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'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' review: Hide and seek with a flamethrower

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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The journey to Lonely Mountain continues in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." The second film in Peter Jackson's prequel trilogy to "The Lord of the Rings" begins with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) meeting the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in a tavern where it's decided that Thorin must become king and they must rescue the Arkenstone, the family heirloom of the Durin line, and that Gandalf will accompany him. Unfortunately that's easier said than done since the Arkenstone now belongs to the great dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) who now lives in the very mountain that once belonged to the dwarves. Rescuing their homeland of Erebor from the clutches of Smaug the Terrible must be achieved at all costs. That's why this entire adventure rests on the shoulders of a thieving hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is currently blinded by the power of The One Ring.

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While the sequel to "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" was presented in 3D, it was not shown in 48 frames per second. It may have just been the projector or the theater that it was shown in, but that rich detail introduced in the first film felt absent here. The constant use of 3D seems to cause the film to be blurry at times and consistently out of focus like when the camera panned out to show how massive both Smaug and the bowels of Lonely Mountain really are.

"The Desolation of Smaug" does introduce one of the greatest action sequences in both "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" films. After Bilbo, Thorin, and the rest of the dwarves escape from Mirkwood and The Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace), there's this magnificent barrel sequence where you see the orcs attack the elves with the dwarves in the middle of all the mayhem. There's this action packed cycle that lasts for several minutes and mostly revolves around the incredible feats of Thranduil's son Legolas (Orlando Bloom) being extremely skillful and hitting his mark every time.

The 3D is utilized just as efficiently as it was in "An Unexpected Journey" as decapitated heads are thrown at you like hot potatoes as arrows, spears, and other weapons seem to be pointed in your face. The special effects are still top notch, but seem to collapse during the fight with Smaug. The effects seem to get a bit too carried away during their time on Lonely Mountain, but Smaug himself is a complete wonder to behold. Not only does Benedict Cumberbatch's deep voice boom and echo in octaves that seem to make your soul shake, but the immense dragon looks massively realistic at times; slithering around and slimy like a snake, his scaly body, and razor sharp teeth. Smaug's colossal claws dwarf pillars and bridges, his amber eyes are filled with fire, and his chest ignites in chambers like an exploding smokestack.

The slow pace is noticeably not as bad this time around. Some individuals do get antsy during the Bilbo/Smaug confrontation since it's a lot of talking and not much else for nearly 45 minutes. The Smaug sequences were some of the most intriguing though. Smaug was bound to get a lot of screen time. He's in the title of the film after all. There seems to be more action in "The Desolation of Smaug" compared to "An Unexpected Journey," as well. The slower moments don't feel as stretched out either and it doesn't take long for the action to pick up once again.

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" doesn't have the emotional investment "An Unexpected Journey" does, but it's also much more exciting than the first film. Seeing Bilbo's evolution since the previous film is also intriguing. He's no longer cowardly or doubting himself. He jumps headfirst into battles as The One Ring brings out this ferocity in the character the first "Hobbit" film only hinted at. Even though the visuals aren't quite as sharp, "The Desolation of Smaug" is the exciting, fantasy adventure many wished "An Unexpected Journey" to be.

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" has an official release date of Friday, December 13 but begins playing in conventional and 3D theaters starting the night of December 12.

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