Spoiler-free reaction to The Hobbit
I promise no spoilers for The Hobbit until it's been out for a couple of weeks at least but a couple of non-spoiler-y comments. We were able to catch a sneak preview last night before the line party started for the midnight showings. 2D, not 3D and I honestly don't know if it was screened at 24fps or 48 - I assume it was 24.
Oh my god it's good! I'd read LoTR three times before graduating high school (and probably 30 times since), did my long paper for AP English on The Silmarillion and have probably read The Hobbit a couple dozen times in the last 35 years, so you could say I'm a fan. And while there are certainly liberties taken (some of which were avoidable but worked anyway), I found it to be almost note-perfect both in scope, in feel and in casting. As much as I enjoyed the LoTR movies, I had some pretty serious issues with some of the choices made - without over-analyzing it, I didn't have a single real bone to pick with The Hobbit.
Casting of the new roles was quite good. While some of the dwarves don't get much screentime, Richard Armitage is pretty terrific as Thorin Oakenshield, carrying off the imperiousness of a born leader while occasionally letting the fact that he carries the weight of his people on his shoulders show through. Ken Stott's Balin is probably the dwarf among the rest that gets the most screentime and he works well in what is essentially an elder stateman role. As for Martin Freeman, he's perfect. Neither I nor apparently Peter Jackson can imagine anyone else playing Bilbo Baggins. There's certainly a bit of his Dr. Watson and a bit of his Dent Arthur Dent in there, along with enough of Ian Holm's older Bilbo that it is really seamless going from old BB to young BB.
As for the carry-over cast, Ian McKellan correctly plays Gandalf a little lighter for the most part and Cate Blanchett is even more gorgeously Galadriel then ever. (I do wish that if PJ was going to play around a bit, he'd find some way to work in the fact that Galadriel is Elrond's mother-in-law! Lots of comic potential there! Plus the fact that she looks pretty damn smashing for being roughly 7,000 years old.)
One of the things that as a fan of the whole Tolkien mythosphere I really enjoy is the hints that JRRT dropped in "The Hobbit" of this larger, much older world than is obvious on first reading. PJ thankfully included much of that, with references to off-stage places and history. It probably wasn't strictly necessary to do so, so I'll take them as little love notes and thank yous to the superfans.
The story breaks at the end of the movie about where I thought it would have to - it'll be a long wait for Desolation of Smaug! But we'll need to see The Hobbit on the big screen at least a couple more times before then.