Maybe Peter Jackson really does have more to say through these characters; I think his role as director is not just transcriber of the films, but as translator- maintaining the intention of the original while imbuing the work with his own cadence.I enjoyed the "translation" of the first section. It lagged, make no mistake- I have no idea how the studio will eventually release its inevitable Director's Cut of The Hobbit, because it already feels stuffed with every detail and slow camera pan that Jackson could find. I enjoyed it, but it was so much less than it could have been.
The narrative arc was merely acceptable- Bilbo comes to be accepted as a valuable member of his (large and indistinguishable) adventuring party by risking his life when he could have run away- and, maybe because I'm comparing it to The Lord of the Rings, this first installment of The Hobbit lacked any real high stakes. Which, in fairness, is the plot of the book- small man is dragged along on someone else's adventure because he's too polite to say 'no.'
And, I think Jackson wasted a fine moment to investigate the power of story-telling by failing to do anything of interest with his framing tale. In the opening scene, we see the elderly Bilbo working on his story (the story that will shortly unfold before us) in the presence of young Frodo. But rather than tease us with the possibility of stories untold or partially told, all this really does is serve as another reminder that this is not The Lord of the Rings.
Jackson's The Hobbit is a stronger film than plenty of fantasy-adventures that have made it to the silver screen: The Golden Compass, the Narnia films, the later Harry Potter films I've seen (I've still not seen part 1 or 2 of book 7). So, in that context, The Hobbit is not a bad film.
But The Lord of the Rings was so much more than "not a bad film." Like The Dark Knight, I think LOTR had a crucial story to tell for my generation, a story about the stories we tell ourselves.
We are by all measures the most self-interested generation in history. We live our lives in self-supporting echo chambers created by the our limitless interaction options. Whether it's Facebook's algorithms displaying only the friends the computer thinks we're interested in, or Pandora stations keeping us in a music groove, or RSS feeds culled from political minds we agree with, my generation has an unprecedented ability to avoid connecting with the wider world.
The lesson of the Ents- The Lord of the Rings' walking tree people- is, to me, that we must remain involved and aware of the world around us. To become disconnected or self-involved is to court disaster. This lesson is repeated in "The Scouring of the Shire" that serves as the book trilogy's denouement (the hobbits learn that their homeland did not escape the war, that there is no retreat to the peaceful before), and of course, that section of the books was entirely omitted from the movies for narrative purposes.
Of course, these are the parallels I see in The Hobbit, and it's entirely possible that the subsequent installments could fulfill this potential. But part one was woefully inadequate.