“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (PG-13): A decade later, director Peter Jackson and his team happily revisit Middle-earth, adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel, which told of events preceding “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and was written with children in mind. (They’re doing it in three films, also.) Though some kids 10 and older will get right into the film and enjoy it with no nightmares likely, the PG-13 rating remains appropriate, as it was in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films. Long and complex, yet always engaging, the new film spins a ripping, fantastical yarn of bravery and camaraderie versus darkness and evil. The atmosphere may be lighter and funnier than in the earlier films, but the mayhem gets heavy, with creatures such as Goblins, Orcs and Trolls losing heads and arms in battle, and the more humanlike Hobbits and Dwarves facing life-threatening danger. Jackson’s new high-speed 3-D film technique looks almost like videotape at times, and thus more realistic and potentially scary for younger kids. In a prologue, we learn of the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor and how it was destroyed by a dragon. Then we cut to the benign world of the Hobbits and meet old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). Writing his memoirs, he recalls an adventure from his early years. We flash back to him as a young Hobbit (now played by Martin Freeman). Gandalf (Ian McKellen) the wizard, along with a boisterous contingent of Dwarves, visit Bilbo. The Dwarves’ leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) wants to take back Erebor, and Gandalf thinks the diminutive Bilbo will make a great addition to the team. Bilbo declines at first, but then decides he needs an adventure. He doesn’t realize how often he’ll risk his life. Nor does he expect to meet Elf royalty, or a creature as odd as Gollum (Andy Serkis), who has been driven mad by a gold ring with magical properties, his “precious.”
Battle scenes in which the Dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins fight the giant, vicious Orcs, gross Trolls and cave-dwelling Goblins involve beheadings, lopping off of arms, and runnings-through with swords. Little if any blood flows, but the mayhem is definitely PG-13-worthy. Gross humor about smelly behinds and loogies seems worse in 3-D! Characters smoke pipes, drink and refer to a woodland wizard who “eats too many mushrooms.” Serkis’ Gollum, computer-enhanced, bug-eyed and insane, continues to be a scary screen creation.
“Playing For Keeps” (PG-13): George (Gerard Butler), the protagonist in “Playing for Keeps,” is a handsome former soccer star who can’t seem to fight off the advances of single and married moms. Thus this marginally amusing film is not quite for middle schoolers. It has no explicit sexual situations, but it’s full of implied ones, some involving marital infidelity. Most of the characters are either reprehensible or dull. Even though he’s broke and divorced and just coaching their kids’ grade-school soccer team, George is irresistible to all those women, the most glamorous of whom (Catherine Zeta-Jones) wraps her legs around him and the richest of whom (Uma Thurman) removes her panties (nudity only implied) in front of him. The one-time Scottish sports hero only moved to this Virginia suburb to be near his ex, Stacie (Jessica Biel), and their 9-year-old son Lewis (Noah Lomax). Determined to show Lewis he’s now a dependable dad, and to win back the newly engaged Stacie, George decides to coach Lewis’ soccer team.
In addition to all the implied sexual liaisons and infidelities, adult characters use crude language and mildish profanity and drink beer and wine.