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'The Desolation of Smaug' shows improvement


I didn't love the first "Hobbit" movie, and I don't love "The Desolation of Smaug." That said, this second installment is miles ahead of its immediate predecessor, even if it can't hold a candle to the original "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

"The Desolation of Smaug" picks up where "An Unexpected Journey" leaves off and clears most of the rest of the story of "The Hobbit." I'm very surprised at where this second installment ends and what remains for the third movie, which is planned for next Christmas. "The Hobbit" originally was planned to span two movies; however, late in the production the decision was made to split it into three -- which seems like an error to me. I simply don't think there is enough content, more specifically meaningful content, to span a full trilogy. The result of which is a noticeable overlong feeling and a disjointedness that permeates the entire movie.

Disregarding the source material and production woes, "The Desolation of Smaug" is respectable as a stand-alone film. I rather enjoyed it and absolutely will be going back for a second viewing -- in some cases to catch some bits that would be impossible not to miss for a movie of this girth and to re-experience some well-crafted scenes that have felt closer to "Lord of the Rings" than anything in the first "Hobbit" movie.

Chief among those accomplishments is the dragon Smaug.

This digital behemoth truly is a wonder and alone is well worth the price of admission. Furthermore, it seems Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong. He is both captivating and terrifying as the voice of Smaug.

The ingredients are all here -- the production, the sound design, the cast, the direction. Mixing them together is a herculean task. Filmmakers not only have to mix them together in the right amounts, but at the right time. "The Hobbit" puts everything together in an altogether acceptable fashion. It's simply missing that secret sauce to push it from good to great.

* 5 of 6 stars

James Gerstner works at Fort Hays State University Foundation.