Wakatipu audiences and visitors do not have to wait long to see a slice of Paradise, near Glenorchy, appear as Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) and the mini-army of dwarfs run through it in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
The middle episode of the Hobbit trilogy starts at a gallop and rarely stops, compared with the sedate walk in the (national) park of its predecessor, An Unexpected Journey.
Desolation is full-tilt action adventure throughout and the better for it, with new corners to Middle-earth to explore, such as the impressive slum-Venice of Lake-town, new characters to meet – most memorably the invented heroine Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) – and new links to The Lord of the Rings, for instances, a flashback to the Prancing Pony tavern in Bree and why Bilbo calls his Elvish blade ‘Sting’.
Bilbo, now the unwitting holder of the virtually radioactive One Ring, and exiled dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his company of dwarf warriors, delightfully working more as a team, with the help of Gandalf the Grey (McKellen), continue their quest to reclaim the dwarf kingdom of Erebor from Smaug, a giant fire-breathing dragon (voiced with relish by Benedict Cumberbatch). They are pursued by an orc army and the dark clouds gather of a much larger threat to Middle-earth.
Only die-hard fans would find fault with non-canon Tauriel, who adds much needed femininity and feistiness to the lumbering male-dominated cast.
The beginnings of a love-triangle between the bow-wielding elf, the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and the returning Legolas (Orlando Bloom) also add frisson.
Watched in 3-D and in the smoothed super high-definition frame rate of 48 frames per second, sound and vision are clearer than day and a marvel to experience.
Desolation of Smaug justifies the hype and will leave you clamouring for the final chapter There and Back Again.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (M)
Starring: Sir Ian McKellen (Vicious), Martin Freeman (Sherlock), Richard Armitage (Strike Back)
Director: Sir Peter Jackson (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)
Screening: Reading Cinemas Queenstown and Dorothy Brown’s Cinema, Arrowtown.
Four stars (out of five)
– Otago Daily Times