Every movie critic has his or her biases. In the genre of fantasy, I like well-made movies (The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example). I am not a fantasy lover for the sake of fantasy, and every movie that feature a wizard or a quest isn't automatically on my To-Be-Seen list. Director Peter Jackson did a fine job with bringing JRR Tolkien 's Lord of the Rings novels to the big screen. I was also a fan of Jackson's subsequent remake of King Kong. A Peter Jackson movie now instills a fairly high anticipation factor.
However, I was a little wary about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for two reasons.The first is that I tried -- twice -- to read Tolkien's source novel and couldn't slog my way through it. Oh, the characters and the plot were fine, but Tolkien's flowery prose just bored me (which is hard to do). Still, I thought the novel would make a good movie in Jackson's hands.
Reason #2: It was then announced that The Hobbit would be made into two films, and then the decision was made to expand it into three! This is clearly a marketing ploy to stretch more dollars out of Middle-Earth. Each of Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies were based on books longer and more complicated than The Hobbit, and none of them warranted more than one feature film. This couldn't bode well for the movie version. Stretching a movie into more than one part is a dismaying trend. There was Quentin Tarentino's Kill Bill, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Breaking Dawn. I still haven't seen Kill Bill out of protest for breaking it into two movies, though I've been told that it works well as two separate films and it is now working its way up my mountainous To-Be-Seen list. The first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the worst entry in the whole Harry Potter series, but the second part was the best. I still think it would have worked better as a long, epic film. (And I have no desire to see the Twilight movies, so I don't care about how Breaking Dawn was marketed.) Anyway, breaking up a story into separate movies is a peeve of mine, and it brought my anticipation factor towards The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey way, way down.
Still, Jackson's gravitas and the epic nature of the story made me want to catch it in the theater and not wait for home viewing. It turned out a little better than I feared (Score 1 for lowered expectations!). The first half was bloated with some unnecessary filler involving Frodo -- somebody thought that we would miss him in a story that didn't involve him?. Also, the assembly of the 14 members of the team to reclaim the Dwarf kingdom of Eredor smacked way too much like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Been there, done that, though it's an important part of this story too.
The second half of the film kicks into gear and makes the film more than worthwhile. It essentially divides into two storylines, one involving hobbit Bilbo Baggins and the Gollum creature from The Lord of the Rings films, and the other following the Dwarf warriors and their escape from the Goblins with the help of the wizard Gandalf. These fascinating threads then merge into a single thread that tells of a ferocious Orc seeking his revenge on Dwarf leader Thorin. Jackson's direction in the last half of the film is as accomplished as we would expect from him.
If most of the Dwarfs run together in my head, the main cast is superb. Martin Freeman's career has been successful -- on TV, he was Tim in the BBC's groundbreaking comedy The Office, and he plays Watson on Masterpiece Classics' Sherlock. Now he will be forever known as Bilbo Baggins. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Ian McKellan portraying the wily Gandalf. Richard Armitage makes a fine, brooding Thorin. From The Lord of the Rings cast,. we once again encounter Hugo Weaving as the Elf Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Christopher Lee as the wizard Saruman and Andy Serkis's CGI-enhanced Gollum. It's good to see them all. Less successful is the cameo appearance of Elijah Wood's Frodo.
The great parts of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey bring the so-so parts up to a B+ overall. I did not see this in 3D and do not feel that I missed anything by seeing it in 2D. (I'm so over 3D!). I saw this Pullman Square Marquee Cinemas with my friend Brian on December 28, 2012.