Steve B.’s review published on Letterboxd:
As anticipated, I very much enjoyed heading back to Middle Earth with Peter Jackson. Despite it being lots of fun, I had more criticisms of this first Hobbit feature than I did the Lord of the Rings films, which I consider near-perfect. Some of these few drawbacks are of the kind that I might forgive or forget with re-watches. There's only one that is story related which I would fault J.R.R. Tolkien on, a certain rescue by a flock of avian allies. The others are in the way Jackson chose to lay out the story. The first 45 minutes or so are laden with back story montages and flashbacks that kind of interrupt any momentum that gets going in the main story. Thankfully these are finished once the mountain trolls appear, so from then on the pacing put me on the edge of my seat.
I have read the book, but not in ten years so I didn't remember much. One thing I did remember was, like in the movie, the 13 dwarves don't get a lot of individual character development. Thorin, the leader gets the most, and Balin is the white haired, wise one. Bofur is the one in the hat played by James Nesbitt who has a good conversation with Bilbo at one point. Other than that they do have physical quirks but are all pretty generic personality-wise from what I can recall.
I think Martin Freeman did a wonderful job playing young Bilbo Baggins. He turned out to have been perfect casting. There were times when Bilbo dropped into the background but that's okay, since he has his big moments to shine too. Though it was probably unnecessary, I did enjoy the framing device scenes with old Bilbo with Frodo. Wasn't it implied that Bilbo had been writing the Hobbit story in his memoirs on his 111th birthday? So it does fit in the overall saga.
Jackson's visual effects, sound, and Howard Shore's score are all top of the line here. The look is not quite as gritty as in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is as if there is more CGI imagery and characters with painted on scars, blood, and dirt instead of real stained dusty props. This is only marginal, but I did notice. New Zealand looks amazing again, and I can't get enough of all the sweeping helicopter shots.
Speaking of visual effects, my favorite scene in the movie, and most Lord of the Rings fans' most anticipated one is Bilbo's encounter with Gollum. The character of Gollum was written and artisticly rendered perfectly for being sixty years younger than when we last saw him (That's for Middle Earth/ring influenced slow aging of course). He's innocent, frightful, and darkly humorous in his meat scavenging and dual-personality game loving ways.
The tone of the film was fairly consistent, on the lighter side of dark but also cartoony at times (which the Lord of the Rings trilogy never was). I'm sensing that the Hobbit films will work not only as prequels that you watch after you've seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy but as one's first movie experience in Middle Earth that are watched before the Fellowship of the Ring. I've heard that Tolkien wanted to do a re-write edition of The Hobbit so that it would work better both ways (a little Lucas-ian, but whatever) but now Jackson has the opportunity to do that instead. He is incorporating some of the appendix and minor works of Tolkien into the Hobbit trilogy so the audience can see more of Middle Earth and its mythology from this time period on-screen. We'll find out in the end if this works out to a satisfying effect. I'm sure casual viewers, film geeks, and Tolkien nerds will all have varying opinions.