The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is now the shortest of the Middle-Earth series by a whopping 161 minutes (or 2 hours and 41 minutes). Yet, Peter Jackson's second entry into his prequel trilogy feels like a 3-hour opus, filled with rousing action sequences and stunning production value (it's really amazing the filmmakers could still find uncharted places within New Zealand to shoot these films). Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes Design, Visual Effects, Sound Editing and the score, once again composed and conducted by the great Howard Shore - the look and feel of this film rivals Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire for Hollywood decadence at their best. Like James Cameron, Jackson is that rare director who knows what to do with a massive budget, and not a cent is wasted in the final product. They all serve at the altar of Jackson's untamed imagination and he does let it fly (the barrel waterfall sequence alone will get applause for it's off-the-walls creativity in an action sequence) often in this installment of the adventures of Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armentage) company of thirteen Dwarves, still on their quest to reclaim Erebor, the Kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, which has been under occupation by the vile Smaug (a deliciously evil Benedict Cumberbatch), which is a visual marvel unto itself.
Going into The Hobbit 2, you should know, upfront, this movie isn't close to the perilous nature of 2002's The Two Towers, and if you saw last year's An Unexpected Journey, you know that first installment was bloated and you might have felt that it didn't have the same magic as Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. I still feel that, while trying to make this new trilogy as a bridge to connect to the original LOTR trilogy by using Tolkien's Appendix section from The Return of the King, this really should have been what Jackson intended it to originally be: a two movie, 3-hour affair. Still, I really enjoyed this installment and I feel Jackson finally found his grove again in telling a thrilling and exciting story that even when we see stupid shit like Thorin using a metal container to float down a river of liquid molten gold, I can forgive because I'm having too much fun to give a damn. There and Back Again will conclude The Hobbit trilogy on December 17 of next year, and already I wait in anticipation for what PJ has in store for us.
*** stars out of ****
*** stars out of ****