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This film has the unfortunate position of being the second film in a trilogy. Director Peter Jackson has divided the classic J. R. R. Tolkien novel into three parts. In the first film, An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) joins a band of 13 dwarves on a quest to reclaim their homeland. The film ends with the group seeing the Lonely Mountain in the distance. The Desolation of Smaug continues to follow the crew on their journey to the Lonely Mountain, which happens to be the lair of the hibernating, fire-breathing dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

This is a classic action adventure story. The heroes are chased by Orcs and caught by spiders; they barely escape from the dungeons of the wood elves, and they float down the river in wine barrels. All without the protection of Gandalf (Ian McKellan), who has left to discover how bad the bad guys really are. A run-in with the wood elves allows the screenwriters to introduce Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), hinting at a love story.

Although the character development is inadequate, the film tells a compelling story. In a pop culture environment that often lacks fantastic, magical worlds, Middle-earth draws us into a vivid, enchanted space with a sense of mystery.

Ultimately, The Hobbit is a story told in the context of a struggle between good and evil. When Legolas suggests closing the wood elves off from outside dangers, Tauriel levels his argument with a simple question, “Are we not a part of this world?” Good and evil are at odds in our world too, and this story confronts us with the same deep question: how will our gifts and our small but significant vocations be a part of the quest toward the world that ought to be? (Warner Bros.)

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