'The Hobbit' first reviews are mixed, but praise Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis

martin-freeman-the-hobbit.jpg"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" won't open until Dec. 14, but the first reviews are already in and they're ... mixed.

Critics generally agree that Peter Jackson's return to the realm of J.R.R. Tolkien lives up to the technical achievements of his Oscar-winning mega-hit "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. But with a bloated running time of 174 minutes (the end credits alone are 16 minutes!) for what is just the first film in a brand new trilogy, there's also a consensus that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" isn't exactly swift on its oversized feet.

Star Martin Freeman (of the original U.K. "The Office" and the current BBC "Sherlock") is often cited as a strength, along with co-star Andy Serkis who reprises his motion-capture "Rings" role as Gollum.

Here's a taste of what critics are saying:

"'The Hobbit' alternately rewards and abuses [audience] appetite for all things Middle-earth. While Peter Jackson's prequel to 'The Lord of the Rings' delivers more of what made his earlier trilogy so compelling ... it doesn't offer nearly enough novelty to justify the three-film, nine-hour treatment, at least on the basis of this overlong first installment." -- Peter Debruge, Variety

"Recaptures much of the epic spectacle of the massively successful 'Lord Of The Rings' trilogy, smoothly setting in motion another large-scale adventure ... Jackson has lost none of his ability to deliver this sort of brawny mainstream entertainment, even if a bit of déjà vu hovers over the proceedings." -- Tim Grierson, Screen Daily

"Martin Freeman is a nicely flustered and quick-witted presence; it takes a while for Bilbo to embrace his call to adventure, but by the time he does, he feels like a guy worth following for two more movies." -- Katey Rich, CinemaBlend

"Where the 'Rings' trilogy had weight, 'The Hobbit' is all wigs and slapstick and head-lopping violence unsuitable for children -- who are the only audience who won't be bored to tears." -- James Rocchi, Box Office

"Spending nearly three hours of screen time to visually represent every comma, period and semicolon in the first six chapters of the perennially popular 19-chapter book, Jackson and his colleagues have created a purist's delight ... it's also a bit of a slog, with an inordinate amount of exposition and lack of strong forward movement." -- Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
Photo/Video credit: Warner Bros.