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Visually pretty, 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' is short on plot

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Keeping in tune with a gang of determined dwarves and a special hobbit on a quest for untold riches as read about in J. R. R. Tolkien's “The Hobbit,” the determined director Peter Jackson is on a quest to adapt into a box office smashing film trilogy. After introducing audiences to Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and how he got what will be the magic MacGuffin for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, December 13 marks the US theatrical date of Peter Jackson's second volume of “The Hobbit” in “The Desolation of Smaug.”

“The Hobbit 2: Electric Boogaloo” doesn't bother with the ancillary excess of recounting “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” so it can continue the story of Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves on a quest hoping to prevent the desolation of Smaug. So those who haven't seen the first film or read “The Hobbit” may find themselves lost during “The Desolation of Smaug” as they wonder what the motivation of everyone is.

It's true that Peter Jackson intends for audiences to watch the entire “The Hobbit” trilogy sequentially so that “An Unexpected Journey” will put the necessary context into “The Desolation of Smaug,” the lack of a proper introduction explaining the stakes hobbles “The Hobbit: Catching Fire” when watched on its own (and this is a review of that film on its own). “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Godfather: Part II” managed to stand well when watched independently of their associated film trilogies.

So what Peter Jackson's second film in “The Hobbit” trilogy becomes is a series of encounters with orcs, elves, men, and the titular Smaug (voiced impressively by Benedict Cumberbatch as his resume grows impressively). Action scenes are a whiz-bang flurry of CGI effects and humor that dazzles until they become dizzying from the film's frame rate and eventually becoming boring because they go on for far too long. Expository moments between action scenes immerse us in impressive visuals while providing very little about the story. There's also a 3D option to watch Peter Jackson's film, but that's just a bullet point. It's strange that the 169 minute time span of “The Hobbit Revolutions” manages to feel much longer while leaving viewers without a sense of what's going on.

But perhaps the biggest issue with the film is the presence of a jarring cliffhanger (spoiler warning: “The Desolation of Smaug” ends in a jarring cliffhanger) that comes off as a giant Richard move (the style guide prevents the use of the actual term). After sitting through nearly three hours, the least that “The Desolation of Smaug” could have done was have an ending. Cliffhangers in films were acceptable when the new film was scheduled to come out during the following week. And recent films that split into two parts or are cliffhangers have managed to either end its current conflict while setting up for the next film or finding a hope spot to mark the end of the first part. After all of the sloppy attempts at build-up (but plot build-up nevertheless), “The Desolation of Smaug” ends abruptly in the middle of its climatic fight in the most erect of Richard moves.

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