I was happy to have the chance to see this a day or so ago, and have been mulling over my thoughts on it. About a week or more before I saw it, I indulged a little in an old favorite past time, listening to the new Howard Shore soundtrack, so my thoughts on the music are informed by that as well.
I'm very happy to have a new full length movie part that features Gandalf the Grey. And this is partly a response to the writers commentaries on the earlier films, they prefer the Grey version of Gandalf, I agree. And I'm happy to have two more sequences of film that will effectively give Grey a larger quantity of content over The White Gandalf. I don't have anything against The White, he's simply the culmination of what The Grey was going to be. But the Grey is less pretentious, more fun to spend time with. And he wears a respectable hat.
The music is really terrific, what I've come to expect of Howard Shore. He uses the familiar themes, plays with them and innovates, but he is sparing with them (almost hesitant, but that may be my own psyche projecting onto what I hear). He has some new themes to offer us, as well. There's a Misty Mountains theme that draws us in to the Dwarves grave melancholy about their lost home and their journey to reclaim it; they sing it together and it binds their camaraderie and invites young Bilbo to reflect on his life as it is and what the Dwarves and Gandalf are inviting him to participate in. And the accompanying tune for the lyrics forms what becomes to this movie the counterpart to the Fellowship's theme; the one that will grace the travel montage sequences.
Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo. There are moments when the fim's material loses track of him, but when it's his turn to have the spotlight, I have not a single complaint.
A random reaction; there's a thread early that develops the emergence of a mysterious menace, those sequences I enjoyed. I also liked the character of Radagast the Brown, played with extraordinary eccentricity by Doctor Who number seven, Sylvester McCoy. I suppose he's not for everybody, but I liked the sequences where he investigates a menace to the aspect of Middle Earth that most preoccupies him. There's an interesting juxtaposition of innocence and vulnerability (or seeming vulnerability) that makes the danger he explores seem more cruel.
Other components that are additions to what the book explicitly includes are a meeting of the White council. Following along with my commentary about Gandalf the Grey, this sequence gives us an interesting interpretation of The White Council's dynamic, and how Gandalf is regarded in their company. There's a funny moment where Saruman prattles on with a stonewalling, bureaucratic speech that Gandalf and Galadriel tune out to telepathically communicate to get further along to an important point. The movie as it stands is The Hobbit made over with the history of the LotR movies having been made first with this preceding story being depicted later, so there's a nice sense of a "reunion" type of movie in this sequence and the Rivendell scenes, if you like that sort of thing. Generally I don't but there was enough here sort of justify it.
On the other hand, there's a framing device involving Frodo and old Bilbo that I'm not sure how I feel about. It seems to my eyes a bit fan-ish, the way it ties in so exactly with some stuff in the movie The Fellowship of the Rings. I don't think they had to go that far with detail. And Elijah Wood somehow didn't seem to fit for me. To some extent, the movie feels like it should skip ahead to "Once upon a time, there was a Hobbit and he lived a hole in the ground" and then show Gandalf visiting young Bilbo.
My impression from what I watch with the movie (and I've seen others post similar sentiments) is that the movie in the theaters is already the "Extended" versions that Peter Jackson would habitually prepare after the theatrical release had had it's time on the big screen and on video. Begging the question, does this mean there's "an even more Extended Extended" version of this movie waiting in the future? And if that's the case, how? Even as a Tolkien/LotR fan, contemplating that makes me worry about it pushing the boundaries of being drawn out. Echoing in my mind are the commentaries from the Fellowship of the Rings: "We wanted to push things forward so that the quest could get started, getting quickly to the moment when Frodo has to leave Bag End" and "We shifted some actions over to Frodo, because it helped provide the FotR with a better focus"; these matters are such curiosities when considering the assembled final product of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Overall I liked it. None of these comments are meant to be criticisms per se, except for those that are explicitly stated as such, just curiosities that I felt worth mulling over. I shall be very interested to see how the rest of this newest addition to Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth "saga" will unfold.