Kristin and I saw the first episode of The Hobbit last night, in "glorious" IMAX 3D. We didn't feel that the 3D added much, and because it was done with polarized glasses, the movie tended to get blurry whenever we tilted our heads, but overall the experience was fun.
My strongest impression of the movie was that it was too long. Peter Jackson, the same director who did The Lord of the Rings, split the book into three parts, and this part, at least, had considerable filler and flashbacks. Thorin Oakenshield's backstory was interesting, and probably worthwhile for the story they're trying to tell, but did we really need ten minutes or so of the older Bilbo working on his book and discussing the Sackville-Bagginses with Frodo? That seems like it was just an excuse to have an Elijah Wood cameo. And did the fight between the rock giants add anything? Did the running fight with the goblins have to go on for quite so long? In case you're wondering, I'm thinking the answer to these is no.
Since you can't get eight hours worth of three movies just from the book alone, there was always going to be plenty of additional material. Some of it was rather silly. Radagast, the brown wizard and Gandalf's peer, came across that way. However, while I wish his character had been treated more seriously, I approve of his inclusion and what it means. Radagast was the means of introducing the audience to the necromancer who is responsible for the darkening of Mirkwood. That necromancer barely gets a mention in the books, but the wizards' battle against him is an important chapter in the events preceding The Lord of the Rings. I take his presence and Radagast's introduction to mean that Peter Jackson intends to give this battle a full treatment, of which I approve.
Other silly parts were pretty unavoidable, as they were lifted directly from the book. The dwarves singing as they cleaned Bilbo's dishes while flinging them around, for example. Actually, the treatment in the movie was probably more serious than in the book, and helped to give some insight into dwarves. The dish washing scene showed them working together with preternatural coordination, and in this sense the song becomes a work song, meant to keep rhythm as the dwarves work together in concert. A scene of dwarf smiths working together in the prologue served both to foreshadow and explain this. I would have liked to see more of this coordination, especially in the fight scenes. It came through in the fight with the trolls, but not so much in the fight with the goblins. That was partly because there were hundreds of goblins, and the running battle, where each dwarf has to fight off a dozen or so goblins at a time, made it hard to show this. Plus the scene was so frenetic that I may have missed what there was of it. I hope that Peter Jackson does show more of this dwarven coordination in the future, as it helps to give them more character, and explain how they can be such a powerful influence on Middle Earth without the magical power of the elves.
Speaking of the dwarves, one problem with both the movie and the book is that there are a lot of dwarves, and it's hard to keep them all straight. Peter Jackson did a decent job of making them visually distinctive, but for the most part only a few of them stand out. Thorin himself, the twins Kili and Fili, the old warrior, the deaf dwarf, and the youngest one--see, I'm forgetting their names. But these did and said stuff that made them memorable. The other six, not so much. With three movies, I hope Jackson has a chance to develop them more.
So what did I think, overall? Some parts of it work better than others, and it's not always because of whether it was in the books or not. And I think the movie could have been at least half an hour shorter, if not more. But if you're a Tolkien fan, or you liked The Lord of the Rings movies, it's not a question of if you'll see this movie, but when. And being both of those myself, I think this was worth seeing.