Over a decade after I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring, another Tolkien film is back in our cinemas. Lord of the Rings was such a massive part of my childhood that this prequel had me equally nervous and excited – I was begging Peter Jackson not to fail me. Fortunately, he didn't.
As with Lord of the Rings, we have an introduction (voiced by Ian Holm's Bilbo) that narrates the background of the story – in this case, the fall of the dwarves in the Lonely Mountain, and the arrival of Smaug, who we never fully see.
Martin Freeman's first scene as Bilbo is excellent, especially as it is the very funny word-for-word performance of the “good morning” sequence with Gandalf. It is essentially common knowledge now that Freeman is an excellent comic actor, and Jackson has used those skills very well throughout the movie - even in the middle of otherwise tense scenes, which is just as Tolkien wrote them.
This tone is, at first, quite surprising; given how dramatic and dark Lord of the Rings was, the humour in The Hobbit ambushes you even if you've read the book. Jackson gets it spot-on. Even the song that the dwarves sing about smashing Bilbo's plates was done perfectly, though it could so easily have gone very wrong. My only problem in this area is the couple of jokes at Bombur's expense; with all the other material available from the book, a fat joke is a lazy addition for a cheap laugh (but then, in my opinion, they always are).
Speaking of dwarves, they have their own theme tune, featuring heavy bass, brass, and drums, and as usual for Howard Shore it is perfect for them. When you first see the dwarves, they seem to be over-acting, a little too larger than life; but then you realise this is how Bilbo sees them. Once he becomes well acquainted, their characters are toned down accordingly (though, of course, never losing the naturally loud, brash nature of dwarves).
Throughout some scenes you will be thinking “I've seen this before." This is because you have, and in no way is that a complaint. Some nice pieces of nostalgia include the scene where Bilbo puts on the ring for the first time, which almost exactly mirrors Frodo's accident in the inn; a scene with Gandalf whispering to a moth for assistance and being rescued by eagles; Gandalf hitting his head on Bilbo's light; and so on. For some, this could get irritating, but personally I loved it.
To be honest, this is a film made for fans. It is very true to the book, which is why it takes so long; we meet trolls, mountain giants, eagles, Thorin's enemy Azok the Defiler, the Great Goblin, everyone. We also get to see things and people only alluded to in The Hobbit, as well as some only mentioned in appendices. The most important addition of this kind is the rise of Sauron in Dol Guldur, which is only hinted at in the book when Gandalf disappears for a while. This time, we may actually see what happens.
In short - no pun intended - Freeman's Bilbo is a delight to watch, as are the performances of all the dwarves; due to the length of the film, we form a real connection with each of them, especially Thorin, Kili, and Balin (which is quite sad when you remember what happened in Moria). The story is absorbing, fun, and painstakingly true to the book, excepting a few embellishments.
The Hobbit comes highly recommended for all, though it probably pays off doubly for hardcore fans.