When we learned that Tolkien's slim volume "The Hobbit" was to expand into three films, it was inevitable that the purists would mourn "heretical expansions", as more action and more plot convolutions are inserted.
Some aspects of the Peter Jackson style return, and are welcome. The warm light, the amazing attention to detail, and the spectacular New Zealand scenery remain delightful. Mind you, as the dwarves struggle up yet another gorge, or survive another predatory forest, one sometimes regrets that the eagles who rescued them in "An Unexpected Journey" didn't fly a bit further, and drop them off at Smaug's lair.
Action there is in plenty. Perhaps top on the list is the extended scene where the hobbits escape in barrels, over waterfalls and cataracts, pursued by relentless Orcs, and defended by elves. Over the top. Certainly. Improbable, definitely. But totally engaging.
Just as memorable, if less heroic, are the dwarves hiding in barrels of fish, or emerging from latrines.
We have a new female elf, Tauriel (played by Evangeline Lilly from the TV series "Lost") who flirts with the handsome dwarf Kili (Adrian Turner) and who rivals Angelina Jolie as a beautiful action heroine. She is a welcome contrast in this land of hairy males, and sinister Orcs.
Stephen Fry makes a cameo appearance as a gouty, corrupt and indecisive Master of Lake Town.
The battle between Gandalf the Grey and the Necromancer is fleshed out in this film, and adds to the sense of a cosmic struggle underlying the whole enterprise.
The climax of the film is the sequence where Bilbo enters the dragon's lair. Smaug is a spectacular dragon, whose eye resembles the all-seing eye of the Necromancer. Smaug's voice is Benedict Cumberbatch's, smooth, mannered, sinister, and evil.
The dragon's stalking of Gollum at times is more "Raiders of the Lost Ark" than Tolkien, but it is "edge of the seat" tension leading to a cliff-hanger ending that had the audience, after three hours, disappointed that we will have to wait until December 2014 to follow the dragon's fate.
Purists may have problems. The rest of us will love this film, and be eager to see the next, and final episode in the Hobbit saga.