FROM THE DEN AT WOLF THEATRES — I suppose characterizing “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” as Peter Jackson’s finest trip to Middle Earth is a dicey proposition.
Fans of these movies might question, perhaps, how I could suggest this second entry in Jackson’s latest Middle Earth-based trilogy is more entertaining than any of the original “Lord of the Rings” movies – especially than “The Return of the King,” which garnered a Best Picture Academy.
Granted, it’s been more than a decade since my theatrical screenings of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “King,” but I nonetheless remember always being disappointed after each. “Towers,” in fact, was beyond disappointing, but also one of 2002’s worst movies for me.
And it hasn’t been long since I saw this latest trilogy’s first entry – 2012’s “An Unexpected Journey,” which, for me, ranks alongside “Towers.” Consequently, based on my initial reaction to this film, “Smaug” is the most entertaining interpretation of JRR Tolkien’s work Jackson has adapted for the screen to date.
On the whole, “Smaug” isn’t radically different from its predecessors. The film transports us back to the by-now familiar world of Middle Earth, which is populated by a fantastical array of goblins, hobbits, orcs, trolls, elves, sprites, giant spiders, wraiths, dragons, skin-changers, necromancers, wizards, wargs and witch-kings.
“Smaug” picks up where “Journey” left off: The hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is on a quest with a band of exiled dwarves across Middle Earth to reclaim their gold and their homeland inside the Lonely Mountain from the evil dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
In some ways, explaining what makes “Smaug” superior to Jackson’s other Tolkien adaptations feels akin to nitpicking. Bilbo and his company, initially guided by the Wizard Gandalf the Gray (Ian McKellen), never stay in one place long. They’re on the run from a pack of orcs as “Smaug” opens, taking refuge in the cabin of the skin-changer Beorn, who they initially encounter as a hostile bear.