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

I think the greatest problem faced by these Hobbit films is simply that audiences, self-included, have come to expect too much from Jackson and his crew. Lord of the Rings formed such an epochal, mammoth part of our filmic landscape that any attempt to compare with that is bound to be greeted by some degree of suspicion. Bloating this thing out to a trilogy of Rings sized epics was a catastrophically misguided decision that fails as a coherent piece of storytelling. Forget about appendices and ‘prequel nonsense’, the material, and the work of Jackson’s team, would’ve been best served by a tight two-parter that better honoured the lean, children’s adventure published in 1937. If this wasn’t apparent after the first film, now it’s practically academic.

That aside, unburdened by expectation, I genuinely enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug. Once the murky territory of unnecessary fanbaiting has been navigated, there’s a lot of pleasure to be taken from indulging in an Orlando Bloom ‘greatest hits’ tour and counting the sad prevalence of dodgy CG shots over the old-school model and makeup work that played such a significant role in Rings. Besides chronic pacing issues, An Unexpected Journey failed in offering up much in the way of memorable setpieces, a fault The Desolation of Smaug is all too happy to rectify with the rollicking ball of fun that is the river barrel chase and the strikingly rendered dragon battle that pushes the heart rate to 200. Through the momentum of well-executed action, Jackson’s film finds its purpose and tees up the third instalment with the sort of energy its sluggish predecessor never quite mustered. See you next December!

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