There aren't many films which introduce the title character, having a snooze, almost two hours into the movie.

Is Smaug worth waiting for? Absolutely. Does he defeat that ancient movie curse which risks ridicule when giant fantasy creatures start talking? Sure thing.

Does he live up to getting his name on the poster? Heck yeah.

Sneak Peek from today's livestream from Peter Jackson of the latest trailer from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. courtesy Facebook/The Hobbit.

Once he's awake, Smaug certainly is a flaming great dragon and you quickly forget it's Benedict Cumberbatch on vocals and that it's Weta Digital on everything else.


Physically, he's a work of reptilian gargantuan grace. But the impressive part is how he's also a character who's clearly mad, bad and dangerous to know and it somehow makes perfect sense that he's also a giant fire-breathing lizard.

Yes there is a "but" coming and it's this: The problem is this magic dragon runs out of puff - or the protracted sequence which starts with him being awakened by Bilbo rattling through his treasure trove and ends with ... let's not spoil it.

Spectacular and endlessly inventive as the climatical battle underneath the mountain is, it's exhausting.

Sure, the ensuing cliffhanger ending will want to make you see the final instalment of a trilogy

But if the first film took its own good time to get going, then this is sometimes a runaway train and one, by the end, which is frequently switching tracks. Especially as the action shifts from the Company of Dwarfs and Bilbo, over to Gandalf's own semi-solo adventure then to various battles between elves and orcs which act as a sort of martial arts zombie movie on the side.

If the finale is exhausting, for the most part the first half of The Desolation of Smaug is invigorating and frequently exhilarating. Pace-wise, this seems to have hit high gear by about the same time they were still doing in the dishes in Hobbiton in part one.

The spider attack in Mirkwood outdoes the giant arachnid encounter in the Lord of the Rings and reminds of the giant bug fun Jackson and his cohorts had in King Kong. The barrel escape sequence, where the dwarfs and Bilbo head down river while being pursued by both orcs and elves is a hoot and a half.

The 48 frame per second high definition 3D isn't as disconcerting as it was first time round. Until, that is, an elf arrow that was just about to get you between the eyes pierces an orc skull in front of you.


And while there's plenty of scenic horizons, intricate labyrinths and forbidding forests the likes of which we've seen before, it's the ramshackle floating hamlet of Laketown, presided over by an amusingly oily Stephen Fry, that wins the Middle-earth tourism award this time.

There are enjoyable and memorable performances behind new characters, like Lee Pace as ruthless elf king Thranduil and an impressive Luke Evans as Bard, the good bloke of Laketown who tries to help the Company of Dwarfs.

She may be a non-book invented character might to snare the Hunger Games demographic but Evangeline Lilly's elf-warrior Tauriel is more fun than any of her pointy-earred comrades. The mutual attraction between her and Kili, the good-looking dwarf, despite the jealous scowls of Legolas (a returning Orlando Bloom) might bring Tolkien purists out in a rash but it's a nicely underplayed subplot so far.

And as the ending of Smaug reminds us, there's a long, long way to go before anyone here will be thinking of living happily ever after.

Verdict: Exhausting but exciting dragon-fired second instalment

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Richard Armitage
Director: Peter Jackson
Rating: M (violence)
Running time: 161 minutes