Many people were very unsure about Peter Jackson's decision to film The Hobbit (one book that is barely 300 pages) into a trilogy of films that are each almost three hours long. These are the same people that came out of An Unexpected Journey complaining that too much of the movie was simply Jackson stretching out and adding plot lines to fill the running time. While I do agree with some of these complaints (spending a half hour in Bilbo's home surrounded by dwarves with bad table manners was painful), I still felt that it was one of the best films I had seen in 2012. That being said, The Desolation of Smaug is a better movie in almost every way! The film moves along at a very fast pace, offers some of the best action sequences and visual effects I've seen on screen since Gravity, and still keeps that emotional depth we have come to expect from the Middle-Earth films. Of course, this film is still almost three hours, so in addition to the main plot which follows the crew of dwarves and Bilbo Baggins making their way to the Lonely Mountain to defeat the dragon Smaug, several plot lines were stretched and added. We are re-introduced to the elf Legolas (return of Orlando Bloom), and meet the rest of his kingdom, including his father, King Thranduil (Lee Pace, and a new character, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who are met during a very scary and awesome fight scene with many giant spiders. The new character of Tauriel introduces a love triangle between her, Legolas, and the dwarf Kili, and leads to several romantic scenes that (surprisingly) work in this Tolkien universe. The dwarve's escape from the elf kingdom is an amazingly choreographed and animated action sequence, involving barrels, Orcs, elves, and a river. After this scene, the dwarves are on back on their quest. While this is going on, Gandalf is off on his own, aided by Radagast the Brown, in his quest to discover which evil has made it's way back into the world, a storyline that ties directly into the Fellowship of the Ring. After some time in Laketown (near the Lonely Mountain), and the introduction of another heroic type, Bard, Bilbo and the dwarves finally make it into the mountain. Let me just say, where the last film left you with not enough dragon AT ALL, this one makes up for it.
I thought that last year's film had a great scene with Gollum and Bilbo solving riddles, the ending scenes with Smaug, Bilbo, and the dwarves blew me away. None of the dragon is hidden, and his presence is truly terrifying, thanks to his amazing animation and his terrifying and booming voice, provided by Sherlock himself, Benedict Cumberbatch. I was on the edge of my seat nearly all through this film, right up to the cliffhanger ending. I can't recommend it highly enough, especially if you are a fan of Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth films. If you are overly fond of the book, however, you may be off-put by the amount of added material, but I believe nearly all of it worked. It does suffer every once in a while from pacing issues, but I still feel this is a very strong film, and I cannot wait for next year's finale. Also, I know this is not appealing to everyone, but I just wanted to say that I saw this film in High Frame Rate (48 fps as opposed to 24) 3D and loved it. I honesty don't see what the complaints are, the higher frame rate makes the film seem realistic, almost like you're watching through a window into an actual world, and gets rid of motion blur that would have been in the action scenes and makes it all more clear and beautiful to watch. You will not be disappointed by this film. 8.8 out of 10 CGI dragons.