The very long adventures of a very short hero begin...
Based on the first few chapters of what was originally a fairly slender children's book, in director Peter Jackson's hands The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey becomes merely the first, very long, instalment of a new three-part Hobbit franchise.
Taking place sixty years before the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the film is again set in Middle Earth and follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he is uprooted from his comfy, settled life and persuaded, somewhat reluctantly, to head out on a life-changing adventure.
He is lured out of his Hobbit hole by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and joins a company of thirteen dwarves who go on to to clash swords with Goblins and Orcs, and much, much worse.
Like the book it is taken from, the first of the Hobbit films appears to be aimed at a younger audience than the LOTR series, and while there are savage fights, giant spiders and even the occasional beheading, nothing here has the same grit and dark sense of menace as its predecessors.
There are some great performances, Freeman is a perfect fit for the titular Bilbo, McKellan commands every scene he's in as usual, and Andy Serkis, reprising his role as Gollum, practically drips with twisted obsession.
The Hobbit is the first major film to be shot in the new High Frame Rate (HFR) format, which utilises 48 frames per second rather than the standard 24. While this makes watching in 3D far smoother than previously possible and reduces blurring, its hyper-sharp definition has the unfortunate effect of making the film and its (undoubtably wonderful) special effects look several million dollars cheaper than they really are.
Whether many of the Hobbit's audience will feel the same way, or even notice, remains to be seen however - and there is plenty to enjoy - but had Jackson managed to cover the same ground in a third of the time The Hobbit would be all the richer for it.