"The Desolation of Smaug" stands on its own as a brilliant telling of a boy story. Boys were part of J.R.R. Tolkien's life: he taught them, he had a few of his own, and he ran with old boys in The Inklings, his writers' group. "The Hobbit" is full of boys, some dwarves, some elves -- with one stunning, movie-made She-Elf, played by Evangeline Lilly with straight-arrow verve -- a few governors of lands, a band of yukky Orks, and one giant dragon named Smaug.
The elf Thorin, played well by Richard Armitrage, and the rest of his band, have made it over and under the Misty Mountains, but they have to take on dangerous Mirkwood Forest without Gandalf, their Wizard, played again and faithfully by Ian McKellen. If the elves make it to Lake-town safe and sound, that is, past the pasty Orks, the elves will put Bilbo Baggins, a hairy-footed Hobbit, to work as their resident burglar.
Bilbo has a magic ring, which he draws out of his weskit to admire more often than he puts it to use. Martin Freeman continues to make Bilbo the consummate Hobbit, both charming and almost human. Bilbo has to find a secret door to gain access to Smaug, the guard dragon. Smaug is, indeed, one fabulous, as in fable, dragon, with one shingle missing. He is well voiced by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch. Smaug is fierce and made all the more believable by the three dimensions offered for the film. The 3-D matters when wolves snap through the screen or when a skinchanger opens his mouth menacingly, or when spiders threaten (note to arachnophobes: stay away).
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is cast with most of England's best small actors, including Ken Stott and Graham McTavish, but kudoses to the make-up folks, for most of the actors are barely recognizable. Except for Stephen Fry: as the mayor of Lake-town, he towers naturally, not requiring Peter Jackson's camera tricks. And don't miss a few of the more famous residents of Lake-town in the Stephen Colbert family.
This second, long film in this trilogy, which Tolkien wrote as one, small book, works beautifully to move the story forward. Attention is paid to all details, especially the five elements from wood to metal, plus nose drips and dragon scales. "The Desolation of Smaug" is a worthy chapter in the story.