The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug Peter Jackson

The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug Peter Jackson
The decision to sprawl The Hobbit across three films ensured that the first instalment, An Unexpected Journey, was little more than a long winded set-up — just as things got going, the film ended. Freed from such myth-making, The Desolation of Smaug gets on with the adventuring as Bilbo, Gandalf and their dwarf companions continue their journey to the Misty Mountain.

As the film begins, the group are still on the run from a host of orcs led by Azog, eager to exact revenge on the dwarves, and Thorin Oakenshield in particular. They take respite with the skin changer, Bjorn, and Gandalf disappears to investigate the reappearance of the Nazgul. Meanwhile the rest of the group make their way through Mirkwood, where they're rescued from a nest of spiders by a group of elves led by Legolas. Prisoners, they escape from the wood-elf stronghold, Thranduil, but not before Kili develops a romance with Tauriel. During their escape, Thranduil is attacked by the orcs and Kili with an arrow.

Facing a mutual enemy, Legolas and Tauriel follow the dwarves to Laketown, into which the group were smuggled by Bard. The majority of the dwarves travel to the Misty Mountain where Bilbo finally encounters Smaug, the dragon. In the ensuing battle, Smaug becomes enraged and sets out to exact his revenge for the dwarves' trespass on Laketown.

The pacing issues of the first film are mostly absent here, which makes Desolation a far more enjoyable affair. It's also a little less family friendly (there are no group sing-a-longs here) and you can start to see the congruity with Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The reappearance of Legolas obviously helps tie the two series together, as do several nods to events that keen-eyed Tolkien fans will pick up on.

Jackson's decision to render so many of the orc characters in CGI rather than having a physical actor in costume as he did in the LOTR trilogy continues to be somewhat troublesome; while it works for a well-developed character like Gollum, one-note villains like Azog and his son Bolg lack the characterization and physical menace a real human can bring to such a part. Far more exhilarating to watch is Smaug. He was always going to be a purely CGI creation, but Benedict Cumberbatch brings the character to life in all his malevolent and egotistical glory.

The Blu-ray Edition includes a host of behind the scenes features, including a detailed, 40-minute mini-doc detailing all aspects of the production. However, given Jackson's penchant for releasing deluxe, extended editions of his films in time for the Christmas holidays, it might be worth waiting if supplementary features and a few dozen minutes of extra footage can make or break a feature for you.

(Warner Bros.)