Movie review: “Hobbit” feels drawn out but still amazes

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From the December 12, 2013 edition

Peter Jackson has fine-tuned the factory of Middle Earth Inc. to an extent where it cranks out J.R.R. Tokien-inspired wonderment with the utmost efficiency.

Me? I’m suffering from Hobbit fatigue, and even as the latest chapter continues to be a roller coaster of cinematic thrills, it feels “been there, done that.”

It was hard not to see the dollar signs in the decision to expand the prequel to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy to three films. If the original trilogy felt like a movie marathon, stretching a 300-page book into three, count ’em three, films (each likely to top the 2 1/2-hour mark, mind you) feels a little ridiculous, no?

For the faithful, you’ll get what you expect. The continuing adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) are expanded upon by a quartet of screenwriters (Jackson, his wife Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro — who was once slated to direct “The Hobbit” — and Philippa Boyens). Bilbo’s quest moves him ever close to the dragon Smaug (voiced by the exceptionally British-named Benedict Cumberbatch) ... and moves us even closer to the third “Hobbit” film (due December 2014).

If I seem awfully grumbly in a review of a movie I’m giving three stars it’s because being pretty awesome is just good enough for Jackson’s Hobbit. He has this down. There’s a certain hubris involved in working in more action sequences (and LOTR references) into the source material, but we’re all just along for the ride.

And, let’s be honest, it’s a thrilling ride. Now working in 3D, Jackson takes his theme park ride to new heights he only began to explore in the first “Hobbit” film. The titular dragon is teased a la “Jaws,” but the digital Smaug is pretty impressive (even if the film ends on a cliffhanger note that indicates we’re really gonna get the dragon porn in Part 3).

I can’t see anything that would disappoint fans of Jackson’s incarnation of Tolkien’s work, but I’ll be glad when this whole thing ends and the filmmaker turns his considerable talents in another direction.