The UK film premiere of The Hobbit took place on Tuesday.  Mail film reviewer Graham Young was there to give his verdict on the second part of the movie trilogy adaptation of Birmingham author JRR Tolkien’s classic book.

Twelve years after Peter Jackson launched The Lord of The Rings, he’s still hammering JRR Tolkien’s legacy on a money-making anvil.

After last year’s An Unexpected Journey ran to 167 minutes, there’s another 161 minutes here before we’re abruptly left flying high and dry – with another episode still to come.

Even Tolkien, the boy whose imagination was fired in Moseley Bog behind his home in Birmingham’s Wake Green Road, could surely never have believed that just 276 pages of his children’s book The Hobbit would fill eight hours plus of screen time.

As an epic action thriller, The Desolation of Smaug gets going quicker than its predecessor An Unexpected Journey and will be a fun romp for older children especially.


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For adults, its structure negates the greater Fellowship of the first film, which itself didn’t match The Lord of the Rings’ early camaraderie.

Jackson overplays Smaug’s (very) special effects and the extraordinary, giant sets are increasingly indistinguishable no matter where the story moves on to.

And there’s only so many times you can watch 13 mostly anonymous dwarves dancing along in a line without singing to yourself: ‘‘Let’s all earn some wonga...’’

We are back in Middle-earth some 60 years before The Lord of the Rings itself.

And Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), still need to reclaim The Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.



 

Standing in their way will be the skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), giant spiders in the forest of Mirkwood, wood-elves and the fire-breathing dragon, Smaug.

To sustain the trilogy, Jackson dispenses with the pleasingly maturing Bilbo and the ageing Gandalf once too often and gives us a few decapitations instead.

Into the breach come Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman and Stephen Fry as the Lord of Laketown, while Orlando Bloom returns as a somewhat out-of-place Legolas from The Lord of the Rings.

Newcomer Evangeline Lilly is tremendous as the female elf warrior Tauriel, whose bow and arrow skills match Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

Perhaps it’s the latter which suddenly makes this seem over-reliant on technology – less The Hobbit, more The Hobb.I.T.

Brilliantly choreographed it might be, but the dwarves’ white-water ‘escape by barrels’ sequence – think The Mission meets Raiders of the Lost Ark – is computer game-lite, minus any real sense of jeopardy even in ‘higher frame rate 3D’.

Children will love Smaug the fire-breathing dragon, impressively realised visually and brilliantly interpreted by Benedict Cumberbatch.

But he’s already voiced Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and the Smaug ‘character’ is no Gollum (actor Andy Serkis is, sadly, a second unit director here).

Inevitably, the dinosaur-like dragon riffs heavily on Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

Desolation’s real highlight comes far earlier when Jackson’s must-see giant spiders are in a world class and much more shockingly original league of their own.

If you hate spiders, you simply won’t be able to look!

The Hobbit: There and Back Again (3D) is set to conclude the trilogy on December 19, 2014.