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Originally published December 12, 2013 at 12:05 AM | Page modified December 12, 2013 at 12:33 PM

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‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’: Enter the dragon

A three-star movie review of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” In this second installment of the series, a dragon drives a story of action and love.

Seattle Times book editor

Movie Review 3 stars

‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,’ with Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Richard Armitage, with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch. Directed by Peter Jackson, from a screenplay by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. 161 minutes. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. Several theaters. For showings in 48 FPS 3D, go to

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The second installment of the movie version of “The Hobbit” series, “The Desolation of Smaug,” opens this weekend, and 95 percent of the known world will see it regardless of what any critic says. So I’ll be brief: I loved some things, others not so much.

First, book-to-movie notes: “The Hobbit,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s first book, was published in 1937. The book, which began as a kids’ book but turned into an adventure story of greed, aspiration and regret, has been shaped into three film installments. The first ended after hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarves were rescued from pursuing orcs (goblins) and wargs (wolves, sort of). The story resumes as the band descends into Mirkwood, a dark and diseased forest that harbors many nasty critters, and a few friendly ones.

It ends ... well, that would be a bit of a spoiler.

Things to love

Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf. I never get tired of watching these talented actors (McKellen has said Freeman’s most remarkable quality is “to be able ... to convey the fact that he’s thinking, as we all often do, two different things at the same time.” ) Unfortunately, this installment of “The Hobbit” is so action-driven, neither actor gets much to do, other than struggle to avoid being beheaded or incinerated.

A love story! The Hobbit brain trust has created a kick-ass female character, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). She falls hard for the dishiest dwarf, Kili (Aidan Turner). She is also an absolute wizard with a bow and arrow.

Smaug, the dragon. He’s sinister, sinuous and terrifying, and his voice echoes with the plummy accents of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Middle-earth. The moviemakers create a world that you just want to jump in to, even if it means facing down the King of the Orcs.

Incredible action sequences. Highlights include the dwarves’ white-water-rafting-in-barrells escape and the loathsome spiders’ attack. (Do not take your 5-year-old to this movie.)


Incredible action sequences. The final battle, when the dwarves attempt to kill off Smaug, contains so many improbabilities that the “suspension of disbelief” part of your brain eventually gives up. (And that’s saying something, in a movie starring a dragon.)

Dwarfs. Really, not all that appealing, except for Kili.

Insufficient moral justification for the quest. This is a story of greedy dwarves wanting their treasure and their homeland back. We all know what heinous acts have been perpetrated in the name of these atavistic human impulses.

The filmmakers try to provide an ethical bulwark by alluding to the terrible Necromancer/Sauron lurking somewhere in the background, waiting for his moment. Tolkien didn’t develop this theme until “The Lord of the Rings,” almost 20 years later. It feels tacked on.

Length of time until the next one: A year until we find out what happens after Bilbo moans, “What have we done?” Of course, you can always read the book and find out.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or On Twitter @gwinnma.

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