I managed to go to the very last showing of The Hobbit at our local theatre. It was in 3D but I had kept my glasses from Prometheus, so they did not charge me extra for the glasses (though there is a £2 charge for 3D movies before the £1 charge for the glasses). After hearing a lot of different reviews (some glowing, some glowering), I settled in with medium expectations.
The movie has a lot of stunning visuals and fine performances. Both the New Zealand landscapes and the CG versions of various towns, fortresses, and homes. The CG creatures (trolls, goblins, Gollum, etc.) are seamlessly woven in with the live action actors. The cast does a great job, especially Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. He has the difficult task of balancing the Tookish adventurer (his mother was from the Took family) and the Bagginsy home body he's been for most of his life. Freeman does a great job expressing his emotions and thoughts on his face without looking like he's mugging for the camera. Even CG characters like Gollum or the Goblin King are well realized and more than convincing.
Much have commented on how the story is being made into a trilogy of movies with a lot of extra material from Tolkien's other writings. In the book, Gandalf leaves the dwarven fellowship for a side quest involving a person called "The Necromancer," though no details are given in the novel. Jackson's movie sets this plot up as a b-story that looks intriguing though I am not sure how it will be tied thematically to the main story. I assume Tolkien added it so that the wizard wouldn't just magic them out of trouble all the time. I found this element pretty interesting.
The movie opens with a long sequence of old Bilbo (played by Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) getting ready for the party that starts the first Lord of the Rings movie. This drags for a bit and seems more or less superfluous, unless they are planning to bookend it in the final film with an extra ending. I found this element pretty uninteresting.
The movie also goes through the back story of the dwarfs being cast out of their kingdom by the dragon Smaug and their tribulations as an exiled race. Considering how tightly the history of the Ring is told at the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring movie, this sequence drags on more than it should while explaining the motives of key characters. So there are many parts that could use a director's cut that tightens them up rather than makes them longer. Yeah, I'm saying the inevitable "extended DVD" should really be shorter than the theatrical version.
Another weakness of the film is the tone. Occasionally it has the light-hearted spryness of the novel, such as in the Bag End dinner scene. But too often it is ponderous and heavy-hearted, with long battle scenes that are more grim, limb-chopping combat than adventurous, swash-buckling fight. There are flashes of humor in some of the battles, such as the escape from the goblin kingdom, but not enough to keep the movie from a PG-13 rating or a 12 Certificate in the UK. Considering the novel is appropriate for 6- or 7-year olds, it seems an odd choice. I know that movies should not mirror their source material slavishly but the novel is so much better on this count.
One thing the film makers did brilliantly was adding in songs and music. Tolkien had lots of poetry in his writings, mostly songs sung by characters. The film captures quite a bit of this very well, from the famous dwarf song in the trailer to even the Goblin King having his solo. So maybe the extended edition can have more of that.
I don't mean to sound so negative. I did enjoy the film but considering how great the source material is, expectations are still pretty high regardless of what others have thought. I think the movie would over all benefit from a lighter tone and tighter storytelling. The performers do a great job and the movie looks spectacular.