This weekend, the second installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy--The Desolation of Smaug--officially opens to highly expectant audiences, and certainly the title character will not disappoint. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Star Trek: Into Darkness), and rendered with amazingly life-like CGI, the dragon is an eerily realistic character whose sinister interactions with burglar Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) are definitely spine-tingling.
With that in mind, it seems unfortunate that we only see him in the last 30 minutes of the film. Up until that point--two hours in--die-hard Tolkien fans may be a bit surprised, and possibly even disappointed, by some of the re-imaginings Jackson incorporated into the film. While the basic story line stays faithful to Tolkien's original tale, and some of the scenes not taken directly from the book were at least mentioned there in passing, other newly imagined elements seemed needlessly contrived. The role of the Orcs and Elves is greatly expanded, and the addition of a new character--the she-elf Tauriel, portrayed by Evangeline Lilly--seems there mainly to create romantic tension amongst several characters. And while it was exciting to see Orlando Bloom reprise his role as Legolas (his character at least has plausibility in the story as the son of the Elf King Tharanduil), his involvement in the Ring saga at this point is superfluous, with little bearing on the events we know that follow. That, along with the overly-heavy foreshadowing of the reign of evil to come (also not part of Tolkien's original tale) combined to give the story a feel of being overly engineered, and lagging in some places.
Overall, however, the film is definitely as action-packed as the first in the trilogy, with the amazing special effects and breath-taking scenery that is characteristic of Jackson's Middle Earth saga. Several cameos, including Stephen Colbert and Jackson himself, along with nods to the previous LOTR trilogy also give audiences something fun to watch for; and while the story may seem to drag in some places, the film in general moves at an exciting pace.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens at theaters nationwide on Friday, December 13th. Check your local listings for times and locations.