In "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," Director Peter Jackson once again returns to Middle Earth to tell J.R.R. Tolkien's iconic tale of Bilbo Baggins who, at the urging of the wizard Gandalf the Grey, reluctantly joins a group of 13 rugged, battle-tested dwarves attempting to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor inside the Lonely Mountain from an evil dragon named Smaug.
Along their adventure, Bilbo (played wonderfully by Martin Freeman) and his comrades are met with a variety of dangers including trolls, spiders, sorcerers, necromancers and goblins … lots of goblins.
Leading the band of dwarves is Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the heir to the throne of Erebor and legendary warrior who defeated the orc chieftain Azog the Defiler. He believed he had killed Azog until it is revealed to him that "The Pale Orc" lived and has placed a bounty on Thorin's head.
While Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) and the dwarves battle an army of goblins above, Bilbo comes across a "precious" artifact in the caverns below the Misty Mountains that will forever change the fate of those in Middle Earth, the one ring, along with its keeper, Gollum (Andy Serkis).
Being the first of a three-part series, the ending feels more like a pause preparing for the next two installments, due in 2013 and 2014 and is not very strong and a bit cliche.
While the imagery and scale of "An Unexpected Journey" was on par with the epic feel of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, the movie itself felt less grandiose. Some of that is to be expected, as there are about 60 years between "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" and all the evil in Middle Earth has yet to fully manifest.
Having never read the book, I felt less burdened by not needing to reconcile the movie with the actual written story, and it was an overall enjoyable film.
Where "An Unexpected Journey" loses some points is that it is long - very long. There were a lot of drawn-out traveling scenes. The 169-minute run time seems more fitting for something of a grander scale. Where there was enough storyline to have nearly three-hour run times for each of the LOTR movies, parts of "An Unexpected Journey" seemed drawn out. There are also a lot of names and places to try to keep straight, and with a variety of accents, pronunciations of said names and places can differ, causing more confusion.
The performances by Freeman, Armitage and McKellen were on par with other top performances from the other films in the LOTR universe, but the majority of secondary characters were mostly forgettable.
It was nice to see several characters reprise their roles from LOTR. Outside of Serkis (Gollum) and McKellen (Gandalf), Ian Holm (old Bilbo), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Hugo Weaving (Elrond) and Christopher Lee (Saruman) all make appearances.
There were also several subtle nods to the previous films that were clever additions.
All in all, the move was good. Not as good as its predecessors, but enjoyable enough to want to see the follow-ups.
Just make sure you don't have too much to drink before the movie starts. You're in for a long wait.