So I finally got to see The Hobbit, and I thought I'd share my first impressions. If you haven't seen the movie and are planning to, you might not want to read this, because it might be spoilery.
So first off, I love Martin Freeman as Bilbo. You know how sometimes when you see the movie version of a book you've grown up with, you can't quite reconcile the actor with the character in your head? Totally didn't happen here. Martin Freeman nailed Bilbo Baggins -appearance, personality, everything. The Unexpected Party was a major highlight of the movie for me, because you see so clearly that here is a genuinely nice person (hobbit) completely overwhelmed by all these strangers that he's too polite to slam the door on. As someone who is easily overwhelmed by crowds myself, I can sympathize. In fact, one of the flaws of the movie (in my opinion) is that we don't have enough of these wonderful character-building moments.
I especially missed Bilbo's point of view in Rivendell. I love the dwarves trying to cook salad, and I enjoy the council. (Gandalf and Galadriel doing the fantasy equivalent of texting under the table when Sauruman goes into lecture mode is priceless.) But this section is Bilbo's first look at Rivendell, the place where he returns to spends his last years in Middle-Earth, and -aside from one backward glance- we never get the sense that it makes any kind of impression on him.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I wanted to mention the troll scene which deviates from the book, with mixed results. In the book, Thorin sends Bilbo in as a scout to see what he's made of. In the movie, Bilbo gets pushed into going by Fili and Kili, who are panicking because some of the ponies went missing on their watch. This was, I think, a sound decision on the part of Peter Jackson. The movie dwarves draw on some of Tolkien's later writings which further developed the dwarf culture and their warlike nature. The original meeting with the trolls don't fit the more serious nature of the movie.
Unfortunately, the actual capture of the dwarves broke my willing suspension of disbelief. Jackson had Thorin surrender to the trolls because they'd captured Bilbo -but Thorin was a seasoned warrior, a dwarf prince! He would be used to making hard decisions in battle. I have trouble believing that he would let his entire band of loyal followers get eaten just because they threatened Bilbo. It was like he suddenly remembered that Bilbo was the title character and he couldn't let him get killed off for plot reasons.
Using Bilbo instead of Gandalf distract the trolls is great. It shows that he's cunning and can think on his feet. In the book, Bilbo doesn't come in to his own until after he meets Gullom -which is around the one-third mark in the book, but closer to the the three-third mark in the movie. That would be way to late to have your hero just starting to do anything.
I have mixed feelings about Radagast's introduction. My dad found his presence random and confusing, while my brother thought he added a new depth to the world-building. I think people who are familiar with Middle Earth only through the movies might be confused by him, like my dad was. As to the character himself, it really depends on what Peter Jackson plans to do with him in the future movies.
As for the early meeting with the orcs and wargs, I understand it from a plot standpoint. It will make the ending feel inevitable. I like that the lead orc has a history with Thorin. The way they push our heroes to visit Rivendell fills a plot hole that opened up when Jackson decided to accent the dwarf/elf feud. I get it- but I wasn't crazy about that part. Maybe I just know the book a little too well, but that part felt like it was just an action scene, it didn't feel like a Tolkien action scene. Let me see if I can explain... okay. You know Tolkien is fond of the Deu ex Machina, right? We have Gandalf's return at dawn in The Two Towers. we have Aragorn's black ships in Return of the King. Both have a sense of divine intervention, partly because of the use of light and shadow. Tolkien loved using weather in mood setting. Even in the Troll scene earlier in The Hobbit you have the sudden outbreak of sunlight bringing hope (and that was masterfully filmed). The emotional element doesn't come through with this orc raid, and I think it's because the scene isn't based on Tolkien's writing.
The scenes in the Misty Mountains were mostly awesome (especially everything involving Gullom). I loved Bilbo's talk with (I think) Bailin. Those quieter scenes are where Peter Jackson's directing is especially great and I only wish there were more of this sort of thing. I did think Bilbo looked a little too comfortable with the sword in his fight with the orc, especially after he told Gandalf that he'd never drawn a sword in his life. I also thought the dwarves should have been a little quicker on Bilbo's heels when he went after Thorin's attacker in the tree-fight scene. But I did love Thorin's acknowledgement of Bilbo's place in their company there at the end.
Wow. That's a long overview. I'm sure I missed things. Like how much I appreciate that this movie explores dwarf culture. It gives The Hobbit a unique feel, while still keeping a sense that we are in Middle Earth. Also, I know why most people like to see movies in theater: telephones. We got three calls during the prologue. And that's it. I'd love to hear what you all thought, if you've seen the movie.