The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Peter Jackson’s project could also be called The Prolongation of Tolkien, and may not speak to an entire generation but will at least hold one captive while running its extended course. With a duration long enough to require a restroom pit stop, and an overall sense that you can take that break at any time without really missing much, this part two of a three-part prequel to that other trilogy is not wrongly summed up as an epic quest for the ages. Along with the requisite clever bravery from Martin Freeman and craggy wizardry from Ian McKellen and gymnastic archery from Orlando Bloom, it offers a flowering of dwarf-elf love, a man who is also a bear, a surly dragon with the deeply signal-processed voice of Benedict Cumberbatch (that would be Smaug), some elaborate if bloodless battles that still look too computery, and Stephen Fry as the top city official of a place called Lake-town, which is not as nice and resort-like as it sounds. As usual, the dialogue includes certain important-seeming nouns which bushy beards and thick theatrical accents make difficult to discern, but no matter. More unfortunate is that the most emotionally resonant stuff — Freeman having a chance to actually seem like he is the main character, for instance, or those group moments when tough-guy pride gives way to tender little-guy camaraderie — is in short supply here, or maybe just thinned out from narrative distention. It’ll do until the next one, and at least Jackson hasn’t lost his joy of huge building blocks.