(Fear not, those who have great faith in my reading comprehension - I was able to get through LotR by the time I was in high school).
"The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" are such vastly different books that, even though they were written by the same author and take place in the same world with many of the same characters, it would be foolish to think that movies of both books would be similar. I say this because I don't understand why the elitist critics (those in traditional print media and those who write for big-time pop culture and fantasy websites) are panning "The Hobbit." It seems like they expected to be wowed by this simply because it's Peter Jackson adapting JRR Tolkien's classic story for the big screen. And maybe they were just underwhelmed by the fact that there really isn't a whole lot new about the special effects. Seems like all anyone wants is George Lucas or James Cameron (or even Michael Bay - he does plenty of special effects orgies - and just about as messy) - knock-your-socks-off-special-effects, but not much in the way of story.
Well, I was wowed. And not by special effects or any of that technical stuff (though the technical stuff was impressive and about par for the course for PJ and company. Even this technical agnostic - that's the one that doesn't care, right? - noticed some improvement in the CGI). But the most impressive this is that the cast and crew didn't give into the pressure/temptation to the "Lord of the Rings: The Prequel." They told the story of "The Hobbit." And "The Hobbit" is not a story about Frodo Baggins being forced to take Ultimate Evil out of the quiet and peaceful Shire in order to save the quiet and peaceful Shire (and the rest of the world, come to think of it). "The Hobbit" is a story of Bilbo Baggins being taken out of his comfort zone for no good reason and learning Valuable Lessons about himself along the way.
I have to give Glorious and Mad Props to Martin Freeman in this movie. I'd seen him play John Watson in BBC's "Sherlock" and thought he was brilliant there. He does the Fish Out of Water thing so well, but I think his portrayal of Bilbo Baggins takes that Up To Eleven. It's one thing to be the odd man out and just stumble along, relying on dumb luck when the plot requires it. But in this story, I felt that Bilbo was more proactive in his reliance on dumb luck. Yes, that makes no sense whatsoever, but hear me out for a moment -
Some of the best scenes in "The Hobbit" are between Bilbo and Gandalf when Gandalf is trying to persuade Bilbo to go on this journey with the Dwarves. Bilbo is adamant that Gandalf has the wrong hobbit; Gandalf is adamant that Bilbo is not living up to his potential. There is a moment during Gandalf's "...and subsequently invented the game of golf!" speech in the midst of all the audience laughter where Bilbo actually looks guilty and a little bit ashamed of himself. Tell me none of you have felt that when your parents or relatives or some other authority goes on about how an ancestor or a sibling or a parent or a friend is doing/has done OH SO MUCH BETTER than you and why can't you be more like them and you're such a loser for wanting to stay behind in your comfortable chairs and filled pantries and overflowing bookshelves (yeah - this hit a little close to home. I admit it). Even if no one has said it to you, don't you ever say it to yourself? I do. Lots of times. And even when Bilbo takes off out of the Shire with the Going on a Quest With Homeless Dwarves Contract fluttering behind him, he still doesn't really feel like this was such a good idea.
Set that idea aside for a moment (I'll come back to it). I love that there is so much more stuff in this movie than what was originally in the book. I admit that I was skeptical of stretching this story out over three movies - what if it just feels like useless padding? But the "padding" - hell, I loved it! Radagast the Brown was awesome! Kind of in the neighborhood of Luna-Lovegood-Awesome - kooky and quirky and just plain fun (and damn, those rabbit can book it! Next time someone carps about Delta High School's mascot being a rabbit, well, I'll just point out that a bunch of overgrown rabbits kicked a bunch of Wargs' asses in Race For Your Life Across Middle-Earth). But the most memorable added-in scene came from the council between Gandalf, Elrond, Saruman and Galadriel. I didn't know this at the time, but evidently the scenes added in actually came from Tolkien's later stories from "The Unfinished Tales," which explain a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that was going on with the Dwarves' quest that Bilbo didn't know about. The one line that I loved in this scene was when Gandalf is asked (and it's stupid that I don't remember who asked this) "Why the halfling?" And Gandalf says "I don't know. But it feels right." (or something along those lines).
This kind of plays into foreordination (which is different than predestination), which is something I believe strongly in. I believe that everyone has Something To Do in this life. None of us know what that something is and part of our purpose is to discover for ourselves what that is and either accept it or reject it - the choice is completely up the person (which is why it's not predestination - that implies it's fate and it's fixed and you can't get out of it. Everyone has the ability to choose). It could be something big and it could be something small. I don't think we're meant to discover it all at once and it may take a lifetime to figure it out (and perhaps some people fulfill their missions simply by searching). Bilbo may have been "foreordained" (if you will) to go on this quest and find the Ring so Frodo could go on his own quest to destroy it. No one knows or understands why - and maybe they never find out the reason (though I think there could have been more answers at the Grey Havens - which plays into another belief of mine, that in the afterlife we will understand everything that we don't understand now and there will always be more to learn and understand as the eternities go on). But Bilbo is the best person to do this thing and the Universe (Creator, whatever it is in Middle-Earth) decides it.
Anyway - I didn't mean to get into a big philosophical discussion and I'm sure people have little holes that they're going to poke in my beliefs (they always do), but these are the things that really rung true for me as I sat and watched this movie (which was entirely too short for all the good things I was getting from this, so Take That stupid jerks who complain about the time length).
I loved all the Dwarves. One thing I missed about Lord of the Rings is that we get a pretty thorough exposition to Elves and Men, but we never see much of the Dwarves - how their civilization works and what their ordinary people look like (even though Gimli had his "Dwarf Women" discussion with Eowyn in "The Two Towers"). But in "The Hobbit," we actually get to see the Dwarven Kingdom under the Lonely Mountain. And - in it's own way - it is gorgeous. The Elves have this otherworldly, magical, floaty, sparkly element to them, but the Dwarves are very much grounded in reality. Kind of like Men, but more so. I love that all of Thorin's Company each has their own personality. At first, I was afraid I wouldn't remember which Dwarf was which, but I figured it out quicker than I thought I would (I totally missed the ax permanently embedded in Bifur's head, though). Of course, Kili was the best eye-candy (dark-haired one of the right) and Thorin wasn't too bad to look at either :) (I wondered how they'd work that in, since LotR had so much For the Ladies and Dwarves don't always lend themselves to good lookin' fellas. Yeah, I said it).
(Holy cow - I went from a poignant discussion of The Purpose of Life to fangirl gushing about how hot some of the Dwarves were. I said this would be madness, didn't I?)
The music in this movie was spectacular. I loved the Dwarves' song about the Lonely Mountain (the text of which was lifted right from the book and just given a drool-worthy bass melody). I didn't get to stay for the entire credit sequence, but that song was great too. I will be purchasing the soundtrack in the near future (either after payday or use any Christmas gift cards I receive).
I have to talk about Riddles in the Dark, which is actually my favorite chapter in the entire book. I've had this weird fascination with Gollum since sixth grade - sort of in the way the world is fascinated by the wreck and story of the Titanic. Bilbo meeting Gollum and finding the Ring is THE turning point of "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings," but it's such a simple thing (if a strange cave-dwelling creature threatening to eat you can ever be simple) that it gets overlooked sometimes in favor of "HOLY CRAP THERE'S A DRAGON ATTACKING US!!" It goes back to entire lives turning on small moments - that nothing ever happens without consequences, whether those consequences have positive or negative effects. Of course, this whole scene is played out beautifully by Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis. I actually think Gollum looks more like Andy Serkis this time around - at least, in the facial structure. That was one special effect I noticed had improved since LotR. The Riddles scene is playful, yet dangerous; innocent, but also has an air of peril and I loved the whole thing (and I'm glad it didn't get intercut with the Dwarves in trouble with the Goblins, because that would have sucked).
The ending was fantastic. It gave the movie a place to stop without feeling like you were just dropped in the middle of nothing. I loved the emotion after the fight with the Orcs and Wargs - even knowing that the Dwarves and Bilbo survive this, I was scared for them. Especially Thorin. I haven't talked about Thorin much, but Richard Armitage really surprised me here (I actually wasn't sure who Richard Armitage was before I saw this, but he was great!) I love that Thorin isn't so much a self-centered jerk that he comes across as in the books, but he's more of a world-weary warrior who's seen too much and just wants to go home already, but he knows where his duty lies. And even though Bilbo has had so many doubts about himself - and Thorin has had plenty of doubts about this odd little halfling that's tagging along with them - Bilbo steps up and saves Thorin from the White Orc. I think that transformation actually starts back when Bilbo decides not to kill Gollum in his escape from the caves. Bilbo was scared and reactionary - but then he steps back and proactively makes the decision not to kill Gollum, even though there's nothing about Gollum worth saving (so he - and the entire audience, really - thinks). Bilbo has found some courage in himself and uses that to save Thorin from being killed by his old enemy. By the end of the movie, Bilbo has proven his worth to his friends and to his audience - but most of all, he's proven his worth to himself.
Of course Bilbo Baggins is the star of this story - he's in the title, for crying out loud! But he is the star in more than just being the main character - he is the star in showcasing his own failings and foibles and weaknesses, but overcoming them anyway. And this movie portrays that beautifully. I love the movie poster image above. Bilbo is holding his sword (okay, it's more like a dagger, but it's a hobbit-sized sword). In a similar poster for "Return of the King," Aragorn looked tough and heroic and about to kill anything that got in his way. Bilbo, by contrast, looks kindly and a little wimpy and not sure why he's holding a sword at all. But there's also a strength there that you can miss if you don't look beyond "Oh, there's just another little guy who thinks he's tough." That image is Bilbo - he is kind and sort of shy and there's not much on the surface. But when push comes to shove, he shoves hard and for all the right reasons. But he can still go back to the Shire and be comfy old Bilbo again (though very much changed by his adventures). For anyone who has felt like their efforts and work in life hasn't amounted to much, Bilbo Baggins can be a hero (bear in mind, Bilbo becomes addicted to the One Ring and Gandalf has to force him to give it up). He's a meek and unassuming hero, but a hero nonetheless.
That's worth going out of your door.