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WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

When we last met Bilbo the hobbit (Martin Freeman), he was halfway through an ‘unexpected journey‘ from the Shires to the Lonely Mountain, with a group of dwarfs who were hoping to reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug.

With a gang of angry orcs on their tail, Bilbo and the dwarfs still have to navigate a frightening forest and cross a vast lake to reach the mountain, before uncovering the secret entrance and trying to find a magical gemstone that will help the dwarfs’ leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) secure the support he needs to take back his throne.

And it’s not just the orcs getting in their way; they have to fight off giant spiders, get imprisoned by elves, find themselves riding the rapids in wine barrels and have to deal with a few corrupt officials before they reach their destination.

But once they arrive, getting inside and finding the jewel, without waking the dragon pose problems of their own.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Director Peter Jackson’s love affair with Middle-earth continues with the second part of his Hobbit trilogy, which picks up where part one left off and leads the way to the conclusion. This makes it hard to watch in isolation, as this particular story has neither a beginning nor an end, so at more than two and a half hours, it’s really a film for committed Tolkien enthusiasts.

Picking up midway through his story, Jackson is able to get straight down to business, and there’s no question that he knows how to throw together a thrilling action sequence out of nothing – with most of the backgrounds and monsters being computer generated; riding the rapids and fighting off the giant spiders provide some of the most spectacular moments of the latest stage of Bilbo’s adventure.

For those unfamiliar with Tolkien’s universe, the relationships between some of the races remain confusing – one minute the elves take the dwarfs captive, the next, they’re helping them escape the orcs – and the narrative fails to engage, because having spent nearly three hours in part one, watching them get from A to B, this film is simply all about getting them from B to C; there’s no attempt to explore or explain any characters or relationships.

There are a handful of comic interludes to lighten the mood, but to a large extent, watching the film resembles watching someone playing a computer game, as their avatar progresses from one level to the next by defeating one foe or escaping another.

The production values are as high as you’d expect from Jackson, but in that sense, you just take it as read and accept what you see on the screen, which means this far into his adaptation, he needs to offer more than just spectacle to keep all but the most ardent fans feeling involved.

But that being the case, anyone who’s stuck with the trilogy after part one is more likely to enjoy the sequel, as it’s the rare kind of beast that is guaranteed to appeal to its target audience.

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