First of all: I loved it.
I loved loved loved this movie.
With that out of the way; it was flawed. Unmarked spoilers and major rambling ahead. From the top. . .
The Hobbit, the book, is a story about Bilbo Baggins (the titular Hobbit) going on an adventure with a bunch of dwarves and Gandalf the wizard (who keeps running out on them), and the little group going to find their lost dwarf city (and gold) where the dragon Smaug lives. Along the way they encounter trolls, goblins, and general trouble.
The movie, The Hobbit; An Unexpected Journey, covers Bilbo Baggins' story until just after the part with the goblins, as it is only one installment out of a three movie series.
If you're one of those Tolkien-purists who raged at the The Lord of the Rings movies because- the elves weren't at Helms Deep! That wasn't Arwen, that was Glorfindel! And where's Tom Bombadil? RUINED FOREVER!- then you may as well stop here; I'm sorry, you're beyond help and I can do nothing for you.
In some respects, this movie is ridiculously true to the book, including scenes that (frankly) could've been cut out with little to no impact on the plot. In other respects, Radagast the Brown distracts Azog the Defiler with a bunny sled to let Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves have enough time to escape to Rivendell.
As, you may have heard, the only way to stretch out The Hobbit into a nine hour film franchise is to add stuff from other sources, stuff from Unfinished Tales and the Lord of the Rings appendixes gets blended in. The Quest of Erebor, the Battle of Azanulbizar, the Necromancer, etc. Also, Azog's alive. Azog, the guy who got one line in the book near the beginning and then was promptly forgotten by everyone reading the Hobbit? Yep, he's our main villain throughout the movie, mercilessly hunting down Thorin's group because Thorin cut off his arm in battle and now Azog wants revenge.
The movie, on the whole, is lighter in tone and more swashbuckling and adventuresome than the LOTR movies, but darker and more dramatic than the book, which seems to be throwing a lot of critics off. For instance, something that will make you either bubbly and happy with fannish glee, or make your teeth sharpen into fangs and grow into your skull through your brain in irritation: they kept in the songs. Two of them. The "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates" and "Misty Mountains Cold." Both of those songs have massively different moods in and of themselves, and they're shown not far apart from eachother. The whole movie is subject to that kind of mood shift, but, for the most part, it works.
There are a few major changes from the book to the movie, one of which stands right the fuck out and others that are more subtle in tone.
Azog. In the book, Azog has been dead for quite some time before the story started, and hadn't met any of the characters. Here (as stated earlier) he's alive and kicking and itching to rip off Thorin's head. Azog being alive and actively hunting the protagonists is probably the change with the biggest impact on the actual plot of the movie, as it makes everything more dire. There's danger now, not just them running around and just-so-happening to run into trolls and goblins and things. That stuff still happen, mind, but now there's a continuous threat throughout the movie giving a kind of tension that wasn't exactly there in the book (which was snappy and lighthearted for the most part, even in the parts that were supposed to be more dramatic).
The second one is more subtle: the dwarves want to go home. In the book, Thorin and company want to get back to the mountain because- fuck, man! There's gold down there! There's a whole big pile of treasure and they want to go get it. In the movie, it's more about reclaiming their homeland and having a place to belong. It's mentioned that Thorin's group are not all warriors and adventurers, they're actually a mish-mash group of merchants and miners and artisans and, well, Dwalin, who actually is some kind of warrior, who all came when Thorin called them. Which explains why so many things get the jump on them and why their weapons vary. Yeah, you've got swords and axes and stuff, but then you got someone with a bow and Dwalin's hammer, and the earnest but ineffectual little pissant with the slingshot.
Another big change is the role of Bilbo himself. I'm not sure how many of you guys have read or reread the Hobbit recently, but, guys, Bilbo-in-the-book is kind of useless. At least until they get to Mirkwood. But before that, he's kind of just there. He's the audience's eyes and sort of surrogate, and since the intended audience is children, that works fine. It isn't until Mirkwood where his wizard is gone and his companions are down that he balls up and makes with the heroing. But since this movie is only one three-hour installment out of three three-hour movies, and Mirkwood probably isn't going to happen for a while, we can't wait until then to make Bilbo a little more active in what is supposed to be his story. So they give him little opportunities to show that he's developing as a character. Instead of him just hiding out while Gandalf does the voice-trick on the trolls and distracts them until sunrise in a very silly scene, Bilbo is the one who distracts the trolls until sunrise in a very silly scene. You know, little stuff like that to make the character more interesting and slightly less useless. They also make him more sincerely conflicted about the adventure, torn between wanting to be safe and alive and wanting to help Thorin (to the point that he actually almost turns back, whereas in the book he just whined a lot and thought of home.
Again, they add stuff from other sources mixed in. So the Necromancer is a budding subplot. There's also a big deal made about the great evil that might be coming over the land, and they try to tie this in with the Lord of the Rings movies. In fact, the reason Gandalf is interested in the little group reclaiming Erebor at all is because he's worried that Smaug might side with whatever evil may be coming.
One of the complaints I've heard about the movie is that the dwarves (except for Thorin) were hard to tell apart. As someone who read the book, where the dwarves were all pretty much differentiated solely by their beards and the color of their cloaks, I sorta-agree-but-not-really. It's not the movie's fault, the book was worse. If anything, the movie does an excellent job of making them visually distinctive. You can totally tell the big bald one who looks like he's going to kick somebody's ass (Dwalin) from the shrimpy little guy with the slingshot (Ori). And I guarantee all the straight girls know who Kili is (the only dwarf who looks like a rugged male model and is the only guy with a bow).
The Goblin King was also upped from "SMASH THEM! CRUSH THEM! RAWR!" to one of those eloquent, cheerfully evil bad guys. He wasn't funny, but he was fun.
There are little character moments sprinkled throughout the story, not just for Bilbo. When the Goblin King asks the group what they were doing on their "front porch". In the book, Thorin just tells him who they are and who he is and then Gandalf comes in and saves them. This one, there's a little more character to it. The group doesn't want to say anything because- dude. Goblins. So they all stay silent and the king threatens them, telling the horde of goblins to kill the youngest first. Then Thorin steps up.
You know, that sort of thing.
Radagast is in this movie. He's not supposed to be, but he is. And he's borderline-ridiculous but at the same time so over the top that it circles right around to being cool. And he's got a sled run by rabbits. That's not in any of the books Tolkien ever even thought of writing up.
Don't care. BUNNY SLED. Bunny sled that outpaces WARGS.
EPIC BUNNY SLED.
Speaking of pacing, one of the thing people have been complaining about is the length. This sucker is three hours long, and I. . . admit that maybe some parts went a bit long. There wasn't much by the way of padding; there weren't any parts that felt like they could've been cut completely and utterly wholesale, but some parts did feel a bit stretched, like everyone making the movie just got too into the scenes they were shooting and didn't know when to stop. Maybe the could've cut a few minutes off the troll shenanigans. Cut a few (dozen) at Rivendell. And did we really need that way-too-Hollywood "Thorin bad mouthing Bilbo while Bilbo is listening unseen" thing?
A film student can probably tell you, "no, along with a bunch of other stuff."
The set up of the movie, the very beginning, is Bilbo writing the story down on the same day of his eleventy-first birthday before the start of Fellowship. On the one hand, it's really really neat that this is tying itself to the LOTR and we get to see Frodo again, and oh look! Frodo has the book he was reading when he was waiting for Gandalf to show up in the first movie-
But on the other hand, if you aren't excited about the OMG CONTINUITY!, then you are going to find those first ten minutes kind of unbearably slow.
As stated, I loved this movie. I was in there eating this up with a fuckin' spoon. But even I, in the back of my head, was going, "hehe, you know, if I wasn't totally just loving the hell out of this thing, I'd probably be reeeeally tired of this scene by now."
From a cinematic standpoint, God bless them, they've stopped with the dramatic close up shots. There might've been a few in the Hobbit, but it wasn't as noticeable as it was in the LOTR movies where every few shots was a close up of someone's face or the ring. They gave the scenes some breathing room, meaning we actually get a better feel for the setting than we did in the Lord of the Rings films.
The acting is brilliant. Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo.
So. To recap:
The movie starts off slow and does run a little long for some people.
There are a whole lot of in-jokes and treats for people who have read the book (and other books).
ALSO: think before seeing this movie in 3D. Yeah, I've heard that Jackson tried shooting it in some special new way that was supposed to make the 3D really good, but everyone I've heard from IRL who went to see it in 3D says that it makes the backgrounds look like cheap bluescreen. See the 2D and do the movie justice, it looks spectacular.
gnarl says: re: 3d... for me, the HFR made it work better than most 3D films.
Andrew Aguecheek says: I did see the film in 3D at 48fps... I loved the way it looked. It wasn't realistic exactly, but I wouldn't say it looked like cheap bluescreen. Maybe more like a theatre set.
Bookreader says: After seeing the movie, I decided that Peter Jackson is one of the most over indulgent movie directors of all time. And then I promptly decided that in the case of the Hobbit, it was a good thing.
Completely almost unrelated, but I've heard that Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be playing Smaug. Like, not just the voice, but he's even going to be doing motion capture. Normally, I would ask how it is possible for somebody to do motion capture for a dragon, but with Cumberbatch, I believe it completely. If anyone can, it's him.