Shortly after, Gandalf leaves them to attend another matter and the group flees into the enchanted Mirkwood, where they’re accosted and nearly eaten by a horde of giant spiders. They’re saved and subsequently captured by a group of Wood Elves, who are led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).
With the help of Bilbo and his darkly-enchanted “one ring of power,” the dwarves escape the elves, floating down a river in barrels. They ultimately make their way to Lake Town, which sits at the foot of the Lonely Mountain.
That synopsis isn’t terribly different from what’s come before, but Jackson elevates this film through a handful of nuances. For one, he departs from his typical M.O., never allowing “Smaug” to bog down in action or become encumbered by its own runtime.
At two-hours-forty-one minutes, “Smaug” isn’t appreciably shorter than any of Jackson’s other jaunts into Middle Earth, and yet, it doesn’t feel that long. That fact speaks to pacing. Whereas in the other films, when Jackson staged an epic battle, he might linger for what felt like half the film’s runtime, he rarely dawdles here. As a result, “Smaug’s” escapes and battles feel tighter and shorter, with a decent amount of narrative downtime in between, allowing the director to tell a more involving, more narrative-and-character-driven story.
“Smaug” doesn’t feel quite so epic as Jackson’s other Tolkien adaptations, either, and that’s not a bad thing. The Dark Lord Sauron and his armies don’t figure as prominently here, and the aforementioned battles aren’t nearly so grand compared to similar sequences from the other movies; in fact, in comparison, “Smaug’s” battle scenes feel scaled down. Sauron appears here mostly in suggestion, but his presence is far-more menacing than in any of the other adaptations. He’s like a ghost, a nameless demon whose identity only the audience is certain of.