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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Dec. 13)

161 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

I am happy to report that “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a better movie than last year’s interminable “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Of course, this is a bit like congratulating grandma for outrunning great grandma.

Both movies are overpadded, meandering, and infuriating in their insistence on turning a whimsical  book for children into a lumbering behemoth of narrative and economic overkill.

Against their dramatic shortcomings, one must balance the undeniable technical creativity behind director Peter Jackson’s vision.

“Smaug” finds our Hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of waddling dwarves drawing ever closer to the mountain beneath which the dragon Smaug lurks with his vast treasure of stolen riches.

There are moments here that I recognize from my long-ago reading of “The Hobbit,” like the gigantic spiders that  wrap up the adventurers in the forest of Mirkwood, putting them into storage for future meals. Or Bilbo’s figuring out of a an ancient riddle that will open that secret mountainside doorway to Smaug’s vast underground realm.

But Jackson and his co-writers (Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens) have tossed in a lot of stuff that never appeared  in the book. Foremost among these is the reappearance of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas (a character from the “Lord of the Rings”) and the introduction of a lady elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), who has been cut from whole cloth.

Tauriel and Legolas are an item, sort of, but she is inexplicably taken with Kili (Aidan Turner), the least grotesque of the dwarfs … could a bit of Middle Earth miscegination be our future? Stay tuned.

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