Twelve months ago in the town of Bree, the pretender to the throne of the King of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), was sitting in a tavern when he became aware that there were unfriendly elements eyeing him with malice. About to reach for his sword, he was interrupted by the arrival of the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) who wanted a chat. All Thorin had to do was assemble a band of twelve of his fellow dwarves and set off on a quest to seize back the kingdom that was rightfully theirs and had been forcibly taken from them by the powerful dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). So it is now Gandalf has accompanied this gathering, with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) in tow, and are in sight of their destination...
If you believe some people, Peter Jackson couldn't do anything right on his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit, mainly thanks to what he chose to include rather than what he left out. Drawing on much of the author's other writings plus bits and pieces Jackson and his co-writers invented themselves, these movies were specifically designed to offer spectacle of a flavour that would be recognisable for an audience used to special effects-filled blockbusters. Alternatively, if you read the texts, you'd be used to a more academic-sounding form of storytelling, or if you had experience of the original book, a work for children which had been built upon for his ensuing Lord of the Rings trilogy adapted with far less grumbling by Jackson previous to this Hobbit trio.
The trouble with that was the first book had been simple and easy to follow, while the other parts of the Tolkien writings they took from had been some serious world-building strictly for the dedicated followers of Middle Earth, which left a work like The Desolation of Smaug pulling in two directions, the one where it was all rather juvenile and even a fun adventure for the whole family, and the other business which had all the wars, the long lists of character names and their relation to one another, and other acres of essays to wade through contained a concentrated degree of detail that would not be bothering the sort of parent who would read The Hobbit to their child for a bedtime story. Still, Jackson wanted as much of both as he could fill three films with, and that's what you got.
Some of this was more successful than other parts, with the action sequences, now a must for any fantasy-based major film production, veering between the impressive and the farcical, where the influence of the trend for superhero epics was making itself plain, thus Legolas the Elf (Orlando Bloom was back) pulls off superhuman feats of agility which were so preposterous they transported you straight out of the conception and into the realm of scepticism. Therefore the most vocal naysayers were wont to point to the excesses and shoot the whole enterprise down in flames, which might give the impression this tale of the takedown of a great, big dragon was not a hit with audiences, when it was actually one of the most popular efforts of its year, if also the most popular to be complained about.
In truth, this middle instalment was neither truly fantastic nor truly awful, and one of the aspects which kept its head above water, or at least kept it inside a barrel coursing down a fast-flowing river, was Jackson's care with the actors. He offered most of his cast something to do that brought out a personality rather than some line-delivering plot-propelling device, though oddly a character he invented especially, Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, came across as precisely that, not exactly doing the cause of including women in the boys' club of Tolkein's fiction any great favours - the love triangle was well-meaning but a clunky obstacle. More happily, Benedict Cumberbatch offered a sinister reading of Smaug's lines, and it was a treat to hear him trading lines with Bilbo in the tradition of many a verbose villain, then there was the increased screen time Ken Stott won as dwarf Balin, providing heart to a film that might otherwise have settled with going for the obvious. All that and it ended with a cliffhanger, just like a proper movie serial should. Music by Howard Shore.
Hugely talented New Zealand director best known today for his Lord of the Rings adaptations. Started out making inventive, entertaining gore comedies like Bad Taste and Braindead, while his adult Muppet-spoof Meet the Feebles was a true one-off. Jackson's powerful murder drama Heavenly Creatures was his breakthrough as a more 'serious' filmmaker, and if horror comedy The Frighteners was a bit of a disappoinment, then his epic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were often breathtaking interpretations of Tolkien's books. 2005's blockbuster King Kong saw Jackson finally realise his dream of updating his all-time favourite film, but literary adaptation The Lovely Bones won him little respect. In 2012 he returned to Middle Earth with the three-part epic The Hobbit.