Band of tiny brothers

Latest Hobbit film towers over the first

Finally some hot hobbit action. The first Hobbit film An Unexpected Journey was achingly boring an exercise in fanboy servitude. It felt long and laborious the prologue to a long novel. It was all singing and eating dinner. With The Desolation of Smaug (sounds like bad grammar to me but whatever) director Peter Jackson finally gives the rest of the Lord of the Rings fans what they want to see. Every last nook and cranny of the novel is explored of course (there’ll be even more when the extended version shows up on Blu-ray) but Jackson keeps the pace amazingly brisk and the action big and furious. Also there is a talking dragon.

All of the players are back from the first flick. There’s Bilbo (Martin Freeman) Gandalf (Ian McKellen) surly elf prince Legolas (Orlando Bloom) a couple minutes of Cate Blanchett and scores of nasty orcs. And don’t forget the dwarves — there’s the one that looks like Santa Claus Gwildor from Masters of the Universe Sleepy Dopey the one that looks like Rod Stewart and the leader who resembles a pint-sized version of that wrestler The Undertaker.

There is a brief prologue where the would-be dwarf king Thorin meets with Gandalf in a pub. The wizard reiterates what we already know: Thorin needs to reclaim a special jewel hidden in the ruins of the old dwarf city so he can become king and blah blah blah. It’s to Jackson’s credit that the film isn’t incomprehensible with the various characters and subplots but a second viewing of the first film would probably help casual viewers.

The film then picks up with our heroes about to make the last stretch of their journey. They need to make it through a scary forest and across a lake to the lair of Smaug a vile evil dragon that destroyed the city and snacked on tons of dwarves. He hoards loads of treasure and lies sleeping within the bowels of the ruined city. Along the way they have to deal with those pesky orcs and those damn elves who think they’re better than everyone else just because they have eternal life and wonderful hair.

Gandalf takes his leave early to go mountaineering and chatting with that other wizard from the first film the crazy one covered in bird shit. He’s further investigating the dark evil that’s rising in the land. (It’s Sauron.) The prequel nonsense is easily the weakest part of the film (as it was in the first) an indulgence of Jackson’s need to add even more material to an already overstuffed series. There’s nothing new to be gained from the scenes. If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings series (like everyone else on the planet) you know what happens next. There’s a leaner more interesting film here but Jackson is unfortunately correct in assuming that LOTR fans will want to see what they already know.

Fans waiting for the key scenes from the book including the attack of the ugly forest spiders and the introduction of Smaug the dragon won’t be disappointed. Bilbo creeping around while Smaug sleeps buried in treasure looks fantastic and a sequence where the dwarves race down a river in barrels while butchering orcs is more fun than the entire last film. There are endearingly goofy elements like the copious use of ridiculous made-up fantasy languages and great lines like “Kill the She-Elf!” and “Bless my beard!” There’s even a godawful hobbit-themed folk song at the film’s end. Jackson aims to please.

Most impressive however is watching how much Jackson owns the film. His style (wild sweeping camera angles; spectacular cartoony action) rises above the digital cacophony and fan pandering to create the epic fantasy the original material deserves. This is The Hobbit fans were waiting for.