First we had Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy. That done, nine years later we now get The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of another trilogy. This is the first part of the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s first Middle-earth fantasy. It is beautifully shot, overloaded with detail and, at 170 minutes it even tries the patience even of many who are eager to see it.
The film opens 60 years before the first three. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is invited on a journey by Gandalf (Ian McKellem), the wizard. Bilbo joins 13 dwarfs on their quest to regain treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.
The film is populated with fine actors. Martin Freeman shines and Ian McKellan is a voice of reason. The leader of the dwarfs is Thorin (Richard Armitage) and they are joined by many of the characters and cast members we met in the first trilogy.
Andy Serkis is back as Gollum. Sadly, for some reason his dialogue calls for subtitles. It is almost impossible to understand him. Elijah Wood makes a brief appearance as Frodo, as do Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Christoher Lee as Saruman and Ian Holm as an old Bilbo Baggins.
Jackson shot The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in a new 48 frames-per-second format that gives it an astounding clarity. It is beautiful to see — if the viewer doesn’t mind the loss of the mysterious, misty land that used to be Middle-earth. The movie sparkles when Martin Freeman is on the screen. Otherwise it is just interesting to look at. That is too often not enough.
The movies is headed, as of this writing, toward a grand success. But, despite that, some of us wish Jackson would turn his considerable gifts as a filmmaker to another story.