Even fans of last years The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had to admit there were problems.
By LOEY LOCKERBY
Special to The Star
The pacing was off, the humor often fell flat and the much-vaunted high frame rate was more distracting than realistic. There was still much to admire about Peter Jacksons return to J.R.R. Tolkiens Middle-earth, but it wasnt up to the standards he had set for himself with his Lord of the Rings adaptations.
Apparently, he was saving all his energy for The Desolation of Smaug. The second entry in Jacksons Hobbit trilogy is nimble and exciting, with immersive visuals to rival anything in his previous efforts. From the twisted darkness of Mirkwood Forest to the sparkling beauty of a giant gold statue, Jackson makes sure viewers feel as if theyve stepped into another world (with or without 3-D).
Plus, it has a spectacular dragon. Who doesnt love that?
Jackson (co-writing with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) pulls us right into the action, as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his companions continue their journey to reclaim the ancient dwarf kingdom of Erebor.
Within the first hour, theyve met raging shape-shifter Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) and been attacked by terrifying giant spiders. Theyre also still being stalked by the Orcs from the first movie, who are determined to destroy dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).
While Gandalf (Ian McKellen) embarks on his own mission (which will be very important later), Bilbo and the dwarves find themselves in another elf haven, albeit a much less friendly one than their previous refuge of Rivendell. Led by the haughty King Thranduil (Lee Pace), the woodland elves imprison our heroes and refuse to help with Thorins quest.
Their lone voice of dissent comes from Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly of TVs Lost), a character invented for the film, who fears that her peoples isolationism will lead to disaster.
She also takes a liking to handsome young dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), which upsets Thranduils son, our old Rings friend Legolas (Orlando Bloom). Suddenly, we have a love triangle, and Jacksons only serious misstep. Although Legolas doesnt appear in print until the Rings trilogy, his inclusion in this prequel makes sense, since it was Tolkien himself who made him a prince of the woodland realm.
Even Tauriels presence is welcome, since there are NO women in The Hobbit as written. Lilly was born to play an elf, and shes at her best when Tauriel gets to be a morally authoritative warrior. Unfortunately, she wastes a lot of time worrying about cute boys when she should be killing Orcs and arguing with Thranduil. This isnt Twilight. Nobody cares who Legolas is taking to the prom.
As always in Middle-earth, there is still hope. Desolation of Smaug gets back into gear when the company arrives at a beautifully detailed Lake-town and, finally, Erebor.
The dragon Smaug (voiced and motion-captured by Benedict Cumberbatch) is everything an audience could hope for, and his confrontation with Bilbo is scary and thrilling. Tolkiens dragons are smart, and Smaug is as much an egotistical sociopath as he is a fire-breathing menace. Once the battle for the treasure hoard commences, it drags on about 20 minutes too long, but its too much fun to complain about.
By the end, the only real frustration is that its over already, with a cliffhanger that guarantees an even faster ride when There and Back Again comes out next December. With any luck, there wont be time for clumsy romantic interludes. Everyone including Tauriel has world-saving to do.