Blockbuster war films are great because they attempt to extract moral lessons when humanity is at its worst. While I commend the considerable effort, the film falls short in more ways than it succeeds.
Unfortunately, TBOFA indulges in some of the dumbest fallacies and clichés which contribute to the perpetuation of war (deference to authority and appeals to nationalism first and foremost), but there are redeeming moments as well as some elements which can be viewed through a libertarian lens even if it wasn’t Jackson’s intent.
On the downside, there is an all too common, insufferable veneration of authority and leaders and an absence of individual agency. Though individual agency and defiance occurs, it happens very selectively and the reasons behind these acts of sedition are made for flimsy reasons.
Whether it’s dwarves, elves, orcs, or wizards, all action hinges on the commands of the leaders. From the dwarves’ cultish obeisance to Thorin, to the elves’ frightening militaristic discipline and paternalistic authoritarianism, to even Gandalf’s bossy tendencies, the various races of Middle Earth certainly insist on obedience to leaders.
The most refreshingly libertarian moment comes from Bilbo in the film’s climactic battle. Bilbo insists on warning Thorin of an imminent attack and Gandalf demonstrates an uncharacteristic lack of faith in Bilbo.
Gandalf: It’s out of the question! I won’t allow it!
Bilbo Baggins: I’m not asking you to allow it, Gandalf.
Jeez. Fuck off, Gandalf.
The most alarming elements are exhibited by the dwarves. Besides the troubling appeals to nationalism, the film attributes Thorin’s alleged moral lapse to a kind of “greed” with Erebor’s existing treasure as well as his weird obsession over the Arkenstone. The film uses the “Dragon’s curse” as a proxy in order to administer a form of soft religious/quasi-Marxist preaching over this transgression.
Thorin’s tightassery with Erebor’s wealth is indeed weird and irrational. Granted, he’s a stubborn fuck who is pissed about the indignities he and his homeboys suffered in their period of exile, but the film is unfortunately trying to chalk it up to an obsession with wealth itself. It’s shoveling the old “money is the root of all evil” fallacy rather than looking at unprovoked violence as the ultimate evil.
But the most poisonous stuff comes when it’s time to go to war. Fantasy gets off easy when it comes to rationalizing violence because the bad guys are so obviously bad, but the underlying motivations deserve scrutiny because they map to current events. When the chips are down, what does Thorin do to stoke the bloodlust? He invokes the blood connection to Durin and loyalty to the homeland! Erebor über alles, dudes!
The titular battle is actually waged over a contract dispute. Why Thorin didn’t just help the survivors from Laketown after Smaug had decimated the place boggles the imagination. Conversely, Thranduil’s quest for some ancient necklace or something seems wildly arbitrary yet strangely characteristic for a head of state.
Ironically, the destruction of Laketown makes a very powerful case for anarchy. Though the argument for liberty certainly does not rest on disaster, the citizens of Laketown were *helping* one another in the absence of government authority and coordination. The moral reprobate was the Master of Laketown! He was the greedy fuck who absconded with the town treasury and was solely concerned with saving his own sorry ass.
The interracial love story between Tauriel and Kili felt forced and overwrought and ultimately, was an unnecessary tragedy. Instead of trusting their own individual instincts, they chose nationalism and deference to authority and each suffered.
It’s flawed, but entertaining enough. It suffers by not really having much more to say above and beyond what the LOTR series already said really well. So Jackson feels like he’s just coasting.
That said, Jackson clearly loves this material and it’s hard to gripe too much about such a towering achievement. It’s hard to imagine that anyone else could have brought this to life with as much vigor and passion.