A few brief thoughts on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which provided a welcome reprieve from Friday's tragedy...
As anticipated, The Hobbit was a wonderful return to Middle Earth, like revisiting a loved vacation spot to see old friends. Watching known characters like Gandalf and Frodo is a thrill; seeing the grassy comfort of the Shire generates smiles; hearing the musical themes of hobbits and elves induces happy chills. The film succeeds wildly on these nostalgic levels, as any well-made Hobbit movie would.
An Unexpected Journey is Bilbo-centric, focusing on Martin Freeman's superb young version of Ian Holm's Bilbo, as he joins a baker's dozen of dwarves in an intrepid attempt to reclaim their home. With adversaries ranging from trolls to wargs to self-doubt, their adventures are indeed grand. The visual effects are expectedly spectacular, and the action does not disappoint. The film's primary shortcoming is the lack of small moments that make the big moments worthwhile, like a great meal lacking adequate salt to fully draw out the flavor.
What seasoning there is stems from the film's most potent moments, which involve Bilbo's stellar quiet interactions with Gandalf, Gollum and the dwarves. As the story breathlessly races from one massive set piece to another, the minimal small scenes aren't enough to fully round out the film. Great adventure movies succeed not only because of the action but because of the characters. The emotional connection to the main characters here is diluted by the sheer volume of dwarves and the fact that their quest isn't as inherently compelling as destroying a world-threatening evil, nor is Bilbo's participation as easily understood.
This should change as the trilogy develops. For now, An Unexpected Journey felt very much like the first of three movies, providing an exciting ride and an enjoyable stage-setting first act that begs for more. Still a solid 8 of 10, with the potential to rise as the series progresses.