One of my favorite books, which I read at age 21 and haven't revisited, so I'm a bit hazy on the plot details. This film only covers the first third of the book, and follows Bilbo, a set-in-his ways hobbit, as he joins a band of homeless dwarves seeking to regain their cave/fortress from the clutches of an evil, gold-loving dragon. There can really be little critique of Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh since they've elevated fantasy films to a whole new level with the LTR trilogy. My only issue is it was a tad long, but that might have been no issue at all if the theatre hadn't been cold and there weren't two different patrons (trolls) texting during the movie. There is an old saying in education: "the mind can only absorb what the butt can endure" and it applies here...the film has a running time of about 2 hrs 45 minutes and the theatre showed ads plus 6 or so previews. The scene at the very beginning which had Frodo and Bilbo together was unnecessary, and explaining the reason for the dwarf quest might have been better accomplished if told by the actual dwarves rather than via voiceover The extended scene with all the dwarves arriving unannounced for dinner at Bilbo's hobbit-hole also dragged on. All this occurred within the first 45 minutes, I'd estimate.
Once they left the Shire and began traipsing through the woods, mountains and dales, I felt like the movie finally got started. The best scenes reminded me of my favorite PJ film, "King Kong," with dizzying movement and falling and fighting and fleeing which seems to occur on many levels and is so visually and emotionally convincing. Filming mobs of Orcs scurrying across a flimsy bridge that spans giant rocks inside an intricate cavern, and making it all look completely real, is a mind-bending achievement. Because of all the build-up at the beginning I even cared a little bit about each individual dwarf's fate by the time they were all imperiled beneath the ground in the Orc kingdom. Like King Kong, this movie picks up steam as it progresses, and the climactic scene when the heroes find themselves up the trees fighting off a pack of wolves-on-steroids & the scarfaced Orc King, while the forest around them burns, is absolutely thrilling. I liked this movie more than I expected, because even though I've seen a lot of the same with the LTR trilogy, including these amazing visual effects, what makes this film brilliant comes from the credible characters and terrific storytelling and, of course, having a great story to tell.