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‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

by Gioanni Fazio

“What have we done?” cries Bilbo Baggins at the end of “The Desolation of Smaug,” and he could well be speaking for the filmmakers.

Peter Jackson and company have taken JRR Tolkien’s one-volume predecessor to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and blown it up to three films, of which this is the second. They’ve shot it in what they claim to be a groundbreaking new digital format, in which the difference between the real and the digital is awfully pronounced. And Jackson is never one to practice restraint: Even the most brilliant sequences — a hyperspeed battle with orcs while barreling down some white-water rapids, or the escape from Mirkwood spiders — go on twice as long as necessary.

Furthermore, the film is split between actors who find the right tone for the material — Ian McKellen or Richard Armitage — and those who are just unbearably hammy, such as Stephen Fry or Lee Pace, who seems to have stumbled in from Monty Python’s alternate-universe version of Tolkien. Andy Serkis’ Gollum is sorely missed, while Benedict Cumberbatch’s dragon Smaug just prattles on and on.

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