144 minutes / Opens tomorrow / ***½
The story: In the concluding part of the trilogy, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the band of dwarves have awakened Smaug the dragon in their quest to find the Arkenstone, the jewel that will usher the return of dwarves to the Lonely Mountain under the rule of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Smaug, enraged, flies towards Lake-town to take vengeance on the people who have helped the group. Bard (Luke Evans) has the Black Arrow, the weapon reputed to be able to pierce Smaug's tough skin, but he has been imprisoned.
If the first part was all introductions and singing around the dining table, and the second was about one long camping trip, this chapter will be remembered as the one with the mother of all battles.
There might be more to this film than dwarves fighting elves fighting men and everybody fighting orcs, but it just feels that that is all there is here.
Director Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's novel has been very competently padded out to fill three two-hour movies, largely by the addition of theme park ride sequences that make full use of premium cinema technologies such as Imax, 3-D and high frame rate projection (think the chase up and down the goblin caves and the barrel escape down a raging river).
The way the stakes have been set up in parts one and two make the conclusion shown here both inevitable and predictable; the sense of having seen it all coming is reinforced by how viewers are aware that this film is the prequel to The Lord Of The Rings, so who lives or dies is more or less known.
Jackson and his team of writers do an admirable job creating dramatic tension under these tricky circumstances, but there is only so much one can do to paper over the structural weaknesses and to "age up" a story that Tolkien intended for children.
For example, they have done nicely in making protagonist Bilbo (Freeman) a multi-faceted protagonist worth caring about.
The Ring series, in contrast, had an easier time of it with its standard rugged male cinematic hero Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen).
On the other hand, the Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner) romantic sub-plot, a non-canonical invention by the film's writers, feels forced and pandering and, here, it just peters out, having served it purpose.
So this is it. The final chapter of the last Tolkien book left to Jackson and crew to dramatise.
They have not saved the best for last - the story padding here has softened its edges too much - but somewhere, and soon, someone will edit all three films into one and it will be a winner.
This article was first published on Dec 17, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.