Welcome back to Middle Earth. A decade after bidding farewell to his Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson has returned to J.R.R. Tolkien to make three more films based on The Hobbit, the slender 1937 volume in which the author first deployed his Middle Earth mythology. And this first installment feels like much ado about not very much, dragging its hairy feet for nearly an hour before it even sets out on the "unexpected journey" of the movie's subtitle, in which the dandyish hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins forces with a band of warrior dwarfs to help recapture their ancestral homeland from the claws of a fire-breathing dragon. It goes without saying that all of this is executed at an exceptional level of craft, but unless you want to see something that looks like Days of Our Hobbit Lives, stay far away from Jackson's much-ballyhooed "High Frame Rate" version of the film playing in selected cinemas. Some welcome cameos from the LOTR cast keep things fitfully engaging, but mostly the movie feels like self-conscious monument art-- and it's all too unclear whether that monument is to Tolkien or to Jackson himself.