*1/2 (out of four)
After the 12 endings that wrapped up 2003's Best Picture-winning "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," Peter Jackson could have parted with J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations and gone out on top.
Alas. The director/co-writer instead decided to take Tolkien's "Rings" predecessor, "The Hobbit," and turn the 300-page children's story into another big-screen trilogy totaling approximately 7,000 hours. At least that's how one feels sitting through part one of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," a nearly three-hour slog in which what was once—especially in the first "Rings" installment, "The Fellowship of the Ring"—a world to get lost in now provides only reasons to space out.
In a prologue as entertaining as watching the last bits of ketchup drip out of the bottle, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) works on writing the story of his early years to Frodo (Elijah Wood), even though Frodo's right there and would probably sit down happily to hear the tale. No, Bilbo instead pens the tale about when he was 60 years younger (and played by Martin Freeman) and Gandalf came to his house and, to paraphrase, basically said, "You used to be cool and fun. You're not anymore. Come help me help these dwarves as they quest to reclaim their kingdom from a dragon." Rather than saying, "Why did they walk so far from their old place if they were planning to return?" a muttering Bilbo first declines then finally accepts, though he's the sort of fuddy-duddy who wants to turn back because he forgot his handkerchief.
Aside from a riddle challenge between Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis), what follows is familiar in the worst way. Jackson stages the same ol' epic battles and mountaintop trudging without any fresh material that engages. Worse, the new 48-frames-per-second technology makes the fussy, comedically embarrassing "Journey" look like it's a computer game on fast-forward.
Middle Earth has lost its wonder, and the fantasy characters now just wander. The film does demonstrate that Orcs hyphenate the term "Dwarf-scum." This may be something we've seen before, but at this point Jackson gives no reason to separate a Fili from a Kili or a goblin from a necromancer or whatever.
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