It's here that clues to how Jackson (and co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) are managing to expand Tolkien's simple story and pedestrian prose into three heroic films. In one instance, as the travelers are trekking along a craggy cliff in the Misty Mountains, the gnarly boulders around them come alive and morph into Granite Giants engaged in a crushing, stone-flinging battle. It's a CGI spectacle that runs several minutes but is described in only a paragraph or two in Tolkien's book.
One of the film's most riveting sequences takes place when Bilbo gets separated from the Dwarves and finds himself lost beside a spooky underground lake. There he first encounters the feral, bug-eyed Gollum (the magnificent shape shifter Andy Serkis), discovers his own deep wells of wit and courage and seizes from Gollum the “precious” ring that figures so critically in the earlier/later “Ring” trilogy.
Although the first third of the journey is given over to lots of grand chases, battles and adventures – plus Bilbo's halting transformation from timid Hobbit to hero – the story this far seems to lack the grand sweep and propulsive urgency that made the LOTR films so utterly compelling. Perhaps the encounter with Smaug will breathe some fire into installment two, after all this requisite table setting.
Still, given the film's rich, nubby texture and amazing depth of detail (even in traditional 2D format, not to mention the High Frame Rate 3D, which is dazzling or woozy-making, depending on your point of view), Tolkien fans will undoubtedly relish this lengthy, literal interpretation and sign on zealously for the next two legs of the journey.
— Dennis King
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An Unexpected Journey'
Starring: Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage.
(Extensive sequences of
intense fantasy action violence
and frightening images)