The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3D)

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis Director: Peter Jackson Time: 170 minutes Genre: Fantasy/Adventure Age Restriction: 13 V Release Date: December 12, 2012 What's it about?

Set sixty years before the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey tells the story of Bilbo Baggins' first encounter with Gandalf The Grey as the two join forces with a group of dwarves to reclaim the dwarves' home from the dragon Smaug.

What we thought:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is, in many ways, the quintessential Peter Jackson film. It's self-indulgent, far too long and often tedious, but it's also beautifully assembled, unquestionably cinematic and sporadically brilliant. It also has a number of nice performances and a refreshingly lighter tone than the frequently overly earnest The Lord of the Rings films – though, of course, with no less walking.

The biggest problem at the heart of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that it is only the first near-three-hour-long installment in a a trilogy that has, as its source, a children's novel that, with large type and double spacing, barely manages to clock in at 360 pages. It's at most a third of the length of The Lord of The Rings trilogy in novel form, but it's being adapted into a series of films that will end up being almost as long as Jackson's already over-stretched Rings adaptations.

Corporate greed may well play a part in this, but if there is one guy who would take a short novel and turn it into three over-extended blockbusters, it would be Peter Jackson.

What results is a film that may bear the Peter Jackson stamps of a striking visual design and a real sense of wonder, but it is also light on plot, surprisingly short on characterisation and far too reliant on a succession of (admittedly well done) set pieces that never quite manages to hide the fact that there just isn't that much going on story-wise. It also may be par for the course for this sort of epic fantasy, but some of the dialogue is pretty wretched too.

The film also commits the cardinal sin of prequels in that, rather than allowing its own story to stand on its own terms, it constantly and clumsily crowbars in references to the later films. The Lord of the Rings never needed any backstory so the decision to reposition The Hobbit as a really long preamble to those films is a frankly baffling mistake.

Fortunately, even with all these flaws and unfathomable misjudgements, there is at least enough good in the film to keep casual audiences satisfied and Tolkien fanboys thrilled. Martin Freeman, who has spent a career playing the likeable everyman is perfect as the self-confessed fuddy-duddy Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellen plays Gandalf with such mischievous enthusiasm that it's impossible not to be caught up in the fun.

Best of all though, unsurprisingly, is the return of the incomparable Andy Serkis as Gollum. Gollum was already by far the best thing about The Lord of the Rings and his scenes are easily the best here. I'm not sure if he appeared in the original text, as his scene here ties in quite strongly to The Lord of the Rings, but in this case its hard to quibble with his subplot.

The entire scene comes across a bit like a darker, demonic version of Yoda's introduction in The Empire Strikes Back, mixed with smatterings of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and an evil Donald Duck. It has next to nothing to do with everything else going on in the film, but it's still a terrific diversion.

Would that the rest of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was this much fun. As it is, it is sure to delight the faithful but those of us who have yet to be converted to the Church of Tolkien will probably be left wondering what all the fuss is about – certainly at 48 frames per second.