By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Hobbit-forming this is not.
That’s what happens when a slim volume is turned into three lengthy movies, at least the first two of which contain too much of everything.
Its massive commercial success notwithstanding, last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was dramatically inert, a technically accomplished fantasy adventure that registered as a monumental bore.
The second installment of what will play out as an epic trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is, like its predecessor, essentially part of a three-part prequel to The Lord of the Rings, from a novel that JRR Tolkien wrote in 1937 for his children.
And as he did in the first outing, director Peter Jackson has shot The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in the much-ado-about-nothing speed of 48 frames per second (as opposed to the usual 24).
As for the desolation that set in during the first film, an unexpected journey into the twin lands of Impatience and Indifference, it returns during this second outing, which is more rapidly paced than its predecessor but is once again self-indulgently and unnecessarily lengthy at well over 2½ hours.
Technically admirable the film may be, but it’s an hour too long.
You read that right: an hour.
Martin Freeman returns as reluctant diminutive hero Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit going on another Middle Earth quest, accompanied once again by the wizard Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen, and thirteen dwarves.
This time, picking up where the first outing left off, Bilbo and his not-so-big buddies are determined to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor and a hoard of gold, which is being guarded by the arrogant fire-breathing dragon, Smaug, voiced by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch.
Smaug, generated by motion-capture technology, makes a modest impression, as do supporting cast members Orlando Bloom as Legolas and Evangeline Lilly (from TV’s “Lost”) as Tauriel, both warrior elves invented for the movie; Richard Armitage as the dwarves’ leader, Thorin; and Stephen Fry as the Lord of Laketown.
Director Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Lovely Bones, King Kong), who also served as a producer and co-wrote the screenplay with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro (who was originally scheduled to direct), has taken considerable liberties with Tolkien’s novel, focusing more squarely on Bilbo Baggins this time rather than the undifferentiated cardboard-cutout dwarves.
However, like most middle installments, this one suffers from incompleteness and fails to stand satisfyingly alone. Instead, it provides a narrative bridge for the more consequential first and third episodes and provides little in the way of resolution.
Not that forgiving fans of the franchise will notice or mind, as they immediately start looking forward to next year’s conclusion.
In certain other quarters, however –- here, for example –- the prospect produces only dread.
So we’ll dwarf 2 stars out of 4. This second chapter in the Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, makes another tiresome spectacle of itself on its way to the Middle Earth realm of Lotsa Moolah.