Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Middle-earth adventurers are stranded in foggy 'Smaug'

Middle-earth adventurers are stranded in foggy 'Smaug'


The elders speak of an epic pilgrimage for the Holy Grail in which the heroes were posed three riddles: What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?

“The Desolation of Smaug,” the endless second installment of the “Hobbit” trilogy, asks the question: Are we there yet?

The original slaying-a-dragon novel by J.R.R. Tolkien was about 300 pages long. Director Peter Jackson is stretching it into three movies, and the first two segments have already run for more than 5½ hours. By next December, visitors to Middle-earth will have spent eight hours traveling there and back again.

Is it too much to ask that they be entertained?

At the end of Episode 1, last December’s “An Unexpected Journey,” the titular traveler and his baker’s-dozen dwarf companions had awakened a sleeping giant: the dragon Smaug. The dragon dwells in a mountain of moolah skimmed from the defeated dwarf kingdom. Reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) carries a treasure map to the little rock Arkenstone, which has the power to restore the dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) to the throne.

We know these things from the first movie, but the sequel does a lousy job of bringing us up to speed. And unless we kept a runic scorecard, we could easily forget the names of the gnomish sidekicks with the braided beards. Two and a half hours is plenty of time for character development, yet Jackson just dawdles along the trail.

What a relief, then, when a mysterious human (Luke Evans) ferries the fellows to Lake-town, a fishy version of Venice. That’s where dwarf Fili (Dean O’Gorman) has a bout of gout, or some such malady, and is helped by elf babe Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) while most of the other pilgrims proceed on their not-so-merry way.

Some will describe this film as “dark,” but that’s because most of it takes place at night or in that tiresome silver-gray light that’s so conducive to 3-D CGI. On a dramatic level, this epic quest is hardly compelling at all. While the ominous Orcs are busy dithering with Gandalf (Ian McKellen in a glorified cameo), deposed King Thorin abdicates his leadership role to Bilbo. When the hobbit rouses Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) in his cavernous cache, the dragon prattles about squashing Bilbo like a bug, yet the threats are a lot of hot air. The rambunctious hide-and-seek seems like a proposed theme-park ride, not a legendary battle.

We were promised desolation, but “The Hobbit” just keeps dragon on.

What “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” • Two stars out of four • Rating PG-13 • Run time 2:41 • Content Extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images

The quiz is loading
True or false: according to the Chinese zodiac, the most recent "Year of the Dragon" ended in 2013?
Wrong.Right. The last "Year of the Dragon" was from Jan. 23, 2012 through Feb. 9, 2013. Babies born during dragon years are considered lucky.
One of the world's best-known dragons is the biblical "enormous red dragon" of Revelation 12:3. What other attributes are ascribed to this dragon?
Wrong.Right. The crown of 12 stars belongs to the woman in Rev. 12; the man-like face to the third living creature in Rev. 4; the 7 horns/eyes to the Lamb of Rev. 5.
According to J.R.R. Tolkien, how should the au in the name of his dragon "Smaug" be pronounced?
Wrong.Right. Tolkien said Smaug's name is "the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb Smugan, to squeeze through a hole."
Which character in Tolkien's "The Hobbit" ultimately slays Smaug?
Wrong.Right. While writing the original manuscript, Tolkien introduced Bard suddenly -- and then killed him off just two pages later. But Tolkien immediately changed his mind and let Bard survive.
According to the legend of St. George and the Dragon, what happens next after he fights a dragon and saves the king's daughter?
Wrong.Right. George promised the frightened townspeople he would slay the dragon if they became Christians. The town of 15,000 took him up on his offer.
True or false: the scientific name for snapdragons, antirrhinum, is derived from Greek words meaning "like a nose."
Wrong.Right. The colloquial name "snapdragon" comes from the way the flower snaps open or closed like a dragon's mouth when it is squeezed.
Dragons permeate Tolkien's work. Which of the following is NOT a dragon he created in his stories?
Wrong.Right. Balerion appears in George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series; Glaurung and Ancalagon in Tolkien's "The Silmarillion"; Chrysophylax Dives in "Farmers Giles of Ham".
During a 1938 lecture about dragons, Tolkien showed a slide of the picture above. What did he say the picture might be called?
Wrong.Right. In "The Hobbit," Gandalf counsels the dwarves against a frontal attack on Smaug. Bard ends up killing Smaug with an arrow into a bare spot on the dragon's armored chest.
Which of the following nations has a dragon in its flag?
Wrong.Right. The Welsh flag features the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr, who was king of Gwynedd. The only other nation whose flag currently includes a dragon is Bhutan.
In the song "Puff, the Magic Dragon," what was the name of the land where Puff frolicked in the autumn mist?
Wrong.Right. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded the song in 1962. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Which of the following Disney characters was NOT a person who transformed into a dragon?
Wrong.Right. Elliott is a benevolent dragon who helps children, including Pete in the movie. Elliott can become invisible and is prone to make mischief.
True or false: The Komodo dragon breathes fire.
Wrong.Right. While Komodo dragons don't breathe fire, they do produce copious amounts of red saliva which helps them swallow while eating large prey.
What sort of dragon was Falkor in the film "The Neverending Story"?
Wrong.Right. Falkor has both scales and hair, likes to be scratched behind his ears, and is incredibly lucky. He breathes fire and can fly, though he doesn't have wings.
True or false: the twin brother protagonists of the 1987 video game "Double Dragon" are named Billy and Bruce Lee?
Wrong.Right. The brothers were named Billy and Jimmy Lee. The twins' success led to numerous "Double Dragon" game sequels, a comic book, a cartoon, and a movie.
Which former winner of Time's "Sexiest Man Alive" was the voice of the dragon "Draco" in the 1996 film "Dragonheart"?
Wrong.Right. In his review of the film, Post-Dispatch critic Ray Mark Rinaldi said "You won't forget for a second that this overgrown muppet is a soul-less, man-made mistake."

Love Middle-earth? Check out some other fun quizzes:

QUIZ BY: Josh Renaud
SOURCES: "The Hobbit," "The History of the Hobbit," "J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator,",, Associated Press, Post-Dispatch archives, BBC, BibleGateway
The quiz is loading
True or false: The original script for "American Pie" was titled "Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Your Reader Will Love But The Executive Will Hate"?
Wrong.Right. The script got people's attention at Universal. The studio changed the title briefly to the much-less-sexy "East Great Falls High" before settling on "American Pie."
"Casablanca," one of the greatest films ever made, was adapted from an anti-Nazi play that had failed to find a Broadway producer. What was the play's title?
Wrong.Right. A Warner Bros. story analyst recommended the studio buy the rights to the play because it had "sophisticated hokum."
The story for "Pretty Woman" began as a much darker take on prostitution and drugs. What was was the original script titled?
Wrong.Right. $3,000 is how much Richard Gere's businessman paid prostitute Julia Roberts. But the studio reportedly thought this numerical title made the movie sound like sci-fi.
In 1982, Paramount decided to change the title of its second Star Trek film because it was too similar to the working title of the third Star Wars film. What were these early, conflicting titles?
Wrong.Right. Paramount changed the Trek title to "The Wrath of Khan" as a gesture of good faith to Star Wars creator George Lucas. They should have waited, because Lucas later softened "Revenge" to "Return."
According to the Internet Movie Database, what was the working title of the 2009 Beyoncé vehicle "Obsessed"?
Wrong.Right. "If ever a movie deserves to be talked back to, it's this one," opined the Washington Post.
If there's one thing Hollywood loves, it's adapting books into movies. Which of these films was based on the book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"
Wrong.Right. "Blade Runner" led to more Hollywood adaptations of author Philip K. Dick's work, including "Total Recall" and "Minority Report."
True or false: The Charlton Heston sci-fi flick "Soylent Green" was adapted from a book titled "Finger-Lickin' Good"?
Wrong.Right. Harry Harrison's book, titled "Make Room! Make Room!," tackled overpopulation but not cannibalism. "Soylent Green is people!" was unique to the film.
The story of "Saturday Night Fever" was based on an article in New York magazine about dancing teens in the boroughs of New York. What was the article's title?
Wrong.Right. The article's author, Nik Kohn, admitted in 1994 that he had made up the story and its hero "Vincent," who was inspired by a mod Kohn had known in England in the 1960s.
Daniel Radcliffe's new romantic comedy "What If" hits U.S. theaters in August, but that's not what it was called when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013. What was the original title?
Wrong.Right. It's (probably) not what you're thinking. "The F Word" referred to the dreaded "friend zone" where one person wants a romantic relationship and the other doesn't.
Bill Damaschke, producer of "Shark Tale," explained his film's title change by saying, "We set out to make a movie a little more noir, perhaps a little darker than where we've landed." What was the original title?
Wrong.Right. With a 36 percent "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the producers probably should have stuck with "Sharkslayer."
Pixar's superhero film began as "The Incredibles," changed to something else, then back again to "The Incredibles." What was that in-between title?
Wrong.Right. A good thing for critics, too. "Incredible" was a much easier word to use in movie review headlines.
QUIZ BY: Josh Renaud
SOURCES: Wikipedia, Entertainment Weekly, IMDB, New York Times, The New Yorker, Total Film, Variety, Starlog

Stay up-to-date on what's happening

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Joe Williams is the film critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Related to this story

Smaug. Puff. Komodo. Do you have enough fire in your belly to try our pop-culture dragon quiz?

Director Peter Jackson announced that the subtitle of the third "Hobbit" film would change from "There and Back Again" to "The Battle of the F…

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Blues News

Breaking News

Cardinals News

Daily 6

National Breaking News