It¡¯s becoming the annual Boxing Day tradition: a Middle Earth film featuring a hobbit, a journey and plenty of orcs interrupting the party.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second of The Hobbit Trilogy, and obviously without knowing what part three (There and Back Again) will bring in 2014, this middle film is a splendid, gorgeous achievement in cinema.
Continuing off where An Unexpected Journey left off, our hobbit hero, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) and our twelve dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), are left needing breather from a clan of chasing menacing orcs.
Recouping and refreshing themselves thanks to a giant-bear-turned-man, the group separates with Gandalf off to stop the Necromancer. The dwarves meanwhile continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain to free it of the powerful, yet magnificent dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).
Along the way, the dwarves face off against giant spiders, aggressive wood-elves (including LOTR elf, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and new-girl-on-the-block Tauriel, played by LOST¡¯s Evangeline Lily) and yerp, more orcs.
Tolkien¡¯s original book was a child¡¯s piece full of adventure, so there is no surprise that Peter Jackson has gone off the pages to provide fans with added depth.
There is an increase of character development, as we see how the burden of responsibility and leadership falls on Thorin. Next to Bilbo he¡¯s one of the most important characters in the trilogy.
This is all part of Jackson¡¯s grand plan to link Bilbo¡¯s discovery of the One Ring to a much larger story. Bilbo, next to Thorin, does not yet know how his decisions have shaped Middle Earth, but both will learn soon enough how one man¡¯s actions can change the course of history.
This comes to the fore in this middle piece, after the mish-mash of An Unexpected Journey, which was a tangled mess, with plot lines seemingly going nowhere. It¡¯s in The Desolation of Smaug now that those threads are being pieced together.
At the same time, Jackson keeps the perfect balancing act of blending breathless sequences with important emotional character growth. While An Unexpected Journey was a bore, The Desolation of Smaug is an electrifying, absorbing thrill ride.
The CGI effects are better, the action sequences smoother, but more importantly it doesn¡¯t slow down. Its swift pace keeps the heart ticking and makes the characters engrossing enough to care about. Even Smaug the terrible vengeful dragon is a delight to witness (not least thanks to the voice performance by Cumberbatch).
Without spoiling anything, a cliffhanger leaves you wanting more. Which is sad, because Boxing Day is another 365 days away.