"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" — Stuffed with Hollywood's latest technology, Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" prelude is some eye candy that truly dazzles and some that utterly distracts, at least in its test-run of 48 frames a second, double the projection rate that has been standard since silent-film days. It's also overstuffed with prologues, flashbacks and long, boring councils among dwarves, wizards and elves as Jackson tries to mine enough story out of J.R.R. Tolkien's mythology to build another trilogy. Remember the interminable false endings of "The Return of the King," the Academy Award-winning finale of Jackson's "Lord of the Rings"? "An Unexpected Journey" has a similar bloat throughout its nearly three hours, in which Tolkien's brisk story of intrepid little hobbit Bilbo Baggins is drawn out and diluted by dispensable trimmings better left for DVD extras. Two more parts are coming, so we won't know how the whole story comes together until the finale arrives in summer 2014. Part one's embellishments may pay off nicely, but right now, "An Unexpected Journey" looks like the start of an unnecessary trilogy better told in one film. Martin Freeman stars as homebody Bilbo, the reluctant recruit of wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) on a quest to retake a dwarf kingdom from a dragon. The 48-frame version offers remarkably lifelike images, but the view is almost too real at times, the crystal pictures bleaching away the painterly quality of traditional film and exposing sets and props as movie fakery. PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images. 169 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"Les Miserables" — Tom Hooper's extravaganza, big-screen telling of the beloved musical is as relentlessly driven as the ruthless Inspector Javert himself. It simply will not let up until you've Felt Something — powerfully and repeatedly — until you've touched the grime and smelled the squalor and cried a few tears of your own. It is enormous and sprawling and not the slightest bit subtle. But at the same time it's hard not to admire the ambition that drives such an approach, as well as Hooper's efforts to combine a rousing, old-fashioned musical tale with contemporary and immediate aesthetics. There's a lot of hand-held camerawork here, a lot of rushing and swooping through the crowded, volatile slums of Victor Hugo's 19th-century France. Two years after the release of his inspiring, crowd-pleasing "The King's Speech," winner of four Academy Awards including best picture, Hooper has vastly expanded his scope but also jettisoned all remnants of restraint. But he also does something clever in asking his actors to sing live on camera rather than having them record their vocals in a booth somewhere as is the norm, and for shooting the big numbers in single takes. The intimacy can be uncomfortable at times and that closeness highlights self-indulgent tendencies, but the meaning behind lyrics that have become so well-known shines through anew. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe star. PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements. Running time: 158 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic