There can be no doubt that Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings films were a landmark achievement in film making. If Jackson had hung up his megaphone after Return Of The King, his status as a Giant of Cinema would have been assured. Returning to Middle Earth was far more of a gamble for him than it is for the prequel-loving money men who run his industry. I suspect he just loves the universe of Tolkein so much that the urge to return was overpowering.
Anyway, back he is, with the much lighter and slimmer precursor to LOTR. But where the heavyweight masterwork was thriftily squeezed into three (albeit epic) movies, Jackson is using the opposite process to achieve the same result with The Hobbit. A book that could certainly be turned into a sub-two hour film is also getting the triple-epic treatment. Whether you see galloping profit motive or rampaging fanboy Tolkeinism will probably depend on how much you like the film, which I suspect will also be greatly influenced by your feelings about LOTR. I loved that trilogy so I’m prepared to trust the same team with this one.
I watched it in the much-discussed HFR3D format and thought it worked well. It IS different to the cinematic look we’re all used to and there are a few times when the heightened realism threatens to show too much (eg. painted backgrounds, animated segments). But at its best it pulls you right into the world of the story, creating an involvement in the film that meant I didn’t once think about the time and didn’t want the film to end.
I felt the LOTR trilogy strengthened with each installment and I can see that happening here as well. Above all, in Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, we have a character to cherish and watch grow.