We spend a hell of a lot time in this great country of ours thinking about the children (indeed, there’s even a Wikipedia entry for “think of the children”). But shouldn’t we also think about the parents every once in a while?
I mean, I understand that we parents are pledged to do everything we can to give our precious little bundles of joy all the advantages we ourselves were denied while growing up. But even in the Christmas season, there’s got to be some limit to exactly what sacrifices we’re expected to make. Specifically: Exactly how many movies a year must we see not out of any small modicum of interest or anticipation or curiosity but out of pure parental duty?
The immediate cause of my question is the opening of the new film with the excessively punctuated and impossible-to-pronounce title The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which I’m guessing is either about a greedy, gold-hoarding dragon or a cautionary tale about the use of high-octane, fully leaded gasoline in J.R.R. Tolkien’s imaginary Middle Earth. I will be chaperoning somewhere between one and 100 friends of my 12-year-old son. As dispiriting a prospect as Smaug is on its own, it’s coming at the tail end of a year that has already birthed The Lone Ranger, The Croods, The Smurfs 2, One Direction: This is Us, Free Birds, Thor 2, and a dozen other kid-friendly, parent-annoying movies that adults have blissfully repressed from memory.
Now, I understand that billions— if not trillions—of people love The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit both as novels and as movies, and I’m happy to admit that I am the problem here. Yet surely I’m not the only adult American who is sick and tired of living under the reign of terror foisted on us by Tolkien’s imagination lo these 40 years after his death. For too much of the 21st century, it seems that the year-end holidays exist only to provide space for yet another family reunion with the Bagginses of The Shire (why won’t they ever come to our house?). Director Peter Jackson ruined the holidays in 2001, 2002, and 2003 with his three Lord of the Rings movies and then just last year darkened the season anew with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in a three-part sequence.
(MORE: The Hobbit: Why Are There No Women in Tolkien’s World?)
It’s worrisome that Jackson seems bent on making bigger and longer movie franchises out of Tolkien works. Think about it: With Lord of the Rings, Jackson did three movies out of three books. With The Hobbit, he’s doing three movies out of one book. May Sauron have mercy on us all if Jackson ever sets his sights on creating a franchise out The Silmarillion, which even most Tolkien enthusiasts grant is unreadable. It seems plausible that The Silmarillion might well comprise two dozen or more installments, thereby ruining Christmas for the rest of most of our lives.
The Desolation of Smaug clocks in at a soul-deadening 161 minutes, or somewhere between a vintage speech by Fidel Castro castigating the U.S. and a Ted Cruz filibuster about Obamacare. On the upside, the movie’s length is a full eight minutes shorter than the first Hobbit installment, and Smaug’s appearance does mean we are one giant step closer the end of the trilogy.
Over the years, I have devised various strategies for coping with this general situation and I’m not yet sure of which to employ come this weekend. When kids are younger, it’s easy enough to try and wait them out, especially with movies that are likely to leave the theaters almost as fast as they enter them. As they get older, it’s increasingly legitimate to drop them off at the theater or to draw straws among willing parents (and there comes a time – a blessed, happy time – when your kids finally tell you that you are not allowed to sit near them or even in the same theater as them).
And when no other strategy is available for whatever reason, there is also the classic stand-by of simply falling asleep almost as soon as the previews start rolling. As any parent will attest, taking care of children is tiring work, and keeping watch over other people’s kids is downright exhausting. So it’s never hard to nod off when the opportunity presents itself, especially in an age of space-age earplugs and comfortable theaters. Whatever embarassment parental sleeping causes for your child (and it needn’t be too much if you keep the snoring light) is more than outweighed by the gains of a nap, it seems to me.
And as I anticipate an evening showing of a fantasy film that about hobbits and dragons that is fully two hours and 41 minutes long, I can feel my eyes start to grow heavier than the burden good old Frodo Baggins felt in dealing with that one goddamn ring to rule them all.