DVD Release Date: March 19, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: December 14, 2012
Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images
Genre: Adventure
Run Time: 169 min.
Director: Peter Jackson
Actors: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Richard Armitage, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Christopher Lee

In the early 2000s, director Peter Jackson brought the sweeping, epic story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to meticulous life on the big screen. It was a large undertaking, based on an immense three-volume book. With so much story to tell, New Line Cinema staked its future on Tolkien’s tale, turning it into a trilogy of films. The result? Hundreds of millions of dollars in box-office grosses, capped off by a Best Picture Oscar win for the concluding film, The Return of the King.

When New Line and Jackson decided to team again to adapt Tolkien’s Rings prequel, The Hobbit (the film's first director, Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), dropped out but is one of four writers credited with its screenplay), there must have been a great temptation to expand what is a relatively slender single volume into multiple installments. However, the fact that The Hobbit, unlike The Lord of the Rings, is a story for children, presented certain pitfalls.

Nonetheless, the filmmakers gave in to temptation. Jackson and New Line decided to break The Hobbit, or There and Back Again into a three-part epic. The first installment, An Unexpected Journey, runs 169 minutes. If your gut tells you that such an approach to Tolkien’s slim children's tale might not work, then rest assured: your instincts are correct. Although The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey finally takes hold in its final hour—when Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) square off—the film is a long slog to reach that point.

Sixty years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo is living contentedly in his hobbit-hole when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) pays him a visit to recruit him for a journey. He’ll join a group of dwarves on a mission to reclaim their homeland of Erebor, from which the dwarves have been chased by the dragon Smaug. Although initially reluctant to be part of the quest, Bilbo acquiesces and decides to help.

Less persuaded of Bilbo’s presence within the group’s ranks is dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who, through encounters with elves and battles with trolls and orcs, remains unconvinced that the hobbit is more of an asset than a hindrance to the mission. But Gandalf, who has encouraged Bilbo’s inclusion, holds contrary beliefs.

The movie takes a full hour to set up the journey, and it's an hour that feels sorely padded. By the time Bilbo says, shortly after setting out on his journey, "Wait! I forgot my handkerchief!" and turns back toward home, you may have to restrain yourself from shouting at the screen, "No! Please, keep going!" The film at this point is already suffering from a lack of momentum.

Unfortunately, Jackson and his co-screenwriters (Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and del Toro) add so much Rings-style violence to Tolkien’s tale that The Hobbit earns a PG-13 rating—making the film inappropriate for younger audience members who otherwise might have enjoyed the storyline. At one point, Gandalf raises his own concerns about the story’s characters by declaring, "Save me from the stubbornness of dwarves. Your pride will be your downfall." That line could also apply to those who came up with the Hobbit-as-trilogy idea. Their insistence on expanding and bloodying-up The Hobbit could undo the goodwill built up by the extraordinary Lord of the Rings films.