Rarely has so much been made of so little.
Other than the occasional children’s story (“Where the Wild Things Are,” “Polar Express,” etc.), the ratio between written pages and filmed minutes doesn’t get higher than it is in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit.”
Taking a beloved young adult novel of 300-something pages (my copy has 333), the “Lord of the Rings” director has gotten to 340 minutes of film when combining the just released “The Desolation of Smaug” with last year’s “An Unexpected Journey.”
No one knows how long part three will be, but Smaug the dragon still hasn’t quite reached the nearly helpless village of Lake-town — and Jackson loves a lengthy epilogue.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is an epically padded film that suffers from second movie syndrome (“that’s the ending?”), and it is certain to raise the dander of J.R.R. Tolkien purists with its added characters and invented situations.
Still, despite its flaws, “Smaug” is also a rousing adventure with impressive effects, and it almost demands that the ticket-goer lines up for the finale.
Picking up where the first film left off, our plucky band of 13 dwarves, and one hobbit, finally makes it to the Lonely Mountain and gets a chance to confront the enormous fire-breathing dragon Smaug, who long ago chased the dwarves from their ancestral homeland and commandeered their giant pile of treasure.
The trip, of course, is treacherous, with the dwarves set upon by giant spiders, suspicious elves and bloodthirsty orcs, just to reach the death-dealing dragon.
Interestingly, there were no orcs in the book “The Hobbit,” but here they are around every corner, looking very scary, but dying very easily.
Also not in the book is popular LOTR elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who glides into this version and wracks up an impressive body count. Legolas is teamed with a brand-new female character, elven warrior Tauriel (“Lost’s” Evangeline Lilly), who kills just as many orcs and manages to sneak in a chaste love triangle that includes a dwarf.
The two elves may be out of place, but they also inject some high octane into the adventure, particularly in an adrenaline-soaked river rapids barrel escape by the dwarves.
Martin Freeman is still a delight as Bilbo Baggins, the lone hobbit and the company’s burglar, whose job is to lift a fabled gem from underneath the nostrils of the dragon.
Smaug himself, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is an impressive piece of CGI, both majestic and imposing. Ian McKellen is still the pre-eminent wizard actor of our time, playing the powerful Gandalf, though he spends much of this film separated from the party of adventurers.
“The Desolation of Smaug” does plenty of meandering as Jackson tries to turn it into a sweeping epic on the scale of “Lord of the the Rings.” The action set pieces, however, are both excellent and frequent, and keep the film moving to its inevitable conclusion. Whenever that might be.
Rental Recommendation: “Time Bandits.” Back when little people were played by little people. Grade: B.
Email Steve Ouellette:firstname.lastname@example.org
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Evangeline Lilly.
Rated: PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images).
Running time: 161 minutes.