The first question you're going to want to know is: "Should I take my kids to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"? The short answer is no.
The somewhat longer answer is: if they're 12 or older or enthusiastic about disgusting and frightening creatures and intense action and battle sequences, then you're probably okay.
The movie has a PG-13 rating and you should take the rating seriously. As a book The Hobbit is much gentler in tone than The Lord of the Rings and it's frequently cited as a children's book. But this movie is not the book. Oh sure, it has Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Thorin Oakenshield, Gandalf, and all the rest (more in fact) but the filmmakers have combed ALL of Tolkien (including The Lord of the Rings and every index and appendix) for every possible character and situation they could possibly pack into this story. You want Radagast the Brown? You get a whole lot of him!
And if you or your children are particularly attached to the original text of The Hobbit you should alter your expectations. It's the way Peter Jackson and his team have adapted the book that gets at the heart of why this is no longer a children's story. There is a lot of scary stuff here.
Some key examples: Radagast is a bit crazy and his demeanor could be unsettling to kids. I found what I'm guessing is a lot of bird poop encrusting the side of his head to be very unsettling. Cute animals die in Radagast's forest and giant spiders crawl over his house. The orcs and goblins are hideous and disgusting. The extended battles with both orcs and goblins are full of frightening action with plenty of beheading, dismemberment, and a bit of evisceration.
However, despite all the chopping of swords there is remarkably no blood. I guess orcs and goblins are bloodless creatures because despite several prominent beheadings there's no spray of ichor. The leader of the orcs, Azog (like the Great Goblin), is on a whole other level of gross and frightening beyond your standard orcs and goblins. After getting his hand chopped off (in 3D!) Azog replaces it with an iron spike/claw thing that's just kind of stabbed into his stump.
I'll stop there. You get the idea.
Gollum does belong in this movie and he's predictably creepy. But beyond that he is at times also quite frightening. The improved motion-capture technology along with big screen 3D provides a level of realism that brings him to life more effectively than when he appeared in Lord of the Rings. I do want to point out that the iconic riddle scene between Gollum and Bilbo is particularly well done. Gollum is by turns frightening, deranged, pathetic, and sad.
Martin Freeman is also well cast as Bilbo, who is both horrified by Gollum and provides just the right level of empathy to help us see the ultimate tragedy of the character.
I've spent a lot of time setting up all the reasons you shouldn't bring younger kids to see the movie, so I should close by saying that for fantasy fans who are not too precious (pun intended) about the original text of The Hobbit or someone looking for a good popcorn adventure, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is actually a pretty good movie.
If you go ...
Where: Here's a list of which cinemas are showing The Hobbit in the Seattle area. I saw it at Pacific Science Center's IMAX theater, which was a very immersive experience, as you might expect. Some of the swooping camera work can create a sense of vertigo at times, especially in 3D.
Note: A lot has been said about the high frame rate high-definition cinematography used in the film but aside from being able to see the makeup on the actors more clearly I didn't find it distracting or even that different from a regular film.
Length: Run time is close to three hours.
About the author: John Kubalak is a writer, teacher, volunteer coordinator, raconteur, and scalawag. He does not publish science fiction under the pseudonym Jonathan Black but he does publish a monograph on fatherhood, The Eclectic Dad. He has a son, a daughter, a beautiful wife (and a little dog too!) who are adorable, maddening, zany, and brilliant all at the same time.