Southern Man had mixed feelings coming into this one. Yes, he and his friends found Tolkien in middle school and read the books together and picked the characters they would be (Southern Man cried when Gandalf died and rejoiced on his resurrection) and have loved the wonderful world of Middle-Earth ever since. And there's a special place in his heart for the Rankin-Bass animated films, particularly their charming adaptation of The Hobbit. And he's grateful that Peter Jackson and his crew put that world on film in such a marvelous fashion. And he's glad for midnight movies and people who share his sense of joy and wonder.
Especially pretty girls dressed as elves.
And now we have what is essentially a children's book, a comedic light adventure, filled with all sorts of unlikely events and silly dialog and with no hint whatsoever that Bilbo Baggins' ring is anything other than a magic trifle, expanded into a three-part epic trilogy. Well, Southern Man sees why. First (and cynically) given the well-deserved success of Jackson's trilogy The Hobbit is a license to print money and Jackson would be a fool to not avail himself of such wealth. But second, it's been clear from the beginning that Jackson was going to graft this whimsical tale of a journey there and back again with the much deeper back story that is scarcely alluded to at all in the book (in large part because Tolkien was still working it out). It also appears that Jackson - a fan himself - seems intent to spend his money showing us as much of Middle-Earth as he possibly can. Indeed, the first installment is as much A Brief History of the Third Age as anything else.
And so we open with some of the history of the dwarf-city under the mountain of Erebor (including such minutia as the discovery of the Arkenstone) and the devastation of the dragon Smaug. We have a darker Thorin Oakenshield, the king without a country on his quest to reclaim his throne, who gets a larger role in the Battle of Nanduhirion and an enemy thought long dead (they duel later in the movie and they might as well have announced on screen that they'd meet again; Southern Man guesses at the Battle of Five Armies). We see Radagast, the eccentric lover of animals who is mentioned but never met in the book, face the shadow of the Witch-King of Angmar and then lure orc warg-riders away from the troupe. We have a lengthy meeting at Rivendell with Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel, Sauruman, and (by proxy) Radagast, where in the book the business of the White Council is scarcely mentioned at all and little more than a plot device to separate Gandalf from the rest of the party for a time. Unlike Tolkien, Jackson isn't going to leave Gandalf's mysterious absences to the imagination; he's going to show us exactly what's going on, at every step on the way. This is both bad, and good.
But we also have the unexpected guests and subsequent party at Bag End, complete with song both whimsical and moving. We have the three comic mountain trolls, portrayed much as in the book, and even the great stone giants at play (or at fight - it's hard to tell with stone giants). We have pretty speech by the Great Goblin under the Misty Mountains, who (just as in the book) recognizes the long-lost elf-swords Orcrist and Glamdring on sight. And we have the Riddle Game, played to perfection by Andy Serkis' schizophrenic Gollum and Martin Freeman's Bilbo.
It's likely that when this is all over someone will pull a Phantom Edit and carve a much lighter Hobbit out of all this. But for now Southern Man is just fine with seeing all of the pieces. He and the midnight-movie crowd were certainly pleased, and the next two Christmas movie seasons won't be here soon enough.