[Screen It]


(2013) (Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen) (PG-13)

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Fantasy/Action-Adventure: A hobbit continues on his quest with a wise wizard and thirteen dwarves to reach a mountain and reclaim their former kingdom from the fierce dragon that displaced them years earlier.
The last time we saw the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (MARTIN FREEMAN), he had been recruited by the wise wizard Gandalf the Grey (IAN McKELLEN) to join thirteen dwarves -- led by Thorin Oakenshield (RICHARD ARMITAGE) -- as they set off for the Lonely Mountain. There, the fierce dragon, Smaug (voice of BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH), lives inside the locked mountain, guarding his copious amounts of gold and other treasures. Among all of that is the Arkenstone, the key for Thorin to reclaim his rightful kingdom from the beast.

As they continue on their quest, they must contend with any number of fantastical characters, including their archenemies, the warrior-like Orcs and their fierce leader, Azog (MANU BENNETT). There's also shape-shifter Beorn (MIKAEL PERSBRANDT) who dislikes dwarves but hates the Orcs even more, which also holds true for Thranduil (LEE PACE), the king of the elves of Mirkwood who capture the dwarves. His son, Legolas (ORLANDO BLOOM), is smitten with fellow elf and expert archer, Tauriel (EVANGELINE LILLY), but she's become slightly enamored with one of the taller dwarves.

After they escape from the elves, Bilbo and the dwarves run into Bard the Bowman (LUKE EVANS) who helps smuggle them into a town within eyeshot of their ultimate destination, the Lonely Mountain.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
In most aspects of life, I'm a fan of padding. That's because it ends up protecting all sorts of things in our lives, be that our bodies (cartilage and fat internally, bedding, shoes, helmets and such externally); things we're moving or sending to others; scoring leads in sporting events; and even time itself. But when padding feels like, well, simply padding for padding's sake, and actually ends up adding unnecessary bulk or time to something that doesn't need it, then it's not so welcome.

Such is the case in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," the bloated sequel to 2012's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." That was the first installment of director Peter Jackson's decision to turn J. R. R. Tolkien's average length novel into not one, not two, but three films. And not just 90 or 120 minute ones, mind you, but those nearing or at three hours in length. V To yours truly, that first offering felt like just a rehash of the director's earlier "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, mainly in terms of a group quest to get to a certain faraway mountain while dealing with all sorts of obstacles and setbacks along the way. That feeling continues here and is only exacerbated by the "middle trilogy entry" affliction that affects many such secondary films. And that's essentially that it comes off like -- yes, you guessed it -- not much more than padding between the introductory and concluding chapters.

Naturally taking up where the 2012 film left off, we have our one titular character, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continuing on his "let's get to the mountain" quest with thirteen dwarves (sadly, none singing "Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to Mt. Lonely we go") led by the deposed "I want to kick some dragon butt" leader Thorin (Richard Armitage). The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is initially along for the ride, but then detours off onto his own side journey.

All of which means that like the previous four films, there's plenty of walking and talking and some more walking, occasionally interrupted by bursts of special-effects laden action sequences. Those are handled decently enough, but we've seen the same or similar so many times before (especially in this overall Tolkien universe) that most of it's lost its visual and engaging allure.

That is, except for the sequence that finally (finally!) arrives in the third act involving the second title character, that being the fire-breathing dragon Smaug. Deliciously voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch ("Star Trek Into Darkness"), he's a fascinating nemesis to the characters and huge obstacle to their quest.

The best scenes are when it's just him and Bilbo interacting, especially when a mountain of gold coins (ironically inside a mountain themselves) slowly start shifting and sliding away, slowly revealing the beast. And it's a good thing the big ol' lizard is there since the last film's most interesting character (which also held true for the LOTR pics), Gollum (terrifically portrayed by Andy Serkis via computer wizardry) is MIA this time around.

The rest of the performers are just repeating their roles, while the likes of Mikael Persbrandt, Luke Evans and Evangeline Lilly have been added, but without any tremendously notable or noticeable gain. After all, time needed to be set aside to show the characters walking and talking and then walking some more. In other words, they're not only padding this film, but also the trilogy as a whole that easily could have been a two-parter and quite likely a one-off.

That wouldn't have made since financially (since the three films will likely collectively gross several billion dollars worldwide), but it certainly would have artistically. Unlike my favorite padding -- bubble wrap and its "you can't just pop one" structure -- the bloated "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" ends up smothering the otherwise simple story, but without any of the addictive fun. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed December 2, 2013 / Posted December 13, 2013

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