My friend Alan texted me and said he had tickets for a midnight showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Midnight movies and I usually don't get along, and as I've gotten older I've opted to just leave them well enough alone. But I threw caution to the wind and took him up on the offer, and yes, I'm totally saying that me going to a midnight movie was an unexpected journey, and is worthy of comparison to a homebody hobbit setting off on a quest to slay (or at least permanently displace) a dragon.
Okay, lets get this over with: there is a group of hard-core Tolkien fans who are going to be very upset with this film. Peter Jackson departed the text. Be warned: if you want this film to be nothing more than a visualization of a book you love, if you cannot allow it to be its own thing, you're going to be frustrated.
As for me, I think Peter Jackson and company did a brilliant job. To my understanding, Tolkien didn't write The Hobbit thinking he was writing the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, and to my tastes The Silmarillion wasn't composed with much of a narrative curve. Jackson, however, is giving us a clear prequel, and appears to be taking elements from elsewhere in Tolkien's work to properly shape the story.
In short, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit did not need to be three films, but Peter Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings: It Starts With A Hobbit almost certainly did. It also needed a better title than the one I just gave it. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey serves nicely.
Now, back to my actual experience in the theater. It was late, and I was tired, but I had a great time regardless. This film comes in at #3 for me for the year. I had a fantastic time and will certainly be seeing it again. I saw a traditional 35mm showing (or whatever we're supposed to call 2D without the high frame-rate) and that prevented the form from distracting from the story -- at least for me. I'll be seeing it again in full 48fps 3D, but not for a couple of weeks. So no, I can't speak to the new format yet.
The film is immersive, and I loved that. It drew me in to Middle Earth, encouraging me, tempting me to believe it's a real place, with hobbits, dragons, trolls, goblins, giants, and desperate bands of homeless dwarves. The pacing is slow, but there's so much to see, so much to absorb and enjoy, I just couldn't find fault in that. And remember, I was up WAY past my bedtime.
I didn't much like Radagast the Brown, and after Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy I wasn't prepared for how very talkative the trolls, orcs, and goblins were, but I got used to all that. I liked the Goblin King a lot, which is good, because the licensed sculpt from Citadel looks so horrid I was sure I would hate him in the movie. Nope. He was fine.
I could go on and on, but it's late and I need to get some sleep so I can write and illustrate comics in the morning. Except it already IS morning (4:10am as of this writing.) A truly adventurous homebody cartoonist might just get some work done now, and stay awake clear until second breakfast.
Maybe if I hurry I can catch up with the dwarves...