Bilbo and the dwarves continue their adventure, along the way meeting Beorn the shape shifter, the spiders and wood elves of Mirkwood, Bard the Bowman and the people of Laketown and finally after something like 5 hours of Hobbit films, the big bad dragon Smaug.
Voiced by Bilbo's old sparring partner Sherlock, Smaug is supposed to be the main event and he is pretty damn spectacular. The problem that Peter Jackson seems to be having is that he finds very little of what Tolkien wrote to be satisfying, spectacular or sensational enough so he feels the need to crank everything up way past eleven.
Sometimes this turning of Tolkien into a roller coaster ride works well. The barrel riding escape becomes all out war between orcs and elves with the dwarves doing extreme sports in the middle. The fight between Tauriel and Legolas and some nasty orcs in Laketown also gets the pulse pounding. But then by protracting the big Smaug set-piece, Jackson gives us plenty of time to gawk at his fire breathing creation but also makes the threat of Smaug seem far less potent. By the time the film ends, Bilbo and the dwarves have survived what feels like hours messing around in the same cave as the mighty dragon and Smaug's power has been utterly diminished. Hopefully the final film in the trilogy will set this right again by making Smaug's attack on Laketown a really terrifying spectacle to behold.
So Peter Jackson is messing with Tolkien left, right and centre. Some of what he adds is wonderful. Tauriel kicks ass. Legolas is welcome back and Gandalf's brush with Sauron all add to the fun and the seriousness of where this trilogy is heading and how it will fit with The Lord of the Rings. However at other times Jackson has strangely decided to snip some of the most memorable moments of Tolkien's book. The introduction of the dwarves to Beorn is completely different and far less memorable and the way the wood elves lure the dwarves off the path in Mirkwood is also changed. It's a shame as I would have thought Peter Jackson would have made more of the Mirkwood scenes as this is where his horror background would have shone through.
The spiders are great and Bilbo's showdown for the ring with a horrible creature, followed by his declaration of ownership was the highlight of the film. All in all, The Desolation of Smaug is a hell of a ride. While some of the revisions and additions are annoying, much of what Peter Jackson and his creative team are doing is to be highly commended. Let's hope he can bring it all to a satisfying conclusion in 2014.