Variety senior film critic Peter Debruge offers his review of “The Hobbit”:
Fulfilling just a fraction of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “There and Back Again” subtitle, “The Hobbit” alternately rewards and abuses auds’ appetite for all things Middle-earth. While Peter Jackson’s prequel to “The Lord of the Rings” delivers more of what made his earlier trilogy so compelling — colorful characters on an epic quest amid stunning New Zealand scenery — it doesn’t offer nearly enough novelty to justify the three-film, nine-hour treatment, at least on the basis of this overlong first installment, dubbed “An Unexpected Journey.” The primary advance here is technical, as Jackson shoots in high-frame-rate 3D, an innovation that improves motion at the expense of visual elegance. …
Read the full review here. My assessment is not far from his: beguiling but long, and not particularly well-arced. For those ready to geek out on the latest in Tolkien, you get the sense that the film could have been 20 hours and still satisfied. But as entertaining as it is, it’s hard to believe it couldn’t have been tighter. Academy Award possibilities for Jackson’s follow-up to Oscar fave “Return of the King” are present but perhaps unlikely to unseat the current frontrunners, given the film’s length and relative lack of urgency. Perhaps, again, kudo heights will come with installment three. (On the other hand, I’ve seen less lively and comic films stretch their way into the musical-comedy portion of the Golden Globes; “The Hobbit” would score a home run if it so entered.)
As for the 48 frames-per-second treatment, I found it mesmerizing in a positive way, more so than Debruge, even though it had the effect of rendering Bilbo’s homestead as if it were the working set for the Teletubbies. Arguably, it turns cinema into the video that populated TV sitcoms like “Three’s Company,” though I’d counter that the effect is more like a great seat at a play. In any case, I do expect the effect will be somewhat polarizing.