It has been nine long years since director Peter Jackson's last foray into the realm of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. Since then, The Hobbit has had a difficult road to the silver screen, with rights changing hands, lawsuits, and even changing directors from Guillermo del Toro, whom Jackson personally recommended for the project, back to Jackson himself.
Now that it's finally here, there are still plenty of concerns surrounding the film - or more specifically, the three films Jackson (and no doubt Warner Bros.) has broken Tolkien's 300 page novel into. Criticisms of bloat and an overly long running time have permeated nearly every review, leaving many to wonder exactly how they plan to stretch out relatively little material into three two-plus-hour motion pictures. To put it in perspective, The Lord of the Rings is around 1,300 pages long and though many sacrifices and cuts were made, was adapted into as many films as their single 300 page precursor.
The complaints definitely have some merit. After seeing the first chapter of the film trilogy, subtitled An Unexpected Journey, I couldn't help but wonder how Jackson is going to squeeze two more films out of Tolkien's seminal children's fantasy, even if he translates every event to the big screen. In all honesty, there were numerous points during An Unexpected Journey that I felt were superfluous and could have been excised entirely. Whatever problems it may have had, from oversimplification and trivializing some of the more serious moments from the book, the Rankin/Bass animated adaptation of The Hobbit manages to depict nearly all of the major events in its sub-two-hour running time.
The opposite is true in Jackson's film. Not only does he cover the first half of the novel in this first film, he adds several sequences that are not in it at all, cribs characters from other Tolkien lore and transplants them here, and extends some sequences well beyond their necessity. An Unexpected Journey isn't a terrible film, but it feels too self-indulgent, and some clumsy writing gets in the way of the rather straightforward story.