martin freeman the hobbit 'The Hobbit' first reviews are mixed, but praise Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis“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 d�j� 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