I don't usually bother reviewing films I've watched here any more - there are so many other reviews sloshing around the internet that it's hard to imagine why anyone would be interested in mine. But most of the reviews I've seen of The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey have been bad, so I thought it might be worth posting my own minority report. I saw it last Sunday - a final treat on the last day of Sam's Christmas holidays - and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It may be, of course, because I had read all those negative reviews and went along with very low expectations. I love The Lord of the Rings but The Hobbit has never held the same place in my affections, and the idea that it was going be chopped into 3 parts and stuffed with bits from the LOTR appendices and the completely unreadable Silmarillion was far from attractive. Also, I'd heard it was three hours long! (I think a film needs to have a very good reason to last much over 90 minutes.)
Anyway, I only went to see The Hobbit because Sam wanted to - all his friends had seen and enjoyed it - and I was quite surprised to find, almost from the kick-off, that I was charmed by it. Perhaps because I know The Lord of the Rings so much better, I found the film versions of it hard to watch: it didn't look how it looks in my head, and I winced at all the cuts and changes. The Hobbit means less to me, and my memories of the text are vague, so I was happy to sit back and enjoy the film. I can see why others don't, of course. Structurally, it's a disaster. It might work better as a TV miniseries, spread over three or four nights, than viewed in one bum-numbing chunk in the cinema. But Peter Jackson and his cohorts have presumably made a deliberate choice to sacrifice cinematic structure in order to delve in depth into the book's story and its world, and if you can accept that, there is much to enjoy.
The opening sequence about the fall of the Dwarvish kingdom works well enough, and serves to set up the dwarves' back-story and hint at things to come in the later films. Its followed by a redundant scene between Bilbo and Frodo, which made my heart sink, but is presumably just there to hammer home the point that THIS FILM IS SET BEFORE THE OTHERS - it's soon over, and from then on things pick up pretty quickly. Scene succeeds scene in a sort of leisurely, picaresque procession, some taken straight from the book, others borrowed from the LOTR appendices, and a couple presumably made up out of thin air.
The most prominent of the latter involve Sylvester McCoy as the wizard Radagast, and I suspect your attitude to them will colour whether you like or loathe the film. Many people have spoken (or at least Tweeted) disparagingly of this Radagast, with his rabbit-drawn sleigh and urgent quest to save a sick hedgehog. But Tolkien's The Hobbit is first and foremost a children's fantasy, and a pretty old-fashioned one at that - an odd, whimsical mash-up of The Wind In The Willows and Beowulf. I thought Radagast and his rabbits fitted in pretty well. He's certainly no sillier than cockney trolls or the revelation that one of Bilbo's ancestors invented golf, both of which come straight from the book.
There's also a new sub-plot involving an orc called Azog, who seems to be there to make Thorin more of a badass action hero* and tie the various episodes together a bit (which sort of succeeds, though I don't know if it's necessary). And there's a Council of the Wise scene, bringing in Galadriel and Saruman at Rivendell, which is much less fun - wise people should never be allowed to get together in stories . Still I suspect it's setting up the big events of the second movie, and was pretty to look at, at least, being set in a lovely Arts&Crafts /Alan Lee summerhouse with streams running around it. (Having seen the way the streams on Dartmoor rise after heavy rain, I wouldn't want to live in Rivendell. But then I wouldn't want to live in Rivendell anyway; the elves are insufferable, spooky-eyed, Spocky-eared vegetarian types who lounge around tootling sub-Enya folk tunes on their flutes and all vote for the Green Party, it is worse than Totnes, my deres.)
Anyway, the elves are soon left behind (yay!) and it's onward to the Misty Mountains, where there is a battle between some stone giants which doesn't really work (boo) before we get to the best bit; the long sequence set inside the caverns, as the dwarves escape from Goblin Town and Bilbo meets Gollum and acquires the Ring. The ramshackle goblin colony is a wonderful creation, although the battle there bangs on a bit (like all filmic battles in these days of CGI - or am I just getting old?). But Gollum is great, even if he does look disconcertingly as though an experiment to clone Steve Buscemi has gone Horribly Wrong. It's interesting that in a film full of battles, chases, escapes, monsters, and swooping helicoptery shots of New Zealand the most memorable bit is still these two characters swapping riddles in the dark.
Oh, and Martin Freeman was great as Bilbo Baggins. Just as he was as Arthur Dent in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, another film I didn't expect to like, about another comfortable, fussy Englishman dragged off on adventures by weirdos.
So anyway, that's what I thought of it, and Sam, who isn't exactly the Attention Span King, sat through it all agog and wanted to know when the second one was coming out as soon as the credits rolled. My advice is, read the bad reviews, then give it a try anyway: you might be pleasantly surprised.
(Incidentally, I saw the film in 2D, so I can't comment on the controversial 3D version. I don't think I ever have seen a film which has been much improved by 3D though.)
*Or a Superhero: there's a very interesting take on that in Entertainment Weekly.