The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Middle-earth continues its domination of the silver screen with this latest installment, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the second film centering on the adventures of the hobbit Bilbo and his band of merry men (and dwarves and wizards). Peter Jackson has delivered a terrific film that also has a unique Achilles’s heel. The one weakness in this otherwise highly-entertaining movie is exactly what has made it such a box-office draw: the ghost of Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which hangs like a storm cloud over the picture.

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of “The Hobbit”

Therefore, watching “The Hobbit” is akin to visiting with an old friend: it’s the familiarity, more so than any sort of novelty, which makes the visit fun. The dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) teams up with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) in a quest to reclaim his homeland from the dragon Smaug. Familiar faces make an appearance: Orlando Bloom and the outstanding Ian McKellen resume their roles, while Middle-earth newcomer Evangeline Lilly dons a pair of elf ears for this installment. What follows is the usual series of marauding orcs, daredevil escapes and journeys through fantastical landscapes. Where Jackson’s native New Zealand ends and the CGI begins, in some scenes, is anyone’s guess.

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What keeps “The Hobbit” from falling into shadow, if you will, is Freeman. He lends Bilbo a sweet selflessness undercut with a brief moment of deceit (thank you, One Ring). Freeman’s winning performance, combined with Jackson’s enormous talent, gives “The Hobbit” the strength to stand the test of time.

You’ll find all manners of Hobbit-related shenanigans at the official site: http://www.thehobbit.com/