Like director and co-writer Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is spectacular. What’s surprising is it is more spectacular and more fun than expected.
Many of you have read the book or at least know the story. Reluctant, timid Bilbo Baggins leaves his Hobbit hole and joins 11 dwarves and an old wizard on a quest to free the land of the dwarves from a demonic dragon.
They're immediately hunted by dark forces.
Mostly unknown actor Martin Freeman has a lot of fun doing Bilbo. He and the rest of the cast are very good. Richard Armitage is the Dwarf King Thorin. The Hobbit will likely do for the charismatic Armitage what The Lord of the Rings did for Viggo Mortensen's career.
Others reprising their The Lord of the Rings roles are Ian McKellen doing Gandalf, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving are elves and Christopher Lee is the evil wizard Saruman. In what are more or less cameos are Ian Holm and Elijah Wood doing the older Bilbo who is writing the story for his nephew Frodo.
The best acting comes from Andy Serkis. Part one of Jackson's trilogy introduces Gollum and the ring that became so prominent in his earlier Oscar-winning series. For what is now a prequel, Serkis again dons the motion capture gear that animates Gollum. While all of the performances are terrific, Serkis slithers through his scenes, hissing lines and is award-nomination good as the troubled and troubling Gollum.
The flick's real star is an action-packed story. It is fast, intense and brilliantly done. Jackson ups the ante and the energy, perfecting blue screen effects, animation, motion capture and other tricks he used in The Lord of the Rings. The 3D version - and is the version to see - uses 48 frames per second rather than the standard 24. In places you get the sense you're watching a live play rather than a movie.
The technique is brilliant.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey does have a couple of flaws. Complaint No. 1. You're sitting on the edge of your seat. The lights dim, the movie starts. You're ready for hobbitry, wizardry, duplicity, Orcs, Trolls, elves and action, and other than the five-minute set-up, the first half-hour of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey's 2:50 crawls along. The slowness is irritating but excusable because introductions are needed for who is going on the journey and why.
Forgivable but not understandable, or even acceptable is complaint No. 2. We have to wait a full-year to see part-two and seven-months past that for the conclusion! That is the pits. Jackson could cut the slow spots - and there are many - and make Tolkien's shortest book two movies, not three.
I'm quibbling. Grumbling a bit, too.
And then there's a plot flaw. Question: How does Gandalf know where he lives is Middle Earth? The stories in J.R.R. Tolkien's books were in the third person. To Gandalf his point in time would be the present. So how could it be a middle?
Other than my minor complaints and assuming you don't spend all of your days barefoot like a Hobbit, the movie will knock your socks off. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is fantasy at its very, very best.
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood
Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence. It is playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.