Starring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
Directed by: Peter Jackson (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”)
Written by: Peter Jackson (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”), Fran Walsh (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”), Philippa Boyens (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”) and Guillermo del Toro (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”)

With three “Lord of the Rings” films that have a total running time of over nine hours, Peter Jackson has the tendency to be a long-winded filmmaker. Of course, with the three “Rings” movies, Jackson was also adapting three separate novels into three separate movies, spanning an epic tale. But with J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Rings” prequel “The Hobbit,” Jackson made the decision to stretch one 300-page book into three films. With the first of the new series, “An Unexpected Journey,” opening last year, Jackson turned in an overlong, plodding and decidedly juvenile entry to the “Lord of the Rings” franchise. Looking to improve, the Oscar-winning director returns with the second chapter, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”

“The Desolation of Smaug” follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and a band of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. When they reach their destination, a dangerous dragon named Smaug is awaiting them.

One of the most notable details of “The Desolation of Smaug” is the inclusion of the “Rings” trilogy favorite Legolas played by Orlando Bloom. Though he is nowhere in the actual “Hobbit” novel, the character injects a little bit of life into “The Hobbit” film series, adding to the most interesting fight sequences of the film. Though many of the scenes are occasionally goofy and overlong, one particular sequence involving Legolas that takes place on a river is among the best scenes in the film. Though Legolas is at least an entertaining character, he isn’t necessarily interesting, which is a problem throughout “The Desolation of Smaug.” There is a certain sense of separation from every character, not giving the audience any room or reason to become attached. Relationships such as the one with brand new elf character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and a dwarf are forced. Even the film’s protagonist Bilbo is relatively quiet and unmemorable.

“The Desolation of Smaug” also suffers from serious pacing and length problems. The first section of the film is filled with long conversations that are difficult to follow and keep attention, which is an odd choice when opening a film. Casual fans to the franchise might be well served to take a short refresher course on the events of “An Unexpected Journey” to avoid being a little lost. Beyond that, the film occasionally stretches itself too thin making it easy for interest to dwindle.

In a pleasant turn, the tone of “The Desolation of Smaug” is more serious and adult, a far cry beyond the silly songs and humor seen in the first. Still, “The Desolation of Smaug” remains a flat and dull entry into the “Lord of the Rings” franchise. Perhaps Jackson can turn in a final entry on par with the original trilogy, but with two subpar attempts and an outstretched narrative, he has miles to travel.

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