It's great fun to return to Middle Earth but the awe and magic of "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy is gone. Director Peter Jackson and his team of writers, so anxious to film the prequel and satisfy millions of fans have overstuffed a wonderful tale with unnecessary sound and fury. They have super-sized the enchanting story so much that it was necessary to split it into three films. Be warned that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is only part one and part two is coming next holiday season.
The CGI work and the New Zealand landscapes are remarkable. At times, it's hard to tell the real actors from the computer images...and that's not a good thing. Only Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and Thorin, the dwarf King have any personality. Oh and of course, Gollum, who doesn't show up until late in the film. Hopefully characters will be better defined as we move through parts two and three but for now, it's all a noisy set up for what's to come. It's basically run, fight, repeat.
Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Wizard and he hasn't missed a beat. He wears his wizard hat proudly. Thorin is played by Richard Armitage and he smolders beautifully. Our reluctant Hobbit hero, Bilbo is played by Martin Freeman and he is perfectly cast in the role (although he is basically playing the same part he played in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy" albeit with bigger feet). Mr. Jackson offers a tasty treat in bringing back Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee for one scene and it will have to satisfy until the trilogy continues. The scene when Bilbo first encounters Gollum (the always terrific Andy Serkis) is well worth the wait as it's the only one with any real depth and emotional resonance.
As a side note, the film is available for viewing in multiple formats. I did not see the new High Frame Rate process but I did see it in Imax 3D and it looked and sounded great. As for the overall film, you can't really review this as a finished work since we are only a third into the story but if this is the appetizer, I expect a lot more for the entrée and Mr. Jackson better blow us away with the dessert.