In April of 2004 as I left the theater after seeing The Return of the King one last time I told my Dad: “Well, I guess that’s it.” I really wasn’t sold that The Hobbit would be made because of all the issues holding it up from being made before The Lord of the Rings came to the big screen. So I was content that we got three amazing films that captured something that means the world to me.

Of course, since then we’ve had a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs getting The Hobbit filmed and into theaters around the world. So, as the theater went dark I looked at my parents and said to them: “Here we go again.” For my first screening I decided to go with the old-fashioned 24fps 2D because I did not want to take the risk of not liking 48fps (but I am seeing it that way this Saturday).

The film opens beautifully with Sir Ian Holm talking about how he hasn’t quite told Frodo everything about how his adventure went. We get a great look at Sting, the Red Book, and other artifacts in Bilbo’s chest. As Bilbo talks we get a fantastic look at Dale, Erebor (this is such a beautiful place), and of course Smaug just tearing this place apart. I would say next to The Fellowship of the Ring prologue it’s the best introduction of the Jakcson’s four Middle-earth films. The whole sequence occurs during Bilbo’s 111th Birthday and ends with Frodo nailing up the “No Admittance” sign before surprising Gandalf. It’s just great to see Holm and Elijah Wood back in Middle-earth and I think it’s a great way to get the ball rolling.

As old Bilbo sits down for a smoke the film fades back in time to a younger Bilbo smoking while being visited by Gandalf. This is a great moment seeing Gandalf back in The Shire at Bag End with great dialogue straight from the book about good mornings.

It’s a fun Gandalf again who isn’t nearly as stressed about the world, and you get a great Bilbo who is kind of stand-offish. This little moment, which ends with Gandalf leaving his “G-rune” on the door so the Dwarves know who to look out for, allows you to get the jump on their character arcs for this particular Trilogy.

Next thing you know poor Bilbo is interrupted by this ruckus of Dwarves. Introductions are largely ripped directtly from the book, and introduce all the Dwarves and their personalities. This is nice as several of them pretty much stay background characters the rest of the film. You also get the two Dwarven songs which I really enjoyed hearing. Again, it just helps give depth to everything. I realize this is the area where the pacing issues from critics and some fans come from. I truly believe this is because they expected it to be The Lord of the Rings redux not realizing or knowing that The Hobbit is a children’s tale — and lighter and more fun compared to its more mature counterpart. So, I must completely disagree that there is any kind pacing issue in this first 40 to 45 minutes. It’s just fine, and I think Jackson did a great job bringing this section of the book bringing to life as I think only he can.

The pace does pick up when Bilbo wakes up and dashes off to catch up with Thorin and Co. One of the first major things you run into after leaving The Shire is you get to see the Trolls. You know Bilbo’s Trolls before they became stone as we see them in Fellowship of the Ring. I really enjoyed this moment as again I felt like Jackson really just pulled it from the book. It’s not exact, and there are changes, but the heart of the moment is there, and the Trolls are every bit as goofy as they are in the book. I will say the one complaint about this section I have is the snot gag went a little longer than it should have (kind of like the belching in Bag End). Other than that it was great as it ends with Gandalf showing off his power and the Trolls ending up as stone in the positions we see them in Fellowship of the Ring. After getting attacked by Trolls the first thing you always do is go look at their home, which they do of course, finding Sting, Glamdring, and Orcrist. This is no different than the book and yet another winning moment for me especially with a line Gandalf tells Bilbo about knowing when to save or take a life.

The next major moment is a great sequence of Balin talking about the Battle of Azanulbizar and how Thorin Oakenshield became who he is. The battle sequence I think is just second to the prologue sequence in Fellowship of the Ring. There is a ton of action with Orcs killing Dwarves and vice versa. Azog is a brutal Orc l have to say that and really freaking cool looking. I love his look and as soon as Weta makes a statue I will be buying it. What he does to Thror is just down-right nasty but no more so than what he does to Thrain in the book (I’ll get to that in a second). This of course drives Thorin to rage and going toe-to-toe with Azog — an encounter whose final end we won;t know until later in the movie. Now, this section as cool as it is I have issues with a bit. I’d have really preferred Azog to have bit it and the reason the Dwarves to fail to retake Moria would be due to the Balrog. Other than that this little section of the movie is great.

After this we finally meet Radagast. This is one character I’ve really been looking forward to seeing come to life. Yes, he’s an odd duck, but he’s been living away from humans. This tends to make someone a little odder than normal. He’s not even close to the ultra-silly Jar-Jar comments I’ve seen some use and I can only think they had their minds made up even before seeing the character. What does he add to the movie? Well, he shows not all the Wizards are like Gandalf and Saruman. Those two are strong and wise just from looking at them you can tell this. But if you look at Radagast you might not know. That being said you can see his power as he helps bring back his little buddy to life since its been infected by the Necromancer (this part made me want to hug one of my puppies and let them know I love them). Once he leaves Rhosgobel on his bunny-sled (which I think is cool as all get out) he catches up to Gandalf, Thorin and Co. During this sequence we see that he went to Dol Guldur battling the Witch-king of Angmar and managing to collect a Morgul-blade in the process. So I think the complaints about the character are out of bounds and he serves a great purpose minus the bird crap on his head (I really don’t like that at all).

Rivendell is as beautiful as it ever was! I won’t go on about it but when we first see it, all the Elves in armor (give me a statue please) — including Elrond — gave me goosebumps. The best part, though, is the White Council meeting. Cate Blanchett as Galadriel is as stunning as ever, and the initial outfit she’s wearing is definitely the best-looking one of all four films.

The entire back and forth of this sequence is fantastic especially how you can tell Saruman is already being taken with Gandalf not trusting him. I also love how Galadriel just pushes the buttons as needed from outside of the fray. And their reactions when Gandalf lays out the Morgul-blade are fantastic — they all realize that something bad is coming. Another item at Rivendell I really liked was the Moon Rune table and I think it’s better than how it is in the books. This just felt like it fits better within what we know about Middle-earth.

From here the Dwarves set out and we finally get to see Stone Giants do battle. Which is both pretty darn cool and does possibly have an element of we’ve-seen-this-in-LOTR. Then we get into Goblin Town! This was by far the coolest new addition to the Middle-earth universe on screen. It was just so well created by Jackson and Weta it was hard to tell what was CGI and what wasn’t. Yes, it does look similar to what the Orcs did under Orthanc but that makes sense because Orcs and Goblins are similar. Plus this is just so much more and in-depth to that its just on a whole different level of coolness. I loved the design of the Goblins they just look freaking great!

If you watch it you can see plenty of men in suits to go with the CGI ones. This makes for a great looking setup. The Great Goblin outside of his chin is another superb job by Weta. He is every bit CGI but I think there are moments where it’s really hard to tell, making for a very believable character. He’s very creepy and cruel just like he comes across in the book. During this sequence we also get to see more of Gandalf’s power — something maybe people don’t quite realize he has. It’s just one more reason Gandalf is one of the coolest characters in Middle-earth.

Bilbo is not to be forgotten during this sequence as we finally get to see Riddles in the Dark come to life. The back and forth between Bilbo and Gollum is equal to the book on every level. You can see there is real chemistry between Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. You see just how evil Gollum can be and why he is so crazy to get his Precious back at during The Lord of the Rings. From here we see the company get chased by Wargs which looked fantastic, saved by eagles, and eventually left on Carrock (which does look like a bear). The movie ends with a look at something I think we’ve dreamed of for years to finally see. J

I just want to say that the acting in this movie was fantastic! Every actor I think did a superb job playing their role. Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins and he owned the role! I knew little of him going in but I want to know more about him know because he nailed the way Bilbo comes across in the book. Richard Armitage also owned Thorin. Thorin in the book has some nice kind moments but as a whole is a bit of a jerk because of how life has treated him. Mr. Armitage brings all of that to life. I don’t think I need to say a lot about Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis. Both of these men are amazing and I think did even a better job in these roles than they did in The Lord of the Rings.

The CGI in this movie is every bit as good as Lord of the Rings. I’ve seen some say that it looked worse or some of it really fake. I say bupkus to that because none of it looked bad. The Wargs looked even cooler, Goblin Town was amazing, the Goblins that needed to be CGI looked great, and the Orcs from the battle sequence looked great. The two big knocks I think come at Azog and the Great Goblin who I think looked as real as anything. Yes, you know they’re CGI but they had to be for what they were but it was some of the most real-looking CGI. Don’t fear though there are lots of men-in-suits Orcs and Goblins as much as what we saw in The Lord of the Rings so I think some of the rumors are blown out of proportion. The last thing I’ve heard complaints about is the score within the movie. There are many familiar themes within this movie but if you listen carefully you hear many new ones as well. I believe the issue stems from all of us having listened to The Lord of the Rings OS so many times. Howard Shore once again has nailed Middle-earth musically.

Finally, this movie is every bit as good as The Lord of the Rings. It’s just a different tone because of the nature of the book, something I hope in the end people will realize. Peter Jackson has once again hit it big with something special and I for one am looking forward to going there and back again several times over the next three years.

Final Score: 9/10