The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson, 2013)

What's it about? Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the wizard (Iam McKellen) and a company of 13 dwarves continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain, tangling with orcs, elves, giant spiders and the grubby residents of Laketown along the way. Not to mention the fearsome dragon Smaug who jealously guards the treasure they intend to reclaim.

Is it any good? It's probably not fair to keep comparing to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I think the multi-millionaire, Oscar-winning team of film-makers can take it. Essentially, the fundamental difference between the two trilogies is that LOTR consisted of 3 self-contained films which fitted together to tell an epic tale, whereas The Hobbit (so far) feels like 1 film roughly carved up into 3 incomplete parts, which have been over-padded to compensate for the slightness of the tale. Here, for example, when Gandalf pisses off on his own little side-quest, as he is wont to do, it might prove integral to the story of The Hobbit once it all plays out, but in the context of this film, it feels superfluous. Likewise, bringing back Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is an unnecessary step, especially since the ass-kicking elvish acrobatics are adequately delivered by newcomer Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, who is very good). Whatever way you tart it up and present it, there's just no getting away from the fact that the story of The Hobbit just doesn't have the same depth or appeal as LOTR.  
But enough of the nay-saying. This is still better than the first instalment and is a solidly entertaining fantasy adventure. Freeman continues to impress as Bilbo and his confrontation with the magnificently CGI-rendered Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is the high point, much as the Riddles in the Dark sequence was in the first film. The majority of the dwarves still remain indistinguishable from each other, but Kili (Aidan Turner) gets a romantic subplot with Tauriel to raise his profile this time. And although it's overlong, it moves at a good old pace, as our heroes barrel (often literally) from one set-piece to the next, with Jackson's sweeping camera moves capturing the action and beautiful NZ scenery along the way. All perfectly enjoyable, then, just a pity the magic is gone.

Anything else I should know? After the first Hobbit film, I had a bit of a rant about the High Frame Rate presentation which Jackson had promised would revolutionize the film industry. But a poor reception from audiences first time round meant the release of the second film in HFR was severely down-sized from original plans, with only 20% of screenings in that format. Seems he was wrong and, more importantly, I was right. Not one to say I told you so, but....

What does the Fonz think? Keeps dragon on a bit, but improves on first part.

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