This dip back into Middle Earth for Peter Jackson, this prolonged dip, is being defined not by what it can achieve but by what it is expected to achieve. And splitting this single, much smaller book, with only one central narrative thread and much less at stake, not to mention an ending we already know, into three extra-long features is not even justifiable by those expectations. What are justifiable are Jackson's strains at grandeur and his resistance, bar an increase in comedy, to differentiate the tone of his Hobbit films from that of his extremely satisfactory Lord of the Rings films. Justifiable, but not satisfactory. Yet still there are moments herein, where the wonder of Jackson's and J.R.R. Tolkein's vision is realised so splendidly that you feel it was wholly worth it. Ian McKellen as Gandalf, in his iconic coat and hat, striding across a narrow stone bridge over a fearsome ravine to his potential death, staff proudly in hand, the sky a broil of pewter and ash grey, Howard Shore's orchestra thundering away... Or what of Jackson's boldness in introducing the series' true villain, not that poxy dragon (voiced with a satisfying prissiness by Benedict Cumerbatch), with a barrage of fiery imagery, gothic and psychadelic and bloody brilliant. These are mere moments, though, floating in an ocean of comparative mediocrity. A reliance on CGI and Andrew Lesnie's tacky, overlit cinematography give the sets a crass sheen that upsets the tactility and earthiness which abound in the production design, and Jackson is too liberal with his use of digital effects, with a number of shots lacking finesse. He keeps the film lively enough in its pacing, after a very shaky start, though an infatuation with splendour and spectacle ruin the climactic scene beneath the mountain, which goes on for an age, dwarves running from one cavernous room to another, a dragon setting fire to stone for a good 15 minutes. The eventual ending may be abrupt, but it is at least welcomely so.