Spoilers galore here so read on at your peril although I've not gone into too much detail
We succumbed to the 3D version and, all in all, I'm glad we did but boy did we have bad seats as you need to be in a good elevated centre seat to take in the sheer scale of the blissful cinematography. Purists will hate it because it completely glosses most of the Mirkwood parts of the book, 'bearly' touches on Beorn (but then he's hardly there anyway). Some good bits with Thranduil (gods he's dishy! ) interrogating Thorin and Bilbo word-fencing Smaug. We start in Bree (cue the rain) with Gandalf talking to Thorin a year before the quest starts then straight back in to go with Beorn and Azog getting a callback to Dol Guldur. Bolg's put in far too early to deputise with the ongoing dwarf chase saga that's does start to get seriously annoying in this episode, mainly due to Legolas, Prince of the Ninjas (more to say on that later... ). Thorin and Co get to and into the Lonely Mountain and the film finishes where Smaug strops off to Laketown all portentous, with Bilbo having a belated, but serious 'whoops what have we done?' moment, which was totally ruined by a soft rock ballad playing with the end titles.
So far, so normal, so lets get the bad bits out of the way first. The much-vaunted Tauriel character has no place in the original storyline, so of course they could do what the hell they wanted with her in Mirkwood and... hat's off to them, they could have had an inevitable sprauncy prince elf meets sexy guard captain scenario, 'cos Legs definitely would like to go there, but instead the tawny-haired and eyed warrioress starts to get the hots for - Kili?!!!!! Well, he is tall for a dwarf apparently... Anyway, fast forward to the barrel escape - think more sitting in them going over Niagra style, then gratuitously have Bolg and his evil hench-orcs chasing them down the wildest log flume ride in creation with Tauriel and Legs in Matrix on speed style hot pursuit. Eventually they all give up because the river's too rough, so the dwarves escape as planned, but not before Kili takes a 'Morgul' knife wound, so he has to be left behind in Laketown with Fili, Bifur and Bofur (and a bit more for Bard to do to earn his fee).
Rewind slightly for another major miff - Bard (played by Luke Evans who looks startlingly (in a good way) like a dark version of Eomer/Karl Urban) is brought in far too early as a kind of smuggler bargeman and underground rival for Stephen Fry's Master. All that's not too bad really, as it embroiders plausibly on what was, let's face it only faintly pencilled in for the book. It shows a darker side to the city on stilts, and Mr Fry is his usual national treasure self in portraying a self-serving local slimeball politician who's trying to be posher than he really is. And back to poor wraith-meat Kili - all of sudden Tauriel and Legolas steam in just as Bofur's been out to get some athelas from the pigsty (yes really! ), because Bolg and his minions have hit town briefly. After another stunning Bruce Lee memorial exhibition bout, all orcses are despatched with Legolas chasing the remnants out of town while Tauriel suddenly becomes Elrond and goes all shiny tearing up the kingsfoil and manfully massaging it into Kili's stumpy hairy dwarf leg... It's a touching scene in a way, but really, PJ must really be sitting up and begging for yet another lore nazi drubbing. But as T's a total invention, who's to say it's not adding some context to dwarf-elf romantic interaction where Galadriel and Gimli dared not tread? LOL
The really great bits that were expected, whether they were in the book or not -
- Smaug - totally awesome. Best dragon ever!!!!! Daenerys Stormborn cry your little blonde heart out. He's stupendously brilliant and so - right! Benedict Cumberbatch is an utter god of voice acting. Even the dragonfire works and the bit where he's starting to flame - well words almost fail, but his gullet glows under his scales and it's just soooo - whoooosh!
- Gandalf in Dol Guldur. This IS canon, so don't argue! It may not be in the Hobbit, but it is in Unfinished Tales and the Sil, so ner ner and shut up! But what's not in canon is the glorious conceptual visualisation of a battle of pure magic. And, gods help us, this is the dark side of the Music of the Ainur. The sequence can only be a few minutes long, but I swear that Tolkien himself would not fault this gorgeous gargantuan gem of a power war between Gandalf and the Necromancer. Simpy breathtaking.
So - PJ do what you like with Azog/Bolg and Co and Legolas can rollerblade to the Battle of the Five Armies for all I care now - thank you for topping the Isengard wizard heavyweight bout by miles and miles!
- Smaug again, but really eclipsed by his hoard (the Arkenstone is so beautiful) and a much expanded and probably over-indulgent fight sequence in the Halls of Erebor with Thorin driven to the edge, playing tag with his friends and setting off the forges to nearly engulf the dragon in a tsunami of molten gold and send him off, literally spitting nuggets, to Laketown.
Overall this movie takes astounding liberties with the original tale and Erebor makes Moria look pretty drab in comparison, but it sure brings the glory of the past dwarf kingdom to searing life - and it's fun in an over the top way. Canon issues thrust to one side (your mileage may vary on that of course ) this is possibly the best fantasy action adventure film I've ever seen - except the next one's got Galadriel prodding buttock with Elrond in Dol Guldur to rescue Gandalf and there's the Battle of the Five Armies with Billy Connolly as Richard Armitage' kickass cousin Dain so it should be a rambunctiously good finale to this second Middle Earth trilogy next year!
(Most taken from orignal review HERE)