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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 

Not a bad movie, but Peter Jackson's film has enough flaws to chalk it up as "glossy and fun but middling"

He's got to ramble on: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) begins his journey.

He's got to ramble on: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) begins his journey.

You might want to pack a lunch for this visit back to Middle Earth: Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is just a shade under three hours. And this is just part one of a three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's adventure tale.

Journey is primarily an introduction to the characters, with assorted backstories. The titular hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), is recruited by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) to accompany 13 dwarves seeking to reclaim their mountain kingdom, now in the claws of a dragon. Along the way, the gang fends off orcs, trolls, goblins and a pair of moving mountains. There's also a visit from a loony forest wizard (who appears to have bird shit on his face), and a sojourn with the ruling elves.

The Hobbit is not a bad movie, but it has enough flaws to chalk it up as "glossy and fun but middling." Like a dwarf's too-long beard, this film could use a serious trim; there's too much filler. Likewise, the wisp of a plot and the wobbly tone makes this film shaggy and unfocused, as it stumbles between comic antics (none very funny), foreboding doom (reminiscent of Jackson's superior Lord of the Rings) and CGI-intensive action sequences. 

The reward at the end of this slog is the film's best scene, in which Bilbo encounters Gollum, and the pair has a riddling spar. It's only then that Bilbo exhibits any personality (and that may just be The Ring talking), though even that pales in the presence of another virtuoso turn by Andy Serkis as the twisted, hissing Gollum. 

Jackson has poured a lot of cash into the production, and for every breathtakingly depicted ethereal elf kingdom, there's a clunkier bit of CGI-generated silliness that threatens to take the viewer out of the story. (Looking at you, giant orc!)

I saw the film in yet another high-tech 3-D process, this time with "high frame rate" (48 frames per second, or double the standard 24 fps). It was a decidedly mixed bag: Some scenes, such as expansive real or digitally created scenery, had remarkable depth and clarity. But in closer shots, the heightened reality had the curious effect of making the film look like cheaply produced 1970s TV. Better or not, it was a noticeable distraction. (Honestly, ionestly, f it's not a captivating story in 2-D, all the "wonders" of a third dimension won't make it better.)

As a prologue to the main story, The Hobbit is more perfunctorily entertaining than gripping. I remain unconvinced that this is a story that needed to be told in three pieces (and cost $30 to see). If I'd had a choice, I'd have skipped directly to Part Two, where presumably more happens.

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