When it was first announced that The Hobbit was going to be adapted into two films, it was cause for concern. Mid-production, that changed to three films, and it became probably the first trilogy reviled by angry fanboys and stuffy purists before release. Reading J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit was part of a lot our formative years, so I'm not going to lie - I was mildly cautious, yet ever hopeful as, I walked in to watch the first of three films bringing one of my favourite books to life.
I'm happy to report that the film is a majestic, extremely beautiful-looking, well-produced spectacle. It is also meandering, slow and full of unnecessary detail that, with the exception of very few bits, do not add to the overall narrative of the film. See, to expand what was originally a shorter book than any of the three The Lord Of The Rings books, Peter Jackson and his co-writers (including Guillermo del Toro, the original planned director) have conspired to pad the story by bits that are equal hits as misses.
Details from unfinished tales and from The Silmarillion are brought in, every small incident mentioned in passing or referenced off-screen in the books is given equal treatment with a full cinematic adaptation, and every small mention of swords drawn is used as an indication to show a full-scale battle.
Worse still, we are given a lengthy sequence with old Bilbo (Ian Holm reprising his LotR role) and Frodo just before the beginning of the original trilogy, and entire new arcs are invented for many of the major characters. Some of these stories, especially Thorin's background grudge with an orc are often entertaining, but rarely add to the texture of the film.
You see, Peter Jackson has decided he wants to make a classically-paced film with modern trappings, a majestic adventure film with bumbling slapstick, and a serious film about grand themes that makes dwarves out to be fools as often as possible. The wildly varying tones are quite enough to make one think one's watching four different films at the same time.
Despite these shortcomings, the quality of the craft at display, from the magnificent production design, to Andrew Lesnie's breathtaking cinematography, and Howard Shore's majestic score are all exhilarating. To add to the mix, we also see some of the finest actors doing their best to sell each scene. The story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman owns his role more than anyone), a peace-loving Hobbit plunged into adventure by an inscrutable Gandalf (Sir Ian Mckellan) along with a merry bunch of dwarves, has never looked or felt this good.
Ultimately I highly recommend the film, if only for academic purposes. Go see this entirely lavish exercise in wildly divergent tone and terrible screenwriting presented and acted beautifully by everyone else. More than any other film, the blame here has to be shouldered solely by the director, with his broad tones, and his slavishness to every single minor story point. This isn't a film so much as a 170-minute lovely-looking, missed opportunity.
A note on the technology: I watched it in classic 2D, and it looked fine, at times even awesome. Elsewhere, it is playing in 48fps 3D. While the overall reception to that is mixed, there have been reports of the 48fps being quite often distracting and cheapening the look of the film. I couldn't say, as my old-school film-watching experience was quite fun.