The Hobbit
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images.
2 hrs. 49 mins.

I have to admit, after taking the epic journey to watch all three The Lord of the Rings films, my capacity to endure another hobbit tale has been stretched. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the movies, even watched them again on DVD. But did I want to return to the Shire and start from scratch? Not really.

So why am I? Starting over again? I guess the better question is, when Lord Peter Jackson summons, how can I not go? When all the little folk, including Bilbo Baggins and a houseful of dwarfs are gathered for the journey? It’s just human nature, I guess. As the wavering Bilbo finally decides, who wants to miss out on a grand adventure?

And adventure is really what this whole series is about. In Tolkien’s books, you always had a sense of deep moral purpose hiding behind the pages. The effects of two world wars. The dire impact of the industrial revolution. The constant threat of armed evil in the world.

For Jackson, none of that really comes to the forefront. It’s about the fantasy, the action and the fun of living in a world where you encounter magic, wizards, orcs, dragons and the beauty of Rivendell. He’s not taking the higher ground here. He’s just having a good time.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) lives in a quiet house in his home district, called the Shire. One day, he receives a mysterious visit from an old family acquaintance, the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Little does he know that he has been selected by Gandalf to accompany 13 dwarfs on a journey to their former mountain home, now known as the Lonely Mountain. They are led by the heir to the dwarf kingdom, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).

Long ago, the dwarves’ magnificent dwelling in the mountain was burned and destroyed by a giant gold-loving dragon named Smaug. Subsequent orc invasions decimated the dwarf population and forced them to flee. Now their dwelling and their treasure are guarded carefully by the dragon, and the dwarfs have been forced to eke out another existence in a land far from home.

The band of dwarves gathered in Bilbo’s house believe that the discovery of a mysterious map has bode them to return and reclaim their golden kingdom. Gandalf’s controversial selection of Bilbo as the designated “burglar” in the group confuses both the dwarves and Bilbo himself, but they all defer to the old wizard, and that’s where the adventure begins.

Despite the fact that this is a prequel, director Jackson picks up where the LOTR series left off. He’s using many of the same actors from their previous roles, including Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, and an excellent Andy Serkis as Gollum. It’s familiar terrain and Jackson uses his experience to meld together a very charming and exciting story.

What’s different in this film is an abundance of off-the-cuff humor. For instance, trolls discussing cooking, a magnificent display of dish throwing and dwarf banter that sounds more London than Middle Earth. It feels out of place, as if perhaps someone might be poking fun at himself and the audience for taking the whole thing much too seriously. Nevertheless, the humor is good-natured and serves to lighten the load.

The Hobbit continues Jackson’s quest for all things Tolkien. It might not have the same regal feel as the others in the LOTR franchise, but it’s fun and without a doubt will garner a pile of Academy Award nominations. There’s a solid cast and enough techno wizardy to keep the audience entertained. So saddle up. There’s adventure here and a winding road ahead. For all those who love hobbits, dwarfs, elves and all those nasty orcs, get up on that horse. It’s time to ride.