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Movie review: 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' tries too hard to please

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a film that tries too hard. Between stretching the source material from one book into three films all with a running time nearing three hours and bringing back characters from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy—which is far superior to this one—just to attract more viewers makes it all a bit too much. However, director Peter Jackson still makes the film wonderfully entertaining and beautiful, even if the story is flawed.

The film, which is the middle part of “The Hobbit” trilogy, picks up where its predecessor, “An Unexpected Journey”, left off. The motley crew including Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his band of dwarves, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who was hired on as the group’s burglar for his small stature, continue their journey across Middle-Earth to the Lonely Mountain, where they plan to take back the dwarves’ homeland from the fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). However, they run into more obstacles on the way, from being attacked by giant spiders to captured by Elves, where they meet the Elvish warriors Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).

Without having the burden of introducing the many characters as the first film had, this one is able to get right into the swing of things. It has many of the elements one has come to expect from these films, including humor, heart, and of course lots of action and special effects, only “The Desolation of Smaug” takes them one step further. The fight scenes are over-the-top but extremely entertaining, in particular the scene in which Bilbo helps the dwarves escape the Elves in barrels. The visuals are almost too much at times though; when they reach the point where they can no longer uphold the illusion of reality, the problems start.

The focus also isn’t as much on Bilbo in this movie—strange, seeing as how he’s supposed to be the main character. By adding more characters to the mix with this film, we get a lot of semi-intriguing subplots but the development of the main story and characters lags. And the thing is, none of the other characters are really all the integral to the plot, with the exception of Bard the Bowman, a new character played by Luke Evans. Legolas wasn’t in “The Hobbit” novel, while Tauriel never even existed in the source material. They’re really cool characters, but their presence here doesn’t make much sense, as if they were added merely to attract the interest of “Lord of the Rings” fans.

The film has some other flaws too. Smaug doesn’t seem as scary as he should, and I’m pretty sure it has to do with Cumberbatch’s voice. And while the last “Hobbit” film and the first couple “Lord of the Rings” films ended in a way that led right into the next film so the story could continue, they still felt conclusive and closed that chapter of the story nicely. This film, however, simply ends, in an abrupt way that’s rather jarring.

“The Desolation of Smaug” is an entertaining film that will likely please fans of Middle-Earth, but by trying too hard to retain those loyal fans, it loses some of its magic. Hopefully the last film in this trilogy will try to get some of it back, but if Jackson attempts to stretch what’s almost a completed story into another three-hour movie, it will also probably be trying too hard.

Runtime: 161 minutes. Rated PG-13 for extending sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:

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