After the success of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, director Peter Jackson has filled in the backstory by producing "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the story of Bilbo Baggins and his adventures below and above ground. Jackson has done so...for hours, breaking the original little story into nine hours of film.
The first movie is a flashback, with the older Bilbo (Ian Holme) talking with Frodo (Elijah Wood). We soon see the wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) drawing a younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) into an adventure that involves a long journey to a distant land, lots of dwarfs, trolls, orcs, elves, a dragon and, of course, more Gollum (the wonderful Andy Serkis). It's probably a good idea to read JRR Tolkien's books, including the appendices, before heading to the theatre.
Here's what the critics are saying:
When I had heard that the relatively slender book, The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, had been turned into two, and then three, films, I was terrified that each film would seem padded to the brim with extraneous details; for example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson’s previous foray into Tolkien’s world, had suffered from overlong battle scenes. Not The Hobbit. Here is a three-hour movie that I wished were four hours.
Carol Pinchefsky, Forbes
Author J.R.R. Tolkien intended his story for children, and Jackson keeps the first half of the film light. Even so, high times are inevitably interrupted by life-threatening obstacles. And because the source material is a single book (in contrast to the expansive, multivolume “Rings”), this pattern quickly becomes repetitive. At nearly three hours, “Journey” is so overly padded that Jackson’s decision to divide the tale into a trilogy feels more like indulgence than necessity. Still, each major scene is exquisitely rendered, with the Elven land of Rivendell as likely to inspire awe as the Orcs are to induce fear. Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
About two-thirds of the way through “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” a dear old friend turns up. As played with the body movements and wheedling voice of Andy Serkis — he may be the best unrecognizable actor in the movies — Gollum is the same devolved computer-generated flapdoodle he was in director Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” films, now a decade old. The same but more so: Advances in digital animation, along with purported “improved technologies” like 3-D and faster projection speeds, mean that Gollum now practically slithers into the audience’s laps.
Ty Burr, the Boston Globe
At this point, audiences pretty much know what to expect from "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," despite the title's insistence to the contrary. That's hardly a knock on Jackson's fourth installment in the franchise, a prequel that takes place 60 years before the earlier movies' events but basically resurrects the same world of limber and furry-footed humanoids, fire-breathing dragons and deadly Orcs. Plot comes secondary to the care involved in bringing Middle Earth back to life. While Jackson hasn't delivered a hit on par with his "Lord of the Rings" movies, "The Hobbit" proves he can still do justice to the tricky blend of fantasy and action that made the earlier entries such enjoyable works of popular entertainment. Eric Kohn, Indie Wire
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is rated PG-13 and runs 2 hours and 46 minutes.