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Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, The (3D) (AF)


Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Aidan Turner, Dean O'Gorman, Graham McTavish, Adam Brown, Peter Hambleton, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, William Kircher, Stephen Hunter, Ryan Gage, John Bell, Manu Bennett, Lawrence Makoare

Director: Peter Jackson

Gandalf, Bilbo and the 13 Dwarves (eat your heart out, Snow White!) are back in a spectacular sequel that’s even more entertaining than its predecessor with Martin Freeman now very much at ease and in control of his character and clearly enjoying himself as he and his fellow small but feisty fighters continue their epic quest to reclaim their lost kingdom of Erebor.

(By the way, there’s not much point in wasting time trying to memorise the names of all 13 Dwarves. The only reason to do so would be to try and upstage devoted cine-pseuds able to reel off the dozen who played Lumet's 12 Angry Men and similar film ‘facts’).

In any case director Peter Jackson drives his story along at such a rapid pace you would be far better off concentrating on keeping abreast with what’s happening. Co-scenarist Jackson never allows the narrative to slow down. The result is a spectacular and exciting fantasy adventure that grabs you from the opening in a gloomy pub in the finest Hammer Horror tradition and never relaxes its grip right up to the final frame, which leaves you wanting the third film in the trilogy – right now!

When Freeman says, “There is something evil out there”, he is not exaggerating.

In the course of their thrilling, suspenseful and colourful campaign, he and his gallant band have to contend with Orcs, a man-bear, giant spiders who rapidly cocoon the intruders in their webs in the terrifying forest of Mirkwood. They descend dangerously in barrels down a roaring river and, most impressively, they are faced with close encounters of the chilling kind with the monstrous great dragon Smaug who was responsible for turning their kingdom into a barren hell-land.

Impressive special effects seamlessly blend ‘real’ and ‘surreal’ so that the extraordinary menagerie and equally fantastic settings appear real, allowing the drama effectively to make its impact, vividly complemented and Andrew Lesnie’s superb 3D cinematography.

Ian McKellen, who leaves the Dwarves to their own devices for quite a long time, Freeman, niftily using his magic ring to make himself invisible when the need beckons, Orlando Bloom back as Legolas and Evangeline Lilly, as a remarkably sexy archer with long tresses and pointy ears that Mr Spock would have loved, effectively head the cast.

Benedict Cumberbatch is suitably slimy and luvvie-ish as the voice of Smaug
(Incidentally, monster playing might be something of a family tradition since his mother Wanda Ventham portrayed a giant killer moth hunted by Peter Cushing in The Blood Beast Terror).

And here I should apologise. When I first glimpsed Stephen Fry, as pointlessly self-satisfied as ever, I assumed he must have been playing Smug, as usual. Of course I had simply misread the title: Smaug is the name of the deadly dragon.

While action, fantasy, spectacle and suspense are the name of the game here, Jackson infuses apt comedy into the show.

My favourite line?

The dwarf who complains ‘You do know we’re one short?”

Alan Frank

USA/New Zealand 2013. UK Distributor: Warner. Colour by deluxe.
161 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 10 Dec 2013