Published Monday, 16 December 2013
This is director Peter Jackson's highly enjoyable middle-part of his epic trilogy of author J.R.R.Tolkien's Middle-earth masterpiece.
Thankfully for anyone with a weakened bladder, the running time second time around is significantly shorter than the overblown starter. A whopping twenty minutes shorter, which makes it better. Jackson, the first face we see in a Hitchcock style cameo, has also dispensed with all the faff and flam of the first part and cracked straight into the story after a short reprise.
"I should introduce myself, I'm Gandalf the Grey" says the mighty wizard, "I know who you are," says dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). For goodness sake, we all know who he is! And yes, he is played once again by the majestic Sir Ian McKellan, let's get this quest on the road...
"A quest to reclaim a homeland and slay a dragon" says the Elvenking, and so it is. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins as he treks with Gandalf and thirteen dwarves on an unexpected journey to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
Along the way, they must outwit the skin-changer Beorn, defeat a swarm of giant spiders in the treacherous forest of Mirkwood, and evade the rampaging Orcs on their tail. This is exciting stuff, especially when Bilbo and the dwarves escape an Elven prison by rolling in barrels down a white water river. What follows is a wonderful white-knuckle ride that leaves you on the edge of your seat as we revel in the rapid thrills and spills of Elves battling Orcs, chasing Dwarves.
Although familiar characters return like Legolas (Orlando Bloom), this fresher adventure is boosted by new characters like the dashing Bard (Luke Evans), the red-haired Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) and the kick-ass Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).
But best of all is Martin Freeman as the hapless hobbit turned courageous hero, Bilbo Baggins. His easy delivery and comic touch, means that he breezes through hugely conflated set-pieces with a spring in his hairy-footed step.
Ultimately, Bilbo must face his fire-breathing nemesis, a creature more terrifying than any other, the Dragon Smaug. The casting here is clever as best friends become fatal enemies. Fans of BBC's Sherlock, where Freeman plays Dr Watson, will recognise the voice of the Dragon as none other than Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Enjoyable as all this is, The Desolation of Smaug is not a stand-alone film; it ends abruptly like the penultimate episode of a TV series. Does it leave us wanting more? Yes. But still that question lingers, could this trilogy not have been told more succinctly in two dramatic parts?
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Cert 12a) opens on Friday 13th December.
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