There are a few complaints from the negative reviews that I would like to call out as bullshit. I think they're things written by reviewers less interested in describing their reactions to the film than they are in writing down things that will keep them respectable enough as critics. For example, the beginning is not overlong. Particularly not the scene where the dwarves invade Bilbo's home. That couldn't have been more perfectly executed. And it highlights the fact that Martin Freeman not only makes a perfect Bilbo, he easily surpasses Elijah Wood and Sean Astin. There's a reason we don't see a lot of movies with Elijah Wood or Sean Astin headlining, if you get my meaning.
And Freeman's performance is so much more, well . . . English. He takes to this fellow culturally inoculated to being high strung yet with a basic good nature like a duck to water. He knows Bilbo inside and out, Bilbo's in his blood, just like Tolkien intended in writing characters designed to be so dyed in the wool English. He connects so beautifully with the character and the story, I could feel the entire audience turning on in response to him. Which is why I think the movie would've been more audience friendly if it had been closer to the book.
One of the ways the movie deviates from the book in a way that diminishes its broader appeal but I think will nonetheless be a lot of fun for Middle Earth fans is Jackson's expansion on Thorin Oakenshield's character. As the sober older man set in his ways and with an eye for the wealth of Erebor in the book, he contrasts slightly with the hot headed young man we see onscreen. He's still a more worldly figure than most of the other dwarves, at one point chastising Kili and Fili for teasing Bilbo about the possibility of orc raids. But his whole character is undermined by an arch enemy orc who kills his father in flashback earlier in the movie. Despite the fact that it's the heat of battle, and he's just witnessed the distinctively white orc behead his father, Thorin apparently doesn't feel like paying attention to whether or not the white orc is successfully executed by the dwarves seen dragging him off. He just assumes the white orc dies of his wounds, which makes it hard to get invested in the bloody lust for revenge we see in him later when the white orc turns up again.
The white orc is pretty good, actually, and would've been a great addition if his setup hadn't been so weak. His mannerisms seem as though they were modelled on Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner. His white warg is gorgeous and, on that point, I was ecstatic about how beautiful the wargs looked in this movie. Instead of the blunted, almost catlike faces they had in the Lord of the Rings movies, these wargs are truly wolfish, with long faces and teeth.
The best dwarf is Balin, played by Ken Stott who, with his white hair, prosthetic nose, and ably affected Irish accent reminded me of Darby O'Gill and the Little People, a movie the influence of which on Peter Jackson is unmistakable when you watch it.
The best scene in the movie, as so many reviews have pointed out, is Bilbo's scene with Gollum. Any point where Tolkien's brilliance that played perfectly well without actors, physical scenery, illustrations, or special effects is translated in a straightforward fashion--with performances that capture the characters so harmoniously--is a high point in Jackson's Middle-Earth films. I loved how the audience hushed and they seemed to be trying to figure out the riddles along with Bilbo and Gollum, instead of shifting in their seats as they tried to swallow one of the senseless plot twists Jackson saw fit to spackle the movie with.
The scenes with Radagast pulled me in two directions. I loved Radagast's bird's nest in his hair, his rabbit drawn sleigh and, of course, I love Sylvester McCoy. But Jackson gives him only trite business about resurrecting a hedgehog and investigating the Necromancer.
The extra scene with Galadriel and Saruman isn't bad. Saruman's portrayed as a sort of humourless headmaster contrasted with Gandalf as the cool liberal teacher who smokes pot between classes.
Rivendell is as beautiful as it was in the other movies. The movie looked really great, with the production design benefiting from Alan Lee's graceful, sort of washed out art nouveau look alongside the endless striking shots of New Zealand Jackson comes up with. You see so much footage of New Zealand nowadays, it's a marvel how Jackson seems to find this or that new extraordinary rock formation or copse.
I don't think there's been a movie with so many ways of watching it. You can see it in 2d, 3d, 3d in 48 frames per second, and IMAX 3d. I saw the IMAX 3d version because it's the version that played closest to the time convenient for me. It was the first time I saw an IMAX movie, which Harry Knowles, in his AICN review of the Hobbit movie, is already describing as antiquated. Maybe my eyes aren't sensitive to whatever it is IMAX is supposed to do because I honestly couldn't tell the difference between it and regularly projected film. The 3d was mostly fine because I stopped noticing it after a while--which of course means it's pointless. When I did notice it, it was because something looked strikingly artificial. It's not so bad with the cgi stuff that looked fake anyway, but when it breaks up the bright green grass of the Hobbiton hills, it's distracting and disappointing.
Speaking of someone who hates 3d, I read the first story in Caitlin's latest issue of her Sirenia Digest to-day, "WHEN THE NIGHT REJOICES PROUD AND STILL". It's a really great little portrait of Martian colonies after Earth's been abandoned, something that reminded me strongly of Cowboy Bebop, especially in reading that the colonies are under domes and there are corporate towers. Caitlin spends most of the story on a fascinating holdover harvest festival that reminds one a bit of The Wicker Man crossed with Dia de los Muertos. The interesting sado-masochistic sacrifice ritual fits nicely in line with a lot of other Sirenia Digest material.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, the movie last night came with an IMAX exclusive preview of Star Trek: Into Darkness, something like fifteen minutes of footage from the movie. It was good, better than I remembered the first movie being, and special effects work made a nice, genuinely alien looking world of red foliage for Kirk and McCoy to run through. Zoe Saldana was still outshining everyone, though I found Chris Pine slightly more tolerable, maybe because there wasn't time to give him any broad, apple chewing business.