There were many things that made me dubious about this film. Firstly, the decision to split a modest novel over three films seemed silly. There was also a lot of focus on the 48 frames per second filming speed instead of the usual 24 fps which was supposed to give the film a 'cheap' appearance. The running time and the side by side comparison with the excellent Lord of the Rings films also meant that the reviews in general were mixed, not as impressive as people had hoped.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a great film which provided a lot of entertainment. I must admit to watching the film in 2D and the increased frame rate had no obvious impact on the film's look or feel. Certainly the sets, props and effects looked fantastic. Similar in tone and scope to The Fellowship of the Ring, the film certainly seems smaller than the epic scale battles of the last two LoTR films but everything looked fantastic.
The tone of the film is lighter than the LoTR films (because the stories had different tones too) so this is a much more light hearted film with the occasional song (not too many thankfully) and silly scene but overall there is still the hearty combat and fantasy violence you would expect from Middle Earth. Despite the difference in tone, the film remains emotionally powerful and filled with well drawn characters but lacks the immediate scenes of pure emotion such as the death of Boromir on LoTR: Fellowship.
Certainly it is a joy seeing all the returning actors in their various roles, Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf always being watchable and Christopher Lee as Saruman the White is fantastic, as his character differs greatly from the LoTR films. Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett are always entertaining as elves and Andy Serkis remains as mesmerising as ever as Gollum. The new characters are equally as well cast: Martin Freeman has a helplessly endearing quality which really suits young Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves tend to blend into each other but certainly their leader, played by Richard Armitage, gives a performance which makes you believe in their plight.
Now, the film is certainly long, there is no doubt about that. However, the film never felt like it was dragging, even with the extensive opening in the Shire before the party sets off on their quest. Well fleshed out backstories betray the film's desire to stretch the material as far as possible but at no point during watching the film was I bored. In fact, the scenes in the Shire are the charming and the adventure is gripping, all the various characters which have been fleshed out via back story have important and well placed roles in the film.
All in all, the initial fears I had about the film were inflated by the mixed variety of the reviews but I am pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the film and look forward to the next instalment.