The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Rated 3.0

Good news—there are more beheadings and fewer half-hour-long dinner parties in this second installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy. However, while it offers some technically impressive set pieces, the cartoonish visuals and watery characters don't improve from last year's An Unexpected Journey. Jackson is filming J.R.R. Tolkien's book at a rate of two to three minutes per page (on pace with Erich von Stroheim's long-lost eight-hour cut of Greed), and here he pads the running time by tying this prequel's storyline into his own Lord of the Rings films. He even gets Gandalf to play Middle Earth detective, the same tactic George Lucas used to occupy Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode II of the Star Wars prequels. Most of The Desolation of Smaug is unembarrassing entertainment, but unlike with The Lord of the Rings, we never fully identify with the magical critters skittering through the special effects.