Laketown is now under dire threat as the furious dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) launches himself in its direction, bent on revenge after his vast hoard of stolen treasure is threatened. The Master of the town (Stephen Fry) has his own gold to carry, and with assistance loads it into one of the boats just as the reptile begins his attack, breathing fire onto the wooden houses and killing the inhabitants. The archer Bard (Luke Evans) is still stuck in a prison, but as the sole individual around who can stop the assault he works out a method of freeing himself using the Master's boat then grabs his bow and arrow and climbs the nearest and highest tower remaining. But Smaug is plated with armour from all that time lying on the treasure, and the arrows bounce straight off...
It's safe to say Peter Jackson didn't win the same acclaim for his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's classic children's book The Hobbit as he did for his version of the writer's Lord of the Rings trilogy, with this third entry, the final in the entire Middle Earth series, accruing the worst reviews of the lot. But many of the fans would beg to differ, and were happy to lap up whatever Jackson made of the material, which in this case was more of an action fantasy than anything in the source, resembling very often at times the experience of watching someone playing a computer game, as was the case with all too many blockbusters that did not spare the visual effects in the twenty-first century. If you did not mind that, then at least those effects were top notch.
Though they still had that digital unreality to them, which could take you out of the story as you discerned the work that had gone into making an orc's face look photo-realistic, or a giant bat appear in flight. Aside from the technological quibbles, there was time for the plot, though you could be forgiven for remembering to follow it later rather than on first viewing, and the cast buried under makeup were as plucky as ever. It was cheering to see, for example, Christopher Lee (and his stunt double) indulging in a spell-casting fight, Ken Stott offering the emotional depth to the Dwarves that might not have been apparent otherwise, or Ian McKellen in the role that endeared him to generations, wise and canny as Gandalf ever was. Martin Freeman had his mannerisms to fall back on, but had long since proved himself a decent choice as Bilbo.
Oh, and Ian Holm reprised the same role, though merely as a cameo in this instance. Richard Armitage as the leader of the Dwarves, the one who should rightfully be King, had a bit more to do when he underwent a mental crisis once the power of the gold began to get to him, prone to wandering off on his own and brooding, then when he was among friends tending towards paranoia. But there was your theme, the conflict between greed and bravery, summed up in those two poles by a variety of characters, as the whole thing kicked off with the avaricious Master getting his just desserts for ignoring the plight of his subjects and making off with his fortune instead. That was carried on throughout with the cowardly Alfrid (Ryan Gage) who Jackson returned to time and again to make an example of him.
If there was a tension throughout with self-interest conflicting with the greater good, then the bravery was where the action lay, as most of the players got into their stride when push came to shove, though some would only act when their backs were against the wall. Bilbo predictably was "forced" to use his magic ring which would hold so much significance to the previous trilogy, but we would have been let down if it had resolutely stayed in his pocket for the duration, another instance of the film taking a turn for the far out and psychedelic in its effects, lending a distinction to such sequences other filmmaker would have been content to make generic so as not to confront the blockbuster audience. It was touches like that, photographed as ravishingly as ever by Andrew Lesnie, that offered the personality, though some aspects such as Billy Connolly being Billy Connolly had perhaps too much of that, but it would be a cynic who did not feel a little moved by the misty-eyed farewells that ended the franchise. Whatever you thought, it was an achievement. 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.