The new Peter Jackson film was mostly what we all expected, as he did a fantastic job with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and delivered yet again with this prequel.
Interestingly, it's not just a 'sort of a prequel,' but rather, the way Jackson skillfully wove the tale makes it a master prequel of sorts.
As you likely well know, the original novel was written before The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), and mostly did not tie into those books in a manner that appeared planned.
In fact, Tolkien himself has admitted on several occasions that The Hobbit was intended to be a stand-alone adventure, and TheLord of the Rings was an attempt to make the story more serious and adult. Remember, The Hobbit was originally conceived as a children's book.
It was only later that Tolkien wrote a huge amount of supplemental material explaining how The Hobbit fit in, and what else was going on the Middle Earth at the time which heralded the arrival of darker times. This is where much of Jackson's material originates.
If you were expecting The Hobbit to be anything close to a pure interpretation of the novel, you will be disappointed, as even the scenes which are not derived from the appendices are rich with prequels.
At no point in the film will you forget that this all happened before the story you already know. Every scene contains some reference forward. Sometimes it's just a significant look or meaningful pause after a not-yet-important piece of information is given, but often it's a direct reference to the future and what may be on the way.
This conveys a strikingly different feel compared to the original trilogy, where The Lord of the Rings is very heavy on the currency of history-making, The Hobbit is more about the set-up, the foreboding of a time to come, and the storm which we know is really the calm before the true storm wracks the land.
The flavor of the film is also altered by an attempt to incorporate some of the more juvenile aspects of The Hobbit compared to the later books. The characters here are more comical, and more simple. The character development is very stereotypical more many of the characters, especially the dwarves, and much of the humor is more base. Slapstick antics ensue several times among the dwarves. The monsters and creatures are more personified, and talk a lot more. The central conflict is much less complex, and doesn't branch out much at all.
Further, the pacing is much altered. Every scene and discussion takes its time with getting where it's going, and while it is always presenting well-realized scenes, it felt at times that the filmmakers are being luxurious with the films, taking more time than really needed solely because the time is there to be taken. Would it have been better off as the originally planned two films? We won't know until all three are out.
None of this is a complaint or criticism, and really mostly only bears mentioning in such that it compares to the previous films. As far as my recommendation to audiences, this is the least surprising thing by far: If you liked The Lord of the Rings films, you'll almost certainly also like The Hobbit films.
Oh, and the 3D is 'real', and the 48 FPS makes it feel much more natural than any 3D film I've seen previously. If you have the chance to see it in 3D, do so, even if you don't usually like 3D films.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is in theaters now. The follow up film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, follows on Dec 13, 2013. The third and final Hobbit film, The Hobbit: There and Back Again hits on July 18, 2014.