The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a better movie for people who want to return to Peter Jackson’s portrayal of Middle Earth than it is for people who want to see an adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic children’s book.  So, naturally, we loved it.

Prior to the release of the film, today, I had been very suspicious.  After completion of principal photography, Peter Jackson declared that The Hobbit, which is based on a rather short novel written for young readers, would require not two theatrical releases as he had planned, but three.  It frankly seemed like a money grab.  The only way to stretch this out to three films would be to treat the audience to either: an agonizingly slow treatment, excessive traipses through New Zealand’s stunning landscapes, and a third movie composed entirely of a three hour gore-fest version of the Battle of Five Armies; or a lot of new material not included in the source work.

Based on the first film, it will be a little of both.

There is a tremendous amount of material, so far, trying to establish “The Hobbit There and Back Again” as a firm prequel to The Lord of the Rings, instead of simply being a story in the same lands which happened before the other.  A mystery illness afflicts forest dwellers prompting Radaghast the Brown, who was omitted from the film version of Lord of the Rings but present in the book, to seek out Gandalf, shortly after “Mithrandir” identifies all five wizards of his order by name.  Thorin Oakenshield, who is probably my second favorite dwarf (edging out Tyrion Lannister but falling just behind Kili, whom I once played on stage), gains a rich back story and an orcish arch-foe in this film.  The arrival of Smaug to Erebore (the kingdom under the Lonely Mountain) is shown, though the dragon himself is not.  It feels a little like they’re holding back for a big reveal, but they do an awesome job with the depiction of Smaug “vomiting fire,” as most dragons are described to do.

Riddles in the Dark, the introduction of Gollum, is right up to par.  His portrayal is fantastic.

Despite generously heaping helpings of material from other of Tolkien’s works, there are a few moments where it feels like they were keeping every inch of film shot.  Thorin and the pale orc, who killed his grandfather, face off.  The camera flips back and forth between their changing expressions.  It goes on for so long that I thought it could only end with a kiss.

There are some moments of CGI with obvious “haloing,” which is just disappointing.  The spectacular landscapes of New Zealand, however, never disappoint.

All in all, it is a well shot film, stuffed with action, and good depth and growth of character.  Do not skip this one unless you intend to skip all three.  As shouted by Bilbo Baggins exiting The Shire, “[we’re] going on an adventure!”