|Men want to be him, ladies want to...|
> There is one thing that TH will have over the Lord of the Rings movies in spades: the villains are *far* more cinematic, and since they aren't all in line with one presence, they are all far more distinct. Smaug the Dragon is infinitely more cool to watch than the malevolent glowing eye of Sauron, and there's extra fun from the Defiler Orc, the Goblin King (best use of "That will do it" ever), the Necromancer and, of course, Gollum. (Who is much more of a ladies' man in this, since it is, after all, sixty years before the Ring trilogy.)
> Do the dumb thing and spring for the high frame count version. You're already going to be spending a ridiculous amount of money to see a movie, so why not go all-in on big stupid? The hyper-realism here is kind of crazy, especially on long and involved scenes like the goblin city or the Dwarf kingdom under the mountain, so you might as well peel your eyeballs back and see everything that these monomaniacal Kiwis can throw at you.
> It's better acted. It's hard to speak ill of Elijah Wood as Frodo in the first movie, because he does everything he can with a relatively thankless role, but Martin Freeman as Bilbo is just better at the small things that are required to keep a certain center of gravity in a roller coaster. When he says things like, "I would have doubted me too", it's done with just the right air of veracity, rather than self-awareness. There's a reason why so many people love him as Watson in the BBC's version of "Sherlock"; he's aces.
> In small ways, it's just as visually inventive, if not more so. Radagast the Brown is a trifling character in Tolkein (he is, for the less fanatical among you, only the third wizard that actually gets a name, after Gandalf and Saruman), but in this movie he's ten minutes of all kinds of good, and his rabbit sled is utterly kick ass. I also enjoyed the fact that he gets the best winking aside for the use of recreational drugs. That was well done.
> Ian McKellan as Gandalf has, perhaps, the hardest straddle job in the movie, since the central problem with TH is that it's a kid's book, while LOTR is YA and more, what will all of the gore. McKellan plays Gandalf here the best he can -- basically, as something of a scattershot hunch bettor relying more on his connections than his powers -- but there's still a real disconnect from the avenging force that rides to the rescue at Helms' Deep, and the guy who gets stuck in a tree here. Oh well.
> At 2:49 and just the first of three movies, it is, of course, padded as all get out. But it doesn't feel slow to me, and the clearly extended scenes -- the dwarfs trashing Bilbo's pantry, fight scenes with Smaug, the riddle scene -- are the ones that should go on. You could make a shorter movie, but unlike, say, the long slow goodbyes of "Return of the King", you wouldn't be making a better one.
> Having said all of that... this is a very different experience than the trilogy, if only because you aren't getting the over the top menace of, say, the siege of Helm's Deep or the Nazgul. There's also, of course, not nearly enough Gollum, because there really can never be enough Gollum, and the camaraderie of the dwarfs doesn't quite match that of the Ring Fellowship. But it's still more than worthwhile, if only for the attention to detail and craftsmanship, and the fact that you are putting yourself in the hands of the only person on Earth who just completely marks out for the source material without a hint of irony or self-consciousness. It's a good time; go check it out.