2013 has unquestionably been a bloated, tired, flash in the pan. A Potemkin village of a year. Everything bad-false and nothing good-true. Desolation is right. Desolation forever. 2013 was the year I wished would end after experiencing about a week of it. That’s how it went: oh shit, more of this? Okay, maybe you had a great time. Then again, you probably didn’t. If you’re bitter about it, get on the bus. There’s always room for one more. And we would like to note our suspicion that 2014 is already peering at us hungrily from the tall grass.
Sitting in The Phoenix two days before Xmas, surrounded by the farting, despondent matinée demographic of Oxford, I wept at the destruction of yet another childhood treasure. When I watch sci-fi or fantasy, I like feeling as if I’m at least on the edge of something relevant, as if at any moment the elements of the unreal fairytale world might snap together with perfect clarity and show me something about my life. But The Desolation of Smaug didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t. The Lord of the Rings, for example, made me think deeply about moral ambiguity and how growing up means admitting that Sauron is often the better choice. Instead, the message here was straight out of Jack Lipnik’s dialogue in Barton Fink: “Look, I’m not one of those guys who thinks poetic has got to be fruity. We’re together on that, aren’t we?” Peter Jackson made a bad call: no poetic fruit in Mirkwood. None at all. Not even a digitized grape.
There was a decided lack of metaphorical produce throughout the film.
Authentic agricultural products cannot exist in an over-written, computer-generated, orc Kung Fu movie acted by replicants. So, enveloped in the bodily odors of liquor and bad lunchtime decisions, I had time to think about all that was dramatically non-fruity, such as: why Ian McKellen looks exhausted and noticeably older in this film even though it takes place before LOTR (we hope the reason is that he, too, thinks the film sucks); why Legolas functions exactly like the “jerk jock” antagonist in every single teen-oriented Hollywood movie ever; why the fight scenes run like wire fu choreographed by HAL 9000, and why Stephen Fry’s character is absolutely the best thing about the film. Actually, this last one is not surprising. Fry is a dramatic lucky rabbit’s foot. Put him in a movie, even in a cameo, and everything improves.
Anyway, I did realize that Dr. Eldon Tyrell had to have been The Desolation of Smaug’s chief technical advisor even though he’s not credited. Why is that? Buggy Nexus 6es from Blade Runner seem to have self-activated and wandered out of an old Tyrell Company storage unit in Burbank. I don’t know how they made it into a Hobbit film or why they reactivated in the first place, but I suspect it has something to do with stretching a children’s novel into a trilogy in order to make as much money as the previous trilogy did. One thing, however, is clear: “” is now Peter Jackson’s motto.
But who cares? I had to go see it. We all have to go see it. This is mainly because there was a difficult moment—for many of us it was sometime in 2011 toward the end of Deathly Hallows—when we realized that Voldemort was just László Almásy from The English Patient with alopecia. We admitted to ourselves that Neville Longbottom was the only truly heroic character in any of the movies. And we resolved to make amends to all those we harmed as a result of our involvement with Harry Potter, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Moreover, since the most logical fantasy genre response to the cloying irrelevance of the Harry Potter franchise is Game of Thrones, something had to be done. In spite of its many virtues, Game of Thrones isn’t interested in the kind of childhood wonder that fantasy creates. And without wonder, we might as well go read a historical novel about Cesare Borgia and get over it. We had to believe that Peter Jackson could save us from ourselves this year. We had to believe in fantasy one more time. This, even though by the end of the first Hobbit film, I was wishing they’d run into the hillbillies from Deliverance instead of stone trolls.
And so this is Boxing Day. I’ve seen Peter Jackson’s abomination and must recover as best I can. 2014 has to be better. We’re together on that, aren’t we? Or maybe another hot mess is set to hit the air conditioning in less than a week. The indecencies of Xmas are mostly behind us. But I get the feeling that the dreaded new year is waiting like a lion on a warthog burrow. You know about lions and warthogs, right? Larry Brown wrote about them in Dirty Work and the metaphor is perfect:
All over with. That’s from page five. But don’t let it get you down. There and Back Again is set for December 17th, 2014. I’m sure, by then, everything will be better than ever.