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Trailer: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The second part of Peter Jackson's trilogy of films adapting J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece.

PT2M28S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ur90 620 349

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Reader rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (111 votes)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Reviewer's rating: 8/10
Rated M, 161 minutes, now showing
Genre: Fantasy drama
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry
Verdict: A huge improvement on its predecessor that, while still bloated in length, offers plenty of thrills

Following last year's box-office behemoth An Unexpected Journey and its 48-frames-per-second delivery, Peter Jackson refocuses for this middling episode in his Lord of the Rings prequel.

Softening the impact of his much-discussed technological experiment, round two opts to keep the narrative firmly rooted in action and - in a breakaway from Tolkien tradition - romance. We begin with familiar faces; Gandalf (Ian McKellen) sending Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves on a spectacular mission to the Lonely Mountain. Giant, ravenous spiders, aggressive wood-elves and positively mercenary orcs all present themselves one after the other, as the merry, motley crew stumble and tumble their way on to face Smaug himself, an over-imposing dragon (voiced by the silver-tonsilled Benedict Cumberbatch).

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Its creator may have raised an eyebrow at the sight of the new, female elf warrior, Tauriel (Lost's Evangeline Lilly), whose sole purpose appears to be to create heat via an unusual love triangle.

But, given that almost nine hours of cinema in total is being gleaned from a modest novel numbering less than 300 pages, clearly something fresh is needed. Jackson and his collaborators have opted to broaden and modernise the franchise's appeal, in much the same way TV's Doctor Who is now seen pashing his companions on screen. Traditionalists may baulk at such blatant invention. And, to be fair, while it improves enormously on its unsatisfactory predecessor - the relentless action here is coupled with stunning CGI-led visuals to silence the naysayers - this billion-dollar franchise can never hope to scale the lofty heights of The Lord of the Rings trilogy from a decade ago. Where that carried a clear sense of grandeur and gravity, The Hobbit inevitably emanates a lighter, occasionally whimsical tone more akin to a video game.

Without offering any plot spoilers, a suitable cliffhanger leaves the door open for next year's finale and, perhaps, the closing of the book on Middle-earth. There is still the small, trifling matter of a 60-year gap between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which Jackson's camp has ruled out pursuing on screen. For now, at least.