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'Smaug' alert: New characters in new 'Hobbit'

Peter Jackson adds a feisty female elf and brings back Orlando Bloom to broaden the appeal of his new "Hobbit" movie.

JEAN LUC GODARD once said that all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.

Peter Jackson hasn't the option of a gun in his second "Hobbit" extravaganza, but he gives us the Middle Earth equivalent of the Godard exacta - a girl and a dragon.

Both are desperately needed. Especially the girl - Evangeline Lilly, playing a female elf named Tauriel who appears nowhere in J.R.R. Tolkein's text, but surely can be found in the studio-boardroom minutes after executives pondered the demographics of "The Hobbit."

This was the movie that offered three hours of middle-aged, bearded, white male dwarves and reputed wizards talking about mining and stockpiles of gold. It looked like a Federal Reserve meeting.

And was just as diverse, and just as exciting. (Tyler Perry knows a counter-programming opportunity when he sees one.)

In the new adventure, "The Desolation of Smaug," the warrior dwarves, along with Gandalf (Ian McKellen), renew their quest to reclaim their mountain home, now guarded by the fearsome dragon Smaug.

Jackson pumps up the action - orc fights and spider attacks in a brisk prologue. We then enter the realm of the woodland elves, and not a moment too soon. Here we meet Tauriel, the foxy elf ninja, and right behind her Orlando Bloom as Legolas, in a return engagement. He loves her, she's keen on one of the better-looking dwarves. It's a love triangle, and so what if it's inter-species - Tauriel, sizing up a handsome dwarf, isn't thinking anything that Captain Kirk hasn't thought.

And it sure beats three more hours of chubby guys smoking pipes and singing mournful, pseudo-Celtic folk ballads.

More good news - the story moves into a human town, where the citizens are lorded over by a pompous dignitary, played with relish by Stephen Fry, who makes everything he's in a bit more amusing, a bit less pretentious.

This is true of the second movie in general - it's lighter, funnier, much less self-serious. But it's still freaking long, and still shows Jackson's willingness to let his action sequences run on more than seems necessary - again, you get the feeling his effects technicians are more impressed with their work than audiences.

And so we have the protracted dwarf-Smaug standoff at movie's end, a chase scene that follows an angry dragon through caves, sluices, corridors and mine shafts for 20 minutes at 48 frames per second, yielding ultra-high-definition 3-D.

Smaug gets in your eyes.