In the future, bad academic papers will no doubt deal in depth with Peter Jackson’s emphasis on cross-species hookups in his screen adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth epics. In the meantime, though, you can’t really deny the pleasures; clearly the second-most moving scene in The Lord of the Rings trilogy was the sexy reunion of Strider (human, played by Viggo Mortensen) with his elvish lover Arwen (Liv Tyler, who might look good as an orc). (The most moving scene was all of humanity bowing to Frodo and his friends.) Here is the second installment of The Hobbit, and again it’s trans-creature romance that lights up the screen, when Kili (dwarf, played by Aidan Turner) makes amorous eye contact with breathtaking Tauriel (elf, played by Lost’s Evangeline Lilly). Lilly told journalists she fought against the unnatural pair bonding, but it’s hard to deny the palpable sparks it loans this film, which is better than the first chapter but still feels a bit lacking in its fantasy heart.
The movie opens vastly, and Jackson seems thoroughly engaged as he follows the dwarves and Bilbo Baggins as they near the Lonely Mountain and their inevitable confrontation with condescending Smaug. The camera doesn’t so much dog the action as prowl after it, turning corners, sneaking peeks, and swooping down, adding nice paranoia, particularly through the druggy drowsiness of Mirkwood. The film peaks during a wine-barrel escape from wood elves — where we meet jaunty Legolas again — which plays out like an amusement-park-worthy flight downstream. The rest of the film intercuts between the dwarves, Gandalf (who, true to form, abandons the quest he set in motion), and the hardly relevant yet weirdly fascinating romance between sprite and dwarf.
Jackson has rediscovered the fun in chapter two, and his plot embellishments neatly fill in the three-movie padding. The Hobbit is fun and worth seeing, but so far doesn’t imbue us with the bittersweet sense of a golden age gone as the Rings cycle did. This is an action film with cool magic; it’s not exactly a multiculti moment when dwarves and elves start making goo-goo eyes, but it doesn’t exactly seem like Middle Earth either. It’s enjoyable fun but hard to take seriously.