With this in mind I did wonder why I watched it with a surprisingly detached air and why I wasn't able to get into it like I should have done. I had some reservations with the first film in the LotR trilogy but this seemed different because it certainly wasn't a lack of action and forward motion that gave me a problem here. Quite the opposite actually because, once the first 45 minutes or so are out of the way then the action set-pieces come thick and fast and noisy. The opening hints at the power of the dragon to come before settling down for a gentle reintroduction to the Shire and then the characters we will follow; this section I found a little longer than it should have been and I could have done with a bit less noisy banter from the Dwarfs, since the film would provide much more from them. The majority of the film is the journey (or at least that bit of it that this film covers) and it produces plenty of action with great special effects really well integrated into the live action. So visually and technically there is plenty here. Problem is that little of it felt urgent or tense and actually the delivery of the constant action does rather detract from it.
With Fellowship of the Ring, the group was smaller and the development of the plot better; additionally the action was more scaled down and comparatively simple. Here we have set-pieces where it feels like everything has been thrown at the screen and every inch of every frame has been filled with movement wherever possible. This tended to overwhelm me rather than draw me in though and in effect the noise prevented me really getting into it. Likewise by the time I had seen the characters survive impossible situations and defy gravity for the third or fourth time, the film sort of lost the ability to make me believe there was danger involved – which is a problem given I was already being pushed away by how busy and noisy it all was. Tellingly the scene that worked the best for me was with Gollum; this scene had tension, had uncertainity, had threat and did it all with small movements and dialogue; also worth noting that while Gollum is of course another special effect, you don't notice it in that scene because you are focused on the content instead of the visual.
The cast sort of fit into this approach as well. While everyone is fine and does as required, at times they do tend to become part of the noise and effects rather than being characters. Freeman is a good Bilbo and his mannerisms work well (which helps negate his limited range) while of course McKellen is always welcome. The dwarfs didn't make much of an impression on me though, even if they all looked the part and delivered a few laughs. The rest of the cast are all fine but to be honest the effects are the main stars here and technically it is very impressive even if it is a bit overdone at times.
I didn't dislike The Hobbit but at the same time I was disappointed in it. The action is noisy and busy but there isn't enough to draw me into the story or to make the action thrill me so much as it did overwhelm me. Hopefully the second film will see the characters and plots grow me on so that I am more emotionally bought into the films, but for this first one I must confess to being surprised by how much the film seemed content to have me watch from a distance rather than draw me in and engage me.