As an avid J.R.R. Tolkien fan, I was ecstatic when "The Hobbit," Peter Jackson's prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, was announced. Then came the shocking news: "The Hobbit" would be expanded into three movies, essentially turning a 300-page children's fantasy tale into a full-blown epic. Some feared that Jackson would add "fluff" to the storyline and unnecessarily stretch out the book. So does part one, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," fail or exceed expectations?

It exceeds them -- by far.

This film image released by Warner Bros., shows Ian McKellen as Gandalf in a scene from the fantasy adventure "The Hobbit: An Unexpected
This film image released by Warner Bros., shows Ian McKellen as Gandalf in a scene from the fantasy adventure "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." (AP Photo/Warner Bros., James Fisher, File) ( James Fisher )

Martin Freeman plays a quirky, almost twitchy Bilbo -- reminiscent of his performance as John Watson in British TV's "Sherlock" -- and it works extremely well. Sir Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf the Grey, the wizard who stirs up the buried adventurous spirit in Bilbo and coerces the hobbit into joining a band of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on a seemingly-doomed quest to reclaim their kingdom from a dragon. "An Unexpected Journey" is much more lighthearted than the original "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. With 13 dwarves, a more personable Gandalf the Grey, and Bilbo Baggins in a children's adventure story, how could it not be?


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Jackson had more than enough material to make movies from "The Lord of the Rings," but he had to add much more to "The Hobbit" to fill three movies. To my surprise and delight, these extra scenes vastly enriched the universe that Jackson previously brought to life. We're given insight into Bilbo's initial reluctance to join the adventure and his eventual enthusiasm for it; we see why Thorin wants to complete his impossible quest; and we're privy to an enchanting scene with Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond. We're also introduced to the humorous, likable wizard, Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy). And along the journey, we see foreshadowing of growing evil in Middle Earth -- a prevalent theme that links "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings."

As for the movie itself, "An Unexpected Journey" is beautifully shot. The 3-D was disconcerting at first, but it worked amazingly well with the aerial and landscape shots. The landscapes and sets are just as stunning, if not more than, the gorgeous shots of New Zealand in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

"An Unexpected Journey" balances comedic and intense scenes, from 13 dwarves packed inside Bag End to battles in a goblin-infested cavern. Bilbo's encounter with Gollum (Andy Serkis) deserves a mention of its own. Both actors are incredible and the execution of their game of riddles is superb. (Watch for a nod to Tolkien at the end of the game.)

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" surpassed all of my expectations, and Tolkien fans will not be disappointed. It'll be hard to wait another year for the second installment, but in the meantime, we can always revisit the books and previous films.

The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Marisa Chow is home-schooled. Reach her at lip@bayareanewsgroup.com


(L-r) CATE BLANCHETT as Galadriel and IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf in the fantasy adventure âÄúTHE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY,âÄù a production of New Line
(L-r) CATE BLANCHETT as Galadriel and IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf in the fantasy adventure âÄúTHE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY,âÄù a production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM), released by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM. Warner Bros. ( Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture )