Ten things we learned from watching ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

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After grinning our way through all 161 minutes of ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’, we can report the following spectacular (but not too spoiler-y) facts: And it’s not just their lust for riches. In the opening prologue to ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ we learn that there are, according to Gandalf, ‘seven dwarf families’. Once we’d got past wondering if one was led by Sleepy, one by Dopey and so forth, it struck us that this does sound unnervingly like something out of ‘The Godfather’. And let’s face it, Thorin did make Bilbo an offer he couldn’t refuse… The word ‘relentless’ gets bandied about a lot when discussing pumped-up action flicks, but Jason Statham would need a bucketful of amphetamines to keep up with ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. Post-prologue, the film gets into its stride with an orc-dwarf-bear mountain smackdown, ends in fiery devastation and barely pauses for breath in between. Anyone who felt that the first ‘Hobbit’ flick was a bit chatty is in for a serious treat. Another problem (for some) with the first film was all the songs that kept popping up: the dwarves and their dishes, the Goblin King and his jowls. We’re pleased to report that this time out no one so much as lays a hand on a lute. They’re far too busy falling out of trees and getting shot with arrows. That said, the Ed Sheeran number that plays over the closing credits is truly, truly wretched. It turns out the ring has properties other than just allowing Bilbo to hide from his enemies (and giving Sauron unlimited power over all things, natch). We won’t give too much away, just to say that the scene in question is genuinely, horror-movie creepy, and that chronic arachnophobes are urged to cover their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears and pretend it isn’t happening. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ gave us man-on-elf action and the first ‘Hobbit’ strongly implied a bit of a flicker between elven queen Galadriel and winking wizard Gandalf. ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ kicks it all up a gear with a spot of unexpected but surprisingly sweet elf-dwarf flirtation. We won’t say who’s involved, but it’s not Legolas and Bombur. Actually, extensive plastic surgery would be a better option. If you thought Azog, the pale orc from ‘An Unexpected Journey’ was unsightly, wait until you clap eyes on his saucer-eyed sidekick Bolg, a murderous, musclebound brute whose look seems to be based on Gollum’s rugby-playing older brother after a hard night on the happy pills. ‘Extreme Makeover: Middle Earth’ starts here. While our dwarfish heroes are waylaid in a woodland trap, the great wizard manages to hike right the way up a mountain, right the way back down again (with a miniature horticulturist in tow) and all the way to the ruined castle of Dol Guldur without breaking a sweat. We won’t tell you what happens when he gets there, but suffice to say that cans of magical whoop-ass are most definitely opened. We were waiting with bated breath for our beloved national institution’s much-heralded turn as the Master of Laketown. But we couldn’t have imagined the look he’d opt for: think Ron Weasley after roughly 40 years of solid boozing and disappointment. As an actor, Fry doesn’t really go too far outside his comfort zone: he’s sly, aristocratic and schoolmasterly. It’s long been known that Benedict Cumberbatch would be providing the voice of Smaug the terrible, lizard of lizards. But we were still taken aback at quite how velvety-smooth and well spoken this gold-loving, fire-hawking worm of destruction really is. It turns out that when we suggested back in 2009 that louche ladies’ man Leslie Phillips would make a great Smaug, we really weren’t too far off the mark. Obviously we’re not going to give away how the film ends, but be warned. After closing every chapter of his Tolkien series to date on a graceful note of optimism – the last film finished as the dwarves got their first look at the Lonely Mountain – this one climaxes with the cliffhanger of cliffhangers: a brutal mid-scene cut-to-black that’ll leave you gnawing your knuckles and praying for December 2014 to just get here, now!

‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ trailer

‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ review

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

4 out of 5 stars

With Gollum’s iconic cave scene out of the way, we finally get to clap our eyes on the infamous dragon in the second instalment of Peter Jackson’s three-part Tolkien adaptation. An early trailer showed us plenty of leg, with dramatic landscapes, barrel-hopping action, CGI monsters, marching orcs and scarifying spiders. The highlight was undoubtedly a first hint of Benedict Cumberbatch's lugubrious tones as Smaug the magnificent, lord of lizards.

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