Amongst meeting family and friends I managed to fit in about 37 years to sit down and watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey today. Fuck me, that was long. I'm not sure in what universe Peter Jackson is living in if he thinks he needs 9 hours to tell this story - other than "MGM has been in bankruptcy proceedings-verse" - but financial returns are a reason to have 3 films, not to make them 3 hours each. This could quite easily have been 100 minutes long and been leaner, faster, and better.
This ties into my main criticism of the film, which I would say is probably in the 2-3 star range: Jackson is a good director who totally gets the look of Middle Earth, but not a natural story-teller who understands its tone. There was far too much exposition going on, so much so that it utterly swamped the story. Tolkien didn't see the need to detail the backstory of the dwarves at the beginning of The Hobbit, nor to explain who the Necromancer was, nor the history of the descendants of Thrain and their battles with the orcs; some of it he introduced in snippets through the story, some of it comes in exposition (but crucially, only once we are rolling along with the story and we already know and love the characters), and some of it remains unsaid. It's because he understood this was a story for children and such stories need to be entertaining and to cut to the chase. And I don't think anybody in the world has ever read that book and said "Christ, I can't understand what's going on here - this thing needs more info dump!"
Oddly, I think Jackson can learn a lot from pre-prequels George Lucas. When Lucas was penning the script for Star Wars: A New Hope, he well understood that backstory and exposition would get in the way of what he wanted to achieve: a pacey, exciting movie. He gives you all the information you need in the first 30 seconds, then just barrels along without stopping to tell you who Darth Vader is, what the Empire is doing and how long they have been around, what the Senate is, all that jazz. (You can't trust much of what George Lucas says, but he attributes this willingness to forego exposition to watching Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece The Hidden Fortress; watching 1950s Japanese cinema as a Westerner, you don't have much of a clue of the background to what you are seeing, but it doesn't matter a jot in terms of the story. George Lucas learnt that lesson, although oddly he somehow unlearned it later on, along with how to make an entertaining flick.)
I have other complaints - chief among them being the total lack of understatement, but that is probably a matter of taste; for me, one of the great pleasures of Tolkien's writing is that he doesn't go for the grandiose very often - only when it matters. The Hobbit is a delightfully understated book. It is only when you meet Smaug that it turns into an epic, and that makes Smaug seem genuinely epic. Peter Jackson starts with the epic at 11; there is nowhere you can go from here, and when every single moment of danger is met by one dwarf or another screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" (Jackson must have been the only person who watched Star Wars: Episode III and thought "That bit where Darth Vader stands up was awesome!"), when every single scene involves moody stares with a dramatic orchestral swell in the background, when every bad guy (except for the refreshing exception of the great goblin) bellows with exactly the same bassy rumble, when every climactic moment involves the dwarves getting yet another last-but-not-last-because-they'll-get-another-one-in-a-minute burst of energy... It all seems to merge together into one rather bland morass.
It looked pretty, and it was enjoyable on its own merits, but I feel like Peter Jackson and I simply like the exact opposite things when we look at Tolkien's work. Also, to those who have seen it, is it just me or do all the evil characters in the film have exactly the same face? The trolls, the orcs, and Gollum all seem to screw their visages up into precisely the same scowl the entire time. They need to get a new make-up guy in.