The movie has been generally well received, but hasn't really seemed to blow anyone away either. Does the first part of Peter Jackson's new Middle Earth trilogy get this huge Lord Of The Rings fan's seal of approval? Click on to find out..

Right off the bat, let me say that I am a massive Tolkien geek, and I think Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy is just about the greatest thing ever filmed - so yeah, expectations! But as much as I looked forward to returning to Middle Earth, I was also aware of how inferior the source material was. Granted it is a much more child friendly book, and an altogether simpler tale, but the fact is, The Hobbit just isn't as good a novel as The Lord Of The Rings is - and that was also taken into account.

I was worried about the characters more than anything else I think. While LOTR was full of diversity in that regard, The Hobbit was really just Bilbo, Gandalf, and 12 interchangeable Dwarves! Okay a few of them had their moments, but even reading that book as a child I was left with the impression that Tolkien didn't really care a whole lot about the group of Dwarves as individuals at all, with the possible exception of Thorin. So I am delighted to report that Jackson and his writers - yes, improving on the source material..try not to faint! - have given glorious life to a select few of Thorin's party, and I'm sure those that got the short end of the stick will be fleshed out a bit more in the next two installments.

Obviously the most emphasis is placed on Thorin, and Richard Armitage does a wonderful job with the Dwarf-king, who could be described as an "Aragorn type", only a bit colder. Fili (Dean O'Gorman), Kili (Aiden Turner), Balin (Ken Scott) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish) are also standouts. Ian McKellen is as dependable as ever as a younger, more battle-ready Gandalf - although it must be said, he doesn't really bring anything new to the table as the Wizard. There are also cameos from the equally reliable Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Hugo Weaving, but the star of the show is, thankfully, Martin Freeman as the titular Hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

Frodo was great, but he was also a bit of a miserable git - not that he didn't have reason to be, it's just that this lighter story leaves room for a bit more fun, and Bilbo makes for a sharper, wittier, protagonist. Freeman is a joy to watch as we witness this little Hobbit find his courage and morph into a true hero. He's also a major part of the best scene in the film, the other of course being Gollum. Old Smeagol doesn't have a lot of screen time, but trust me, the unexpectedly moving scenes shared by Freeman and Andy Serkis are the ones that will leave a lasting impression. Jackson also gives us a proper, physical villain in the form of the nightmarish albino Orc, Azog, and he and Thorin's back-story adds some much needed excitement.

Much needed? Yes, I'm afraid that as successful as this movie is on many levels, it can drag on at times. As I said, I lap this stuff up, and am more than happy to spend any amount of time in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth, but when the dialog lacks spark in scenes already full of exposition (eg, pretty much everything in Rivendell) it becomes a problem. Jackson also indulges his bizarre predilection for having his characters smashed, crushed, flung, fall huge distances and survive - uninjured. There's nothing here quite as ridiculous as the Brontosaur stampeded from King Kong, but I could have done with at least one less 300 foot fall without so much as a bump on the head for anyone.

But honestly, these are minor quibbles given the sheer brilliance of film making on display in every other department. The visual effects are pretty flawless - one exception perhaps being the Goblin King, who looks just a bit too OTT - and Howard Shore's reworked score is the stuff of eargasms. Jackson and his team have reopened the doors to Middle Earth, and fans should feel settled back in in no time at all. My screening wasn't in the much-talked-about 48fps, but it was in IMAX 3D, and I can tell you it was a truly fantastic experience. If the higher frame rate enhances that even more, it will be well worth a ticket.

Not quite up there with the first part of the LOTR trilogy, but was it ever going to be? If you're not a fan, this won't make you one, but a few problems aside The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - much like its diminutive hero - comes shining through in the end. Bring on 'The Desolation Of Smaug'.

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