Stretching a kids book that’s shorter than any one of the three volumes of Lord of the Rings into 3 movies was always going to be a task and a half and there is plenty of padding and undue silliness in The Desolation of Smaug but the very fact the trilogy isn’t hellbent on taking itself too seriously makes everything all right. The best manifestation of this is Bilbo, played ably by Martin Freeman. There is such an understated level of humour in Freeman’s performance, something so obviously absent from Elijah Wood’s Frodo in Lord of the Rings, that anything that’s maybe a little too ridiculous is seen as such with Bilbo’s sense of the ridiculous.
There are some wonderful set pieces, such as the barrel riding escape from the elves, or the battle with Smaug under the mountain but they are all intentionally laced with humour, counterpointed rather well with Thorin Oakenshields complete lack of humour and humanity. Or should that be dwarfity?
The film isn’t perfect, it’s a bum numbing two and a half plus hours long and it shows with plenty of extraneous material. Gandalf’s encounter with Sauron while the companions get tangled up with spiders is a bit at odds with the tone of the rest of the film and it finishes on a rather unfair cliff hanger. I wasn’t enormously impressed with Smaug either, after all the teasing over his look in the first film, he looked a bit duff.
Still, if you’re a fan of epic fantasy that doesn’t involve incest, rape, regular execution, torture and the like, this is a much better bet than Game of Thrones.