Here’s the buzz: “The Hobbit” is not a masterpiece and lacks the epic scale of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. But one thing’s for sure: “An Unexpected Journey”, Episode One in Peter Jackson’s three-part screen version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book is a solid piece of entertainment. We’ll have to wait another year for “The Desolation of Smaug”, and still another for “There and Back Again”. But what a kickoff. “Journey” is pure fun, a movie that pops your eyes out, piles on thrills and fun, and yet stays intimately attuned to character. Even when the film hits bumpy patches, it never flies off the rails. The movie opens with a framing sequence featuring the older version of hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm who reprises his role from LOTR) and his nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood). From there, Jackson flashes back to the original story, with a younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) receiving a surprise visit from wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, as awesome as ever) and getting involved in a mission to help a group of dwarves reclaim their ancestral homeland from an evil dragon. What doesn’t work? Some characters are underdeveloped, notably the dwarves (don’t judge me if I can’t tell the difference between Fili, Kili or Oin for instance), with the exception of their leader, Thorin. It’s even more of a shock that the reliably excellent Cate Blanchett lacks magic (once again) as the elf queen Galadriel; ditto the scenes in the elf land of Rivendell which seem rushed and out of place. But still, Jackson keeps the action percolating, especially in the film’s second hour. The effects astonish, none more so than Gollum, the computer-generated creature, hauntingly voiced once again by Andy Serkis. Serkis is a wicked wonder, making Gollum a creature to haunt your dreams. Yes computers helped to create the effect, but it’s Serkis who gives Gollum life. Better yet, Martin Freeman, the English actor who was so good in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” gives the film’s strongest performance, nailing the humbleness in Bilbo without making him a character of dull virtue (his scenes with Gollum are priceless by the way). At the end, “The Hobbit” lacks the focus of “The Lord of the Rings”, not to mention that Oscar winner’s scrappy wit. But why complain when you’re having such a good time at the movies? Jackson deserves to revel in his success. He’s made a three-hour film that leaves you wanting more.