"We do not want any adventures," he says. So adventure has to come to him, presented by Gandalf in a waft of pipe smoke as he leans on his cudgel. Adventure comes in the form of dwarves and trolls, who journey to the Lonely Mountain. They are on a mission to take back a treasure taken by the dragon Smaug.
That thievery forms the prologue for "The Hobbit" as Smaug takes the Dwarf city of Erebor. Old Bilbo (played by Ian Holm) writes the story in a book and tells it to Frodo, Elijah Wood in a cameo. Then the dwarves show up, sloshing, taking over Bilbo's tidy domain and singing, from Howard Shore's epic score. Then the story tumbles forth: the contract Bilbo must sign, Radagast the wizard, Thorin Oakenshield's moody backstory, including Orcs; and Gandalf in Rivendell. Then there are rock giants and a chase around the mountain and a daring escape and a promise of things to come, oh, my!
New faces, such as Martin Freeman's young Bilbo, fill the crowd scenes. Bret McKenzie, star of "Flight of the Conchords," comes out of the chorus from the Ring trilogy to take a role as an elf. Richard Armitage broods as Oakenshield. Included among familiar hairy faces are the great Ian McClellan as Gandalf and Christopher Lee as Saruman. Cate Blanchett plays Galadriel, the only female of note in the whole movie. Andy Serkis, again, forms a lasting impression as a younger Gollum.
Peter Jackson has elasticized "The Hobbit," Tolkien's 300-page book, into three long movies. If this first of the three were not enchanting, it would be, at 2 hours and 50 minutes, as insufferable as Jackson's film versions of Tolkien's trilogy "The Lord of the Rings," to which "The Hobbit" serves as predecessor. Not only is "The Hobbit" a cunning combination of fantasy and folktale -- thank you, J.R.R. -- but also it's a filmic wonder, what with technology known as High Frame Rate 3D.
The result is so lifelike that it's hard to apply the archaic word "film" to such a visual. The fight scenes, especially, such as the one with the Rock Giants, are pretty cool -- if they don't cause nausea. Jackson even presents the food in Baggins' house and at the dwarves' annual party as gorgeous -- and gorgeable.
Peter Jackson's film may well serve as a travelogue for New Zealand, where it was shot so beautifully -- the mountains and waterfalls, crevasses and hollows are seductive sights. Howard Shore's original music accompanies the adventure of "The Hobbit" to New Zealand, err, Middle-earth.