'Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey': The Reviews Are In!

Peter Jackson's return to Middle-earth is getting middling critiques.

We knew the fanfare surrounding the release of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" would be plentiful, particularly because Tolkien's source material is beloved among the fanbase and because celebrated "Lord of the Rings" trilogy director Peter Jackson was at the helm.

What we didn't expect were the less-than-enthusiastic rumblings that sprang up when Jackson announced he was stretching the one book into three films and when he revealed that he filmed the movie using the technically advanced and now-controversial high frame rate.

All that said, people are still clamoring to see this first installment, which, with a 60 percent Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, has received praise for Jackson's sweeping use of his native New Zealand and knowledge of Tolkien, but more of a lukewarm response to the uneven story line and too many CGI characters. Prepare for your return to Middle-earth as we explore the "Hobbit" reviews!

The Story

"The new film does indeed tell the same tale as J. R. R. Tolkien's lean 'Rings' precursor, charting the exploits of Frodo Baggins' uncle Bilbo (Martin Freeman) some 60 years before the quest to destroy the One Ring, but the narrative soars because it also operates as something tangential to the almost-decade-old movie trilogy, setting the stage while also expanding this rich universe. A combination of Tolkien's 'Hobbit' text and material from his 'Rings' appendices, the script, which again saw input from 'Rings' film trilogy co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens, takes a great deal of liberties, bringing back familiar characters like Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee), none of whom appear in the 'Hobbit' book, and making ample, ominous mention of the 'Necromancer,' who will evolve to become the dreaded Lord Sauron. For fans of the earlier movies, the connective tissue is comforting, but it's the seemingly endless potential of Middle-earth as a character-packed setting that squashes the purist notion of a whole new trilogy being too much." -- R. Kurt Osenlund, Slant

The Extras and Add-Ons

"The conflict between the 'Hobbit' material, the ancillary material and the material generated by Jackson and his collaborators (his regular screenwriting partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, plus Guillermo del Toro, the original director before production delays forced him to tap out) all leads to a problematic tonal confusion. Jackson mostly shoots for a lighter tone than he did in the 'Rings' movies, with more comic business and slapstick beats. The situational humor recalls the 'Rings' films' gags about dwarf-tossing and the dwarf Gimli forever being on the losing end of his rivalry with the elf Legolas. (Maybe dwarves are just the natural clowns of Middle-earth?) A life-or-death chase where orcs pursue Radagast and his rabbit-drawn sledge turns into a giddy, gibe-strewn event that strongly recalls the pod race in 'The Phantom Menace,' and not just because it's almost entirely CGI." -- Tasha Robinson, The A.V. Club

The Visuals and CGI

"If only they had debated what to do about the overuse of CGI in the film. Some of the effects in 'The Hobbit' are so bad they actually made me wonder if this was an aesthetic choice; a chase sequence between Radagast and a platoon of orcs looks about as convincing as that dancing baby on 'Ally McBeal.' Some of the other CG creatures -- of which there are about a zillion -- look equally crummy. Gollum, though, looks magnificent. Did Jackson ask WETA to make the trolls and the wargs look sort of unreal, as a hedge against the inevitable outdating of the effects? Early stop-motion stuff still works because it's never striving to be photo-real. Perhaps that was the thought process here. Even if that is the thought process, there are still too many CG characters." -- Devin Faraci, Badass Digest

The High Frame Rate

"This winter, audiences will not only have the choice to see Peter Jackson's 'The Hobbit,' they'll also have the choice to see it in 2-D or 3-D, or in 3-D at 48 frames-per-second, a speed twice as fast as conventional projection that promises a clearer, more lifelike and sharper image. What the 48 frame-per-second projection actually means is flat lighting, a plastic-y look, and, worst of all, a strange sped-up effect that makes perfectly normal actions -- say, Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins placing a napkin on his lap -- look like meth-head hallucinations. Jackson seems enamored of 48 fps, but I can't imagine why. To me, it turned the film into a 166-minute long projectionist's error. I wanted to ask the projectionist to double-check the equipment, but really, I should just ask Jackson why he wanted his $270 million blockbuster to look like a TV movie." -- James Rocchi,

The Final Word

"Look, I understand why kazillions of people can't wait to see 'The Hobbit,' because it's the same reason I couldn't. Whatever else it is, this movie is a massively impressive technical achievement and a coda to a genuine cinematic landmark. There's no reason not to hope that future installments will be better, and I'll give this one another shot (in 2-D, and at a more normal frame rate) somewhere down the road. All the jokes I came up with about how Jackson hasn't just jumped the shark, but has dressed it up in dolly clothes and walked it around the block in a fancy English pram -- those are a bit too harsh. But I'm afraid that whoever it was in the New York Film Critics Circle who voted for 'The Hobbit' as best animated film had a point. And so did the people who suspected that this whole thing was a bad idea." -- Andrew O'Hehir, Salon