‘The Hobbit’ mixes playful and somber in lengthy trilogy-opener

Martin Freeman in ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.’ Rated PG-13, 169 min. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2012.

Last seen in the massive “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Middle Earth returns to the screen in a big way with director Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” The first in another sprawling trilogy, this episodic adventure film has a very different nature than the epic and battle-heavy “Rings.”

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is the reluctant hero of the title who joins a company of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to win back the dwarves’ homeland. There is some good character development, beautiful scenery and impressive CGI (especially the return of enigmatic Gollum), but even after three hours, the group has gotten practically nowhere.

J.R.R. Tolkien purists will both celebrate and nitpick. While all the familiar characters are here, there have been significant tweaks and additions to the main storyline of “The Hobbit” to help fill out three films. Entire sequences and handfuls of characters could have been jettisoned for the sake of stream-lining. Whether a trilogy was necessary at all – or if it is all just a big cash grab – remains open to endless debate. No matter the motivation, Jackson succeeds in creating another immersive experience.

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