I liked it.
And it didn’t feel like a film that was two and three quarter hours long, not even to someone who’s been in agony from a ricked back all week.
There are many people who, without waiting to see it for themselves, who have condemned this film as over-extended, overblown and far too long, all so that the makers of the trilogy can rake in more money. Whilst you have a viable case for the first three points, which I’ll address in a moment, you’re wrong that it’s been done just for money. It’s been done because this is how the film-makers, Jackson and his scripters, see this film, because this is what they love about Middle Earth and the story.
It all depends on what film of The Hobbit you wish to see. If you want to see an independent story that is faithful to the story’s cheerfulness and childishness, this is decidedly not for you, and your criticisms are on the mark. If however, like me, you originally read the books in the order they were filmed, if you did not realise that The Hobbit was for children, and all but completely lacked the seriousness and high drama that had had you devouring The Lord of the Rings as quickly as possible, if you want films that are gnuine companions to the LOTR film trilogy, then this is what you have been waiting for.
In terms of the plot of the novel, An Unexpected Journey runs from Gandalf’s first appearance at Bilbo’s front garden to the rescue by the Eagles from the trees in which the party are surrounded by Wargs. The structure of the plot is followed faithfully (it may appear to be familiar, given that The Fellowship of the Rings goes to similar places in the same order, the relic of Tolkein’s original Hobbit-walking-party sequel). And a lot of the humour is preserved (Martin Freeman is every bit as perfect as Bilbo as I’ve been going around saying he would be, ever since I first heard he’d been cast, and he is hilarious in the role).
What has been done is that, instead of the historical background to Smaug’s destruction of the Kingdom under the Mountain, and the deaths of Thror and Thrain in the vain attempt to retake Moria being brushed over in the few, let’s-not-bore-the-kiddies words they get in the book, Jackson opens these out, shows what happens. Instead of Gandalf mentioning the White Council as a far-off thing, already done, it meets at Rivendell: Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman. In a move reminiscent of the Black Riders in Fellowship, Jackson also draws out the ancient Orc-enemy of the Dwarves, Azog, and injects him into the story-line in pursuit of Thorin’s party, to drive the storyline along.
And, wonderfully, since there was no room for the third Wizard, Radagast the Brown, in LOTR (less of an excludable detail than a dangling notion with no resolution), Jackson brings him in here, to bring news of the darkening of Greenwood the Great into Mirkwood, and the reoccupation of Dol Guldur by the Necromancer. It’s also another element of The Hobbit‘s comic underpinning, courtesy of a gleefully OTT performance by Sylvester McCoy (not to mention the Rabbirs of Rhosgobel).
And there is Gollum. Andy Serkis hasn’t forgotten a thing of his now-surely-definitive portrayal of Gollum (Peter Woodthorpe was spectacularly good in his vocal portrayal of the creature in the classic BBC radio adatation in 1981, but his slimey, oleaginous interpretation is surely outmoded now). And the handling of the scene is no less than brilliant, in the way that the exceedingly childish Riddle-Game is introduced and enacted between Bilbo and Gollum in a manner that removes any possibility of disbelief that such a thing should be played by grown-up (so to speak) people.
Like I said, I liked it. It was a re-entry to Middle Earth, and a reminder, a good reminder (though not without some personal sadnesses) of watching The Fellowship of the Ring in December 2001, and immediately wanting more, wanting to leap without a moment of delay to the following December, for the next instalment. Roll on 365 days hence, The Desolation of Smaug and, I hope, a back that isn’t killing me next time!