Seeing The Hobbit is like going to a timeshare presentation. First you have to sit through the boring stuff before you can take advantage of the spectacular benefits.
"This is the shire here. Please sign on the dotted line, and then we'll take you to the wonders of man-made nature."
You might think of missing the first 45 minutes to get to the good stuff.
Director Peter Jackson, et al., has inflated J. R. R. Tolkien's circa-300 page novel to a nearly three-hour movie.
It's an endurance test for the audience. "But don't worry, we'll serve whine and cheese afterwards."
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the opening bombardment in a Hobbit trilogy.
It's the saga of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and a passel of dwarves led by warrior Thorin (Richard Armitage) on a quest to find and reclaim the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
The cast brings back some old favorites. Wizardly Ian McKellen is in fine form as the beloved Gandalf. Others appear fleetingly, e.g., statuesque Cate Blanchett, looking as though she has just stepped out of a perfume ad, is Galadriel.
For those who have missed Gollum (Andy Serkis in performance capture) he's back - in all of his sniveling glory. With glowing, bulging eyes, he skulks and sneaks. Ad nauseum. He'd make a good salesman for the timeshare.
Richard Armitage seems limited in his role as Thorin. In tv's MI-5, as Lucas North, Armitage smouldered. His Thorin is more ashes than fire.
Martin is subdued but alert as Bilbo Baggins. He's much-appreciated human relief amidst the colliding myths.
But the real star of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the frenzy of 3-D special effects. They are evocative and compelling, and are among the best special effects of the year.
This timeshare actually pays off.
There's another segment coming. "If you're interested, we're building a bridge in the shire that I can sell you."
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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