It is a trilogy! It is better to know this fact before stepping into the hall. This way, you are not expecting closure at the end of the movie. Be ready to wait for next two years (mostly during Christmas time judging from the history) for Peter Jackson to release the remaining two parts. I wasn't aware of this fact. I haven't read the book either. Years back, I attempted The Lord of the Rings and stopped after navigating it through a quarter of the distance. I prefer the movies. The movies are better than the sluggish pace of JRR Tolkien.
The movie traces the adventures of Bilbo Baggins(Martin Freeman), who was the inspiration for Frodo(Elijah Wood) to leave the comfortable confines of his home resulting in what was shown in The Lord of the Rings(LOTR) trilogy. The movie unfolds as an older Bilbo(Ian Holm) pens down his experiences in a journal for Frodo. In his younger days, Bilbo is unwittingly ensnared into an unexpected journey by Gandalf(Ian McKellen) to help the displaced dwarves led by Thorin(Richard Armitage) to regain their lost home and lost treasure. There are references to the LOTR trilogy where already familiar faces like Gollum(Andy Serkis), Elrond(Hugo Weaving), Saruman(Christopher Lee) and Galadriel(Cate Blanchett) popping up in the narrative.
When Peter Jackson directs, there are two things to look out for; size and pace. Think big. Whatever you think big, Peter Jackson can think bigger. There are amazing castles, dungeons inside mountains, waterfalls etc which makes your jaw drop because of the amazing size. Of course, this is done using CG. Peter Jackson score on two counts, visualization and also letting us know the proportion. He does so by placing the camera so far away from the point of action in order to make the actors seem tiny and also putting the viewer in a place not found in either their world or their imagination. These technique also helps in the final sequence where Gandalf and the posse of dwarves are being chased by the Orcs. The escape through the crisscrossed wooden bridges suspended high above the crevices is imagination at the best. Then there is the pace. Peter Jackson takes his time to tell the story. Having read a bit of LOTR, I know Peter Jackson tries to film each and everything Tolkien writes. For Tolkien, it is a sentence. For Peter Jackson, it is multiple cuts and angles. It is no surprise the movie is slow. The pace is negative point of the movie especially for a someone who has not read the novel.
It is the story of Bilbo and Martin Freeman suits the role. Bilbo is no great fighter. He is an ordinary Hobbit. Yet, there are instances when he shows courage under extraordinary circumstances surprising his companions. Martin Freeman fully conveys the bewilderment, self doubt and compassion with moderate doses of comic antics without going overboard. Ian McKellen as Gandalf reprises his role from the earlier trilogy and continues to humor us. Richard Armitage as Thorin has a raw deal. It is difficult to make out his good features and his acting abilities because of the clothes, beard and the wig.
The pace is excruciating at times. Still I recommend you to watch it because this is cinema, a completely unbelievable world created out of nothing. Make sure you see this in a theater equipped with a big screen and an excellent sound system.