Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Adam Brown, Aidan Turner, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Dean O'Gorman, Barry Humphries, Graham McTavish, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Hambleton, William Kircher, Jed Brophy, John Callen, Mark Hadlow
Director: Peter Jackson
Finally, it's here - the prequel to the massive success (and NZ institution) that was The Lord of The Rings.
There's a whole stack of expectation on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey itself, and also the new technology 48 FPS being pioneered and delivered by Sir Peter Jackson.
Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins and Sir Ian McKellen is
back reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey.
Baggins, a Hobbit, lives in Bag-End, and enjoys the quiet life, so when Gandalf shows up on his doorstep, offering him a chance to be involved in an adventure, Bilbo politely, but firmly refuses.
Later that evening, a company of 13 dwarves gradually show up at his homestead, ransacking his pantry and determined that Bilbo will join them on their quest - to reclaim treasure stolen by the dragon Smaug and to help Thorin Oakenshield (a broody Richard Armitage) take back his lost kingdom of Erebor.
Against his every fibre of being, Bilbo finds himself going on this adventure, a trip that will change them all forever ...
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an astonishing and ground-breaking piece of film-making.
It's hard not to get past how it's presented first and foremost. The 48 FPS resolution means that it looks incredibly clear, hyper-real and ultra-defined.
It's the way of the future, clearly, and while it takes a little to adjust to the very high resolution, once you have, you're in for a visual treat. It's almost as if you've stepped through the screen and are in the thick of the action itself - it's like having a conversation with someone in front of you and finding they've been touched up with Photoshop tools, their colours heightened and the very essence of being increased.
With this astonishing visual touch, it's no wonder WETA's already in with a chance of getting an Oscar special effects nod - it really does raise the bar for FX-driven films.
That said, it's not all perfect on the FX front. While the Goblin Kingdom looks impressive, some of the shots when Gandalf and the gang ride a walkway down to try and escape don't quite fit together as well as they could, lacking the cohesive FX touches. And likewise, when the first reveal of Rivendell comes, it looks a little too much like a painting in the background, with action superimposed on the front. To be honest, though, these are minor niggles of the process rather than glaring FX distractions.
As for the human side of the film, Martin Freeman easily stands (a little) head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. His Bilbo is a perfect combination of well-timed comedy, Englishness and a hint of a Hobbit about to grow up.
Plus, having seen Martin Freeman as Bilbo, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role. The sequence where he riddles with Gollum is just astounding as a two-hander and is a real stand out of the film, particularly for Andy Serkis' work as Gollum, as he runs the gamut from childish glee to murderous malice in his game.
The cast of dwarves are a little too numerous to get much time in the spotlight in this first outing, but I suspect that will come in the following films - and all of them have real potential.
Of the dwarves, Ken Stott's venerable turn as Balin impresses, whereas the others tend to go more for comedy - with the exception of brooding totty dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (played by the dashing Richard Armitage). He has the potential to spin off as a sex symbol in the way that Legolas did in the following trilogy and he certainly gets moments to look moody and intense as the wronged Dwarven heir to Erebor.
There's also plenty of the feel of setting events up, with showdowns and story threads likely to be fulfilled later on, rather than a speedy resolution in this first flick.
There are plenty of comedic touches within The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and perhaps a few more than you'd have expected.
From the behaviour of the dwarves to Sylvester McCoy's almost vaudevillian turn as Radagast the Brown, it's the polar opposite to the heavy brooding of Frodo and his mission to destroy the one ring.
Sure, there's the feel of a quest as the story begins but there's plenty of humour peppered throughout which gradually peters out as it gets a little darker.
Barry Humphries brings some goitred humour to the grossness of the Goblin King, and the landscapes once again stand out as the scenery swoops from the serenity of Bag End to the wondrous mountains.
Likewise, the soundtrack soars when it needs to and complements the quieter scenes, such as Gandalf and Galadriel's discussion over why Bilbo was chosen.
All in all, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has set forth a revolution in film. It's also a film which you really do have to see at the cinema and in the way Peter Jackson intended; there's no real technology currently which will offer the same experience on the small screen.
And it's sure as hell raised the bar for the upcoming Avatar sequels, having redefined what audiences should expect from a virtual world.
Magical, majestic, mystical and utterly masterful, The Hobbit movie is an enthralling,engrossing and unmissable return to Middle Earth (especially if you're a committed LOTR fan).
I can't wait to go There and Back Again with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug next year.