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'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' a Thrilling Middle Episode of Middle-Earth (REVIEW AND ROUNDUP)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood December 6, 2013 at 1:01PM

Peter Jackson continues his lighter, more swashbuckling tone with the second Hobbit movie, "The Desolation of Smaug," which serves as a bridge to the much darker and apocalyptic "The Lord of the Rings."
Martin Freeman in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
Martin Freeman in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

Peter Jackson continues his lighter, more swashbuckling tone with the second Hobbit movie, "The Desolation of Smaug," which serves as a bridge to the much darker and apocalyptic "The Lord of the Rings." While total war mounts, there's still time for the rollicking action of the barrel flume ride (a theme park ride if ever there was one) and the much anticipated encounter with the menacing Smaug (deliciously voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), the greatest CG dragon ever created onscreen, thanks to the wizards of Weta.

Like "The Two Towers," and in keeping with "The Godfather" and "Star Wars" trilogies, this middle movie might prove to be the most satisfying, freed from exposition and closure. And what a cliff hanger!

Early reviews of the film are in agreement: "The Desolation of Smaug" is a vast improvement over last year's  "An Unexpected Journey." A roundup below. We'll update as more reviews become available.

The Hollywood Reporter:

Beginning with the blessing of not being stuck with a bunch of hungry and thirsty dwarves in Bilbo Baggins's hut for a half-hour at the outset, nearly everything about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug represents an improvement over the first installment of Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved creation. The “unexpected journey” launched in last Christmas's box office behemoth becomes the heart of the matter this time around, making for plenty of peril, warfare, theme-park-ride-style escapes and little-guy courage. For Jackson and Warner Bros., it's another movie, another billion.


If “An Unexpected Journey” felt like nearly three hours’ worth of throat clearing and beard stroking, the saga gets fully under way at last in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the similarly massive but far more purposeful second chapter in Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien enterprise. Actually shorter than the first film by nine minutes, this robust, action-packed adventure benefits from a headier sense of forward momentum and a steady stream of 3D-enhanced thrills — culminating in a lengthy confrontation with a fire-breathing, scenery-chewing dragon — even as our heroes’ quest splits into three strands that are left dangling in classic middle-film fashion. Jackson’s gargantuan undertaking can still feel like completist overkill at times, but that won’t keep the Middle-earth enthusiasts who pushed the first “Hobbit” film past the $1 billion mark worldwide from doing the same with this Dec. 13 release, which should see Warner Bros.’ coffers overflow like Erebor’s.


Who could guess, after the meandering first feature in a seemingly unnecessary eight-hour trilogy of films based on a novel of less than 300 pages, that Peter Jackson had such a vigorous and thrilling middle episode in store? With Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the dwarves finally done with introductory dawdling, they dive into a nonstop adventure among the noble Elves, the rough-hewn humans of Laketown and the ferocious dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). This time, Andy Serkis has not lent his presence to Gollum, but his work as second-unit director is spectacular. Each complex encounter, especially a flume-ride escape of the dwarves, boasts a teeming ingenuity of action and character. A bonus: the budding romance of the warrior Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the dwarf hunk Kili (Aidan Turner). In all, this is a splendid achievement, close to the grandeur of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Peter Jackson, Peter Jackson, Peter Jackson, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.