Knowing that, one can imagine I yearned for a movie about Bilbo Baggins' adventure as much as I was apprehensive and concerned about its treatment on the big screen--last night was a wonderful experience. Even at a midnight showing, the crowd was lively. They clapped and cheered and laughed throughout, and I caught myself on several occasions with a huge grin as the actors delivered lines and songs from the book, word for word.
An Unexpected Journey was somehow faithful and different at the same time. Peter Jackson, wanting to flesh the story out a bit more (I don't blame him as The Hobbit is only 300 pages) made the decision to include lore from the appendices, unfinished tales, and the Silmarillion. I knew this going into the film, but I didn't know how much was going to be added.
I think the largest change was making Azog, the Goblin King of Moria, a major antagonist. While Azog's son, Bolg, was in The Hobbit--he still will be for anyone worried that Jackson may have merged father and son into one character--Azog was supposed to have died at the Battle of Azanulbizar, slain by Dain, son of Nain. Here too, Jackson swapped Nain and Dain for Thrain and Thorin, but I don't hate this move. For me, it was interesting to have an antagonist, a prominent one, tail Thorin's company on the first leg of their journey. It also made sense to me that the dwarves were forced to seek shelter with Elrond, instead of going willingly, and Jackson has now presented us with a war of families within the war of races.
There were some minor tweaks as well, which I felt were altered to speed the flow of action sequences; they were: the dwarves taking the trolls head-on before capture rather than one or two at a time, a battle between dwarves, orcs, and wargs on the plains, no guards at the exit to the Misty Mountains' caverns for Bilbo to slip around (instead Bilbo debates whether or not to slay Gollum), and goblins did not burn the trees Thorin's company climbed up.
I was absolutely thrilled by the additions to the story. Radaghast the Brown proved an even better character than I anticipated, adding humor and action, and we were given a council between Saruman, Elrond, Gandalf, and Galadriel. The Battle of Azanulbizar was a complete surprise, a welcome one at that. Even though we got to witness the fall of Erebor, the attack on Dale, and a glimpse of Bard as a child, Jackson was also tricky with how much of Smaug he showed us, saving the complete reveal for the sequels.
I heard a person behind me complain as we left the theater that the story in the beginning was slow, yet as a Tolkien enthusiast, I was delighted to see Bilbo and Frodo plan for Bilbo's birthday party, and I smiled throughout the unexpected party as dwarves flipped plates room to room and sang and Bilbo struggled with his decision to join Thorin as a burglar. After all, there are thirteen dwarves to introduce, and having read the book multiple times, I can still struggle to name them all. Plus, Martin Freeman's portrayal of Bilbo was perfect.
To anyone that has read The Hobbit, I think you'll be happy with the care Jackson gave to its scenes, from the Thunder Battle to "Riddles in the Dark," as well as Gandalf and Radaghast's use of magic. My brother always complained Gandalf never used enough spells; I think he'll enjoy these movies more than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy--I know I do, despite being an avid hater of prequels. Unlike the trauma I experienced leaving The Phantom Menace, I was giddy and jabbering when I left An Unexpected Journey.
My only problem is the long wait for the next two installments, but if they're as good as the first and the world doesn't end, the wait will be worth it.