This movie has it all. It can play the balance between simple fun in storytelling while being dead serious. It has great characters, wonderful action, perfect set designs, and a magical world of scenery all rolled into one, all the while centering around a great story. How often do you get all of these things in one package? Almost never. Move aside, Avengers, because it looks like someone came up with something easily twice as epic this year. There is not a minute of this three hour long movie that fails to stun me.
Of course, there are some changes to the book, and I notice where they attempted to bring in stuff left out from The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion into it, but I hope that should be no reason for this to annoy people. It should serve to bring the the saga together into one coherent story. So expect to see a little more in this movie that in the book. Yet, it isn't all just taking stuff in from the other books, but director Peter Jackson spent a considerable amount of time on each and every detail dropped in its main source. I recognized quite a few lines taken directly from the book, but then the scenes were expanded on. Individual dwarves were given attention. As the poster above suggests, every single character was given loads of attention to bring them to life, and the director struck just the right notes to bring them to life. Meanwhile, many scenes from the book were turned into short stories in their own right, hence the three hours spent in the theatre.
What I really have to commend Peter Jackson on is his perfect casting. In part, that comes from casting unknowns for almost all of the parts so as to create a unique atmosphere that can only be found in these Tolkien Legendarium movies. I love this. Yes, there's Ian McKlellan and Christopher Lee, but those are wizards. Those are transcending powers, so it makes a bit more sense. Depictions across the board were perfect.
Seriously, though, I keep on coming back to how epic this film is. Not only does it have a great story with great characters and a great style, but every aspect of it visually was perfect. The scenery is a no-brainer. Yes, we know just how epic middle-earth is by now. What they really outdid themselves with this time was the scope of their fantasy designs, in which case I couldn't stop looking at the costumes, the dwarven cities, and so forth, all of which were so imaginative that "magic" is the only word that describes them. I just might have never seen a movie with so much imagination put into each and every character design and each and every set. It takes the appeal of fantasy, applies it to the godfather of the new fantasy genre, and turns it up to eleven. To soak it all in, I really want to watch this again and again and again.
The movie opens similarly to how The Fellowship of the Ring opened, with a narration telling an epic story for a backdrop, although this time the monologue is delivered by Bilbo Baggins, who recounts the tail of Smaug and how he came to destroy the Dwarven city. There are later flashbacks regarding the history of the dwarves after the fact, primarily serving the purpose of building Thorin Oakenshield into a sympathetic character, played convincingly by Richard Armitage.
What problem I do have with this, however, is that Smaug was never shown in the opening sequence. Looking back at The Fellowship of the Ring, Sauron was shown in the beginning. Therefore, I think Smaug should have been, too. Otherwise, the movie falls for the storytelling ploy of "He who must not be seen." That's something I see as unnecessary here, especially given the visual style to these movies. What is there to say? Smaug's a dragon. We know what he looks like, so he might as well have been seen when he was used at the beginning, but otherwise the camera made an awkward attempt to avoid him and only look at his flames and other signs of his existence. These seem to me to be really silly means.
Also, while I accept that The Hobbit is a slightly different story than Lord of the Rings and therefore warrants its own style, I think that visually, there was a certain tone in the Lord of the Rings films that was very different than that used in The Hobbit that I would have preferred to see a bit more of. For example, in the flashbacks for The Lord of the Rings, the style almost felt like a documentary at times. When I first saw it as a kid I thought they were recreating something. Some of the action scenes here felt a little more typically movie-like instead of having that definitive feel that The Lord of the Rings had, particularly during flashbacks.
It also didn't help that no matter how good their CGI got, CGI is CGI. They used a lot more of it, and I was a little disappointed. There was this awesome sequence where we see the dwarven city, but there's so much there that it's too much to take in with just one camera swoop. It's probably due to money concerns, but I wish it could feel as real as the Mines of Moria. The same goes for that goblin city. I recall a moment in The Fellowship of the Ring when the camera flew around the war machine going on around Isengard, and there was a particular look to that. I wish that look could be repeated, but instead there's a lot more CG. Again, that's probably due to the budget, because something tells me that the movie makers would have loved to literally make this entire world. It's still a little disappointment from me.
However, there are other things that do remind me visually of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, primarily the way the camera shows a helicopter's view of the characters traveling across a giant landscape. Scenery love ensues. So Peter Jackson didn't completely forget his vision, and he manages to make appropriate changed in style in almost every field. The dwarf king, however, is good.
Wait, then there was the depiction of Radagast the Brown, which was different than how I would have done it, but that's not so important.
The thing is that if you like fantasy at all, or just like fun adventure stories, or anything really imaginative or anything with cool visuals, this is the real deal. If you like a cool story, this is the real deal. If I didn't have certain stylistic qualities to compare it to in the original set of films, I would have no qualms. Yet on the whole, this is as perfect of a movie as it gets, and it was worth every minute after midnight to watch. In other words, I'm rating this an a+, giving it my rare blessing of being a great movie, and not only my approval but my deepest desire that you go watch this film this weekend. Don't wait until next weekend. Do it now, because with the possible exception of Les Miserables, this just might be the best film you will see this year.