The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - (5 Stars)After bringing to life the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy around a decade ago (really?), Peter Jackson is now finishing the work he started by bringing to life J.R.R. Tolkien's original Middle Earth tale, The Hobbit, to life. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first in a planned trilogy (originally planned as only 2 movies) adapting the book, padded up a bit with extras from the Lord of the Ring appendices and other works such as The Silmarillion. What results is a more epic version of the beloved tale better incorporated into the mythos of middle-earth than the book itself.
"The Hobbit" is visually and thematically in line with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The book is definitely a simpler story than it's Lord of the Rings companions, but after writing, Tolkien did try to link them and Jackson is taking the next step by integrating the appendices and other source material to really make the Hobbit feel like a true precursor to the epic.
The film, apart from the fantastic visuals, also has excellent casting. Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo, the loveable, bumbling burglar. Although, for the sake of the movie (being part of a trilogy), Bilbo does step up his game a bit. Richard Armitage also shines as Thorin, the leader of the 13 dwarves that arrive at Bilbo's doorstep looking for the 14th member of their party. Of course, as usual, the returning cast also shine (such as Ian McKellan as Gandalf, and Ian Holm as the older Bilbo).
The main concern I had going into the movie related to the visual effects. For the previous movies, Jackson utilized lots of practical effects (extras and miniature sets). However in the Hobbit, the vast majority (if not all) of the creatures are CGI, as is most of the scenery. At parts, these effects are pretty obvious and slightly distracting, but the overall effect works.
Overall, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is a great start to the second trilogy of middle earth movies. Peter Jackson does a great job of tying the everything together and tries his best to make it feel like a single, contained movie, but it definitely feels more like part of a whole, long movie. Just like with his previous Tolkien movies, Jackson does take some liberties with the source material in order to adapt the book smoothly for the screen, but does so with the same keen eye that made the Lord of the Rings trilogy such a wide success.
(166 minutes - Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images - 2012)