Disclosure: I have read The Lord of the Rings. However, I have not read The Hobbit.
It is difficult to believe that it has almost been 10 years since we last were treated with a visit to Middle Earth. The Return of the King came out in 2003, placing a fitting, and deeply moving, capstone on the greatest film trilogy ever made. The Return of the King is long, and true it does take a long time to wrap up the end of the movie. However, it was the end of not only a film trilogy, but three years spent in Middle Earth. I can hardly blame Peter Jackson for finding it difficult to leave Middle Earth.
Indeed, the best part of The Hobbit is simply the chance to return to Middle Earth. The Art Design and Visual Conception of the Lord of the Rings world were (and are) stunning, as well as the music. The most stunning thing about The design of Lord of the Rings is the attention to detail in creating each of the cultures. The Elves feel differently than the Dwarfs, who feel differently than men, who feel different than Hobbits. I found returning to Bag End and Hobbiton to be as delightful as slipping into a hot bath after a long and particularly tiring day at work.
My brother told me that The Hobbit received mixed reviews, and this doesn’t actually surprise me. The Hobbit is not Lord of the Rings. It was never intended to be. The Hobbit was written as a children’s book. J.R.R Tolkien never intended that The Hobbit serve as a prequel of a larger and grander trilogy. He never even intended that The Lord of the Rings be The Lord of the Rings, at least not at the outset. It evolved into that much later.
It also seems clear that Peter Jackson & co. also want The Hobbit to be something other than a children’s s story. They’ve included the idea of the necromancer, a character who can bring back the dead, and it is implied that this is actually the Witch King of Agmar, lord of the Nazghul. I’m fairly confident that this character does not appear in The Hobbit (a quick perusal of The Hobbit summary on Wikipedia seems to confirm this) but Peter Jackson seems to be attempting to make The Hobbit a true prequel to Lord of the Rings. Time will tell whether or not this is successful, and time will also tell whether or not whether The Hobbit can be expanded to a trilogy.
I’m not sure that casual viewers will feel the same way about the film as Lord of the Rings fans might. For the casual viewers, The Hobbit may prove confusing and too juvenile to delight. Their hearts certainly won’t sore at the sight of Galadriel, and their spines won’t tingle at the sight of Gollum. For me, those sensations were pleasure enough.