Pop review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

"The Hobbit" is the story of a reluctant adventurer: The title character, the gentle Bilbo Baggins, is a gentle, stay-at-home sort, content with the simple pleasures of smoking a pipe and enjoying the confines of in his cozy hobbit hole.

The thought of going off to steal gold from deadly dragons is the stuff of Bilbo's nightmares, not day dreams. But he does go off, and a fantastic tale unfolds.

Having always enjoyed J.R.R. Tolkien's book, I went into this film adaptation filled with some trepidation myself. Not because I don't trust Peter Jackson. I thought his "Lord of the Rings" films were very true to Tolkien, well-cast and a joy to watch. But I was nervous that he'd turned the "The Hobbit" -- a single book that's shorter than all three of the "Rings" volumes -- into a trilogy. I figured it was going to be a slow-moving mess, as padded out as a concussed NFL player.

But once the film -- and Bilbo -- got underway, my worries faded. Maybe the timing helped. After the most recent episode of insane American violence, it felt good to immerse myself in this nearly tangible fantasy world, where culture wars are fought between clearly good or evil forces on battlefields instead of Kindergarten classrooms.

Yes, the film was a lot longer than it needed to be. But I didn't find it tedious at all. The much-discussed higher-frame-rate technology used didn't bother me, nor did it seem much different to me than other films. I saw the film in 3-D, which was fine, though I'm generally not a fan.

Much of the additional length is due to scenes that tie this film securely to the events of the "Lord of the Rings" films. There are even brief appearance by Ian Holm as old Bilbo and Elijah Wood as young Frodo.

Sir Ian McKellan is back as a younger, warmer Gandalf, and Martin Freeman, who I've liked in nearly everything I've seen him in (the British version of "The Office," "Sherlock," "Nativity," etc.) is a perfect Bilbo -- self-effacing, funny and nervous in the best British fashion.

Also back are Cate Blanchett (in the only female role in the entire film! God, this is a nerd story!), Christopher Lee as Sauran, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and, most significantly, the brilliant Andy Serkis as Gollum. Former "Doctor Who" actor Sylvester McCoy also appears in an entertaining role.

Highlights include the opening sequence, when all the dwarves show up (when I learned this would be a trilogy, I thought maybe this would be the entire first film: "The Hobbit: When the Dwarves Showed Up"). This sequence provides great opportunities for comedy and for Freeman to make funny, pained expressions as his quiet home gets noisily invaded.

The scene in which Bilbo runs afoul of a trio of huge, dumb and dirty trolls is also well-executed. And Bilbo's first meeting with Gollum is really the dramatic high point, a great scene played out between two fun-to-watch actors.

We don't really get too far beyond that, but it works. I'm still a little curious how Jackson will be able to get two, not just one, additional films out of the story. But I'm less skeptical than I was.

Rather than dreading the next installment, I'm eager to see it!