Barrels of fun middle installment
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” will do nothing to quiet Peter Jackson’s critics, who argue vehemently that the director has taken undue liberal license with the original text of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. While that that is true, it will be less of a bother for those who desire exhilarating adventures which this time around Jackson delivers in barrels.
Figuratively and literally.
With “Smaug,” Jackson takes us back to middle-earth for the middle installment of his rousing, raucous, relentlessly ambitious three part adaptation of J.R.R.Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”
This outing lacks the camaraderie established in last year’s more narrative-based first installment, “An Unexpected Journey,” that was viewed by some as a disappointment but was a solid film nonetheless. But the energy is amped up in this second installment while—for better or worse—familiar characters return from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, significantly modifying Tolkien’s source material.
But it’s hard to complain when one is witnessing such superlative filmmaking, including set pieces and jaw-dropping visuals that continue to set new benchmarks for the industry.
Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), along with mighty wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) continue their quest to aid a band of dwarves led by prince Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to reclaim their homeland Erebor that’s guarded by the village-destroying, fire-breathing, and well-spoken flying dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).
When Gandalf departs, the diminutive heroes are left to navigate the dangers of the Mirkwood Forest inhabited by monstrous spiders and very protective Wood-elves. The prettiest and the one of the strongest of the elves is Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly from TV’s “Lost”), who seems drawn to one of the dwarves. At every turn, the menacing Orcs and their bloodthirsty leader Azog (Manu Bennett) are in hot pursuit.
Whatever your feelings about so many cameos and plotlines used to embellish Tolkien’s simple story – “Smaug” elicits some of the same fantastically ominous thrills captured with such iconic brio in the LOTR trilogy. And while Jackson is still prone to making needlessly long films (2 hr. 41 min), a scene like the wondrous wine barrel escape – arguably the year’s most breathtaking action sequence—is itself worth the ticket price.
So without meaning to disrespect the die-hard Tolkien fan who sees much of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” as overproduced heresy, those looking for a fabulously good time at the theater need look no further than the magic of Peter Jackson’s middle-earth mania.
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense family action violence and frightening images.