To go on this ride with Peter Jackson is to be given the gift of another, similar-but-different journey told by the man who does it better than anyone. For sheer craft, for the meticulous, artful attention to every aspect of production (what David Thomson calls, in slightly different context, “the whole equation”), this is a kept promise — the promise that if Jackson was going to return to this material, it would be only if he could do IT right, too — that is, to not screw up the legacy of LOTR. Living up to its billing as an adventure, there are of course many battle scenes, each choreographed in its own way (limb-severing swordplay, wolf pack marauders, mountains literally come to life). But I connected best with the more “human” moments: Bilbo’s doubts, Gandalf’s counsel, the mournful dirge sung before the group departs. Martin Freeman — sweet, gentle, sensitive and ultimately brave — is the still, small but beating heart of the story and Ian McKellen is its Godfather. Along the way, terrific monsters, including Barry Humphries (Dame Edna!) as Great Goblin and Manu Bennett as the fearsome Azog. Not to mention the great Andy Serkis, back as Gollum, although I was unable to make out most of his dialog. As for the visuals, savor the beauty of frames with the golden glow of Dutch Masters, exquisitely lit (I’m thinking of the initial gathering of the dwarfs in Bilbo’s cottage), lovingly “grotesque” faces that call to mind the vegetable portraits of the Italian painter Arcimboldo, far-as-the-eye-can see compositions enhanced by 3D (how about that parting shot of Lonely Mountain?) — by now, DP Andrew Lesnie has so many classics to his credit, he’s a Cinema Saint. Howard Shore’s score never intrudes in a Buy-This-Soundtrack! way, but does what film music is supposed to do — enhances and punctuates the action. THE HOBBIT is almost three hours long, but it seldom lags. I am very much looking forward to Part Two. — Jeff Schultz

I have heard a lot about frame rates and prequels and such when hearing about THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. What I haven’t heard a lot about is how long it is. How it seems to have a ton of filler and how it leaves the audience hanging in a most uncomfortable and unforgivable fashion. The movie clocks in at about 2:45. And there a long talky parts that almost put me to sleep. The frame rate debate is about how it was shot in 48 frames per second rather than the industry standard 24. It’s supposedly very distracting, but I didn’t notice anything overly offensive. The movie did look flatter and less “beautiful” than I remember the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But not as flat as the first half of the movie. At some points its simply dull. Confession: I never read any of Tolkein’s works. So maybe this is a true representation of the novels. But that doesn’t mean its a good movie. Movies need to be trimmed. You can’t let your imagination run wild like you can in a novel. It all has to be up on the screen. And believe me, it seems like Peter Jackson didn’t leave much out. Now allow me to get into some stuff people may think petty. There are 13 dwarfs that make up the traveling party. The dwarfs enlist the help of Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf to retake their kingdom. Some of the dwarfs look like you would imagine dwarfs should look. Long beards, round faces, bulbous noses. Some though, look like short guys. I dunno, I guess I’m picking nits, but why don’t they all look like dwarfs? That’s a minor annoyance. The ending left me feeling cheated. I don’t recall precisely how the first two Rings movies ended, but this one didn’t so much end as stop. It just stopped. I guess it was a logical place to pause until the next installment. But damn, I was powerfully disappointed. All in all, I suppose THE HOBBIT was above average. I hope the next two are improvements. Because if we get more of this, I’ll stick to GAME OF THRONES thank you very much! — Alan Yudman

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is a really good two hour movie…that runs almost three hours. Watching Peter Jackson go back to Middle Earth is at times exhilarating and others frustrating. Within the first 40 minutes, I was completely sucked into this world before The Ring…different tone, different movie than the previous three movies. But then Jackson begins to obviously pad the movie with action sequences that even in 3D run too long and are too boring. None carry the emotional weight of any battle from the other films. Bottom line this final cut feels like a directors cut you would watch AFTER seeing the original. You would say “I can see why this was cut”…or “this may have worked”…That being said, parts of it are also incredible. Martin Freeman IS Bilbo, Peter Jackson is the man when it comes to filming these movies, the 3D is really good, and the Gollum-Bilbo faceoff is classic. I just wish someone had decided to do one or even two movies and left the filler for the DVD gift sets. A journey worth taking, but a journey that takes unnecessary stops along the way.

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