Star rating - 7/10
I used to love our annual Christmas Eve family cinema trips to see the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yes, they were very long films, but they were brilliant, dazzling in scale, and very exciting and watchable. So how does The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey measure up to its predecessors (which are in fact it's sequels if you see what I mean)?
Well it is also very long at nearly three whole hours in length, but the difference is that whereas the time skipped by in a flash with Peter Jackson's LOTR films, it certainly feels like three hours, or more this time. It does undeniably seem as though a short story has been spun out to produce another trilogy, and it's hard to feel that it has not been done for commercial reasons alone. But just to bang on about length would indeed to do this film a disservice.
It is also very different in tone to LOTR, having as it does a lighter comedic element to accompany the high drama. It begins with the ever excellent Sir Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf taking Bilbo Baggins away from his cosy Hobbity world, after first inviting loads of dwarfs inside to make themselves at home and ransack the larder, in a scene which feels like it is five days long. Oops, sorry I've harped on about length again...
Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo Baggins, as his is basically the same sensible character that he played in The Office and Sherlock with big hairy toes. He has lovely comic timing, but is equally convincing playing it straight, and is one of the undoubted stars of the movie. He finds himself very reluctantly on an adventure with the dwarves to find their lost mountain kingdom, which was previously taken from them by a dragon, thus condemning them to an itinerant life without a homeland.
It takes an age to get stuck into the first battle with the Orcs, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief as it commenced, and I felt I was firmly back into territory that Jackson delivers so expertly. And there are some brilliant and pretty excellent scenes to make you squeal with delight - notably that between Bilbo Baggins and Gollum, played again by the fabulous Andy Serkis. That delightful scene alone is worth the entrance money - it's about riddles and a ring and that's all I will say. There are also some lovely exchanges between Sir Ian and Cate Blanchett.
In fact the acting overall is superb, with lots of big name draws, many of whom it is actually impossible to recognise beneath their costumes and prosthetics but never mind. The New Zealand influenced scenery is again stupendous, with all the effects and tricks you would expect from Peter Jackson. And I can't comment on the wonder of the 3D imagery as of course I stuck to the 2D version, as is my wont.
But it is hard to get away from its central problem - that it is just too long and drawn out. I haven't read the book so am not sure where exactly the next two films will go. I just hope that the year we will have to wait for the next one (yes I will go to see it...) doesn't feel like the same length of time as the action itself does. Oh dear - I seem to have mentioned length again...