Review: The Hobbit: The desolation of smaug
By the time his Hobbit trilogy is completed next Christmas, Peter Jackson will have spun over seven hours of film out of a slender children's novel just 300 pages long.
As Lord of the Rings is thicker than a telephone directory, a three-film franchise wasn't hard to justify, but stretching The Hobbit into a trilogy was always going to be tricky, and so it has proved.
In fairness to Jackson, he originally wanted to split J.R.R. Tolkien's story into two films before the exigencies of commerce intervened. The money men at New Line have a point -- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made over $1billion at the box office, and this second film is likely to do similarly well. Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the company of dwarves are continuing their journey to the Lonely Mountain when Gandalf is distracted by pressing matters in the east and leaves his companions to enter the enchanted forest of Mirkwood on their own.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is sometimes hindered, and occasionally helped, by gently meandering sub-plots. One of the dwarves falls for a female elf called Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), which left me wondering what their unfortunate offspring might look like. And when Gandalf investigates reports of a necromancer he comes faces to face with an old and terrifying enemy.
It almost goes without saying that The Desolation of Smaug is full of astonishing technical accomplishments. Some of the fight scenes are handled with great dexterity, and sequences involving Smaug the Dragon and his subterranean mounds of treasure are so extraordinary they make the film worth seeing for them alone.
But, and it's a big but, all of Jackson's bag of tricks cannot disguise the fact that The Desolation of Smaug is disastrously short on plot. This wordy sequel lumbers along at a snail's pace and totally fails to justify its excessive length; it's sorely lacking in moments of actual drama, and instead loses itself in a blizzard of pyrotechnics and over-long action sequences.
As I said earlier, the sequences involving Smaug and his gold are really extraordinarily rendered, and Tolkien fans will enjoy the loving detail with which the original book has been adapted. But others may find it all a little precious, if you'll excuse the pun, and overall this second Hobbit instalment felt to me like a time-filling teaser for the no-doubt action-packed finale.