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‘The Hobbit’ cooks in second half

Movie Review
By: Frank Miller Special to The News Messenger
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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

Directed by Peter Jackson       

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage

Rating: Four out of five stars

It was more than a decade ago that director Peter Jackson brought Middle-earth to life in his epic trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings.”

Those three films are regarded as masterpieces in fantasy storytelling and they captivated audiences worldwide with their scope and spectacle.

The first film in Jackson’s new trilogy, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of true greatness.

While the film overall does not attain the highest highs of Jackson’s previous movies, it still has the distinction of being quite good, which is an achievement in and of itself given the hurdles it faced in production.

The story is a prequel (originally one book, now stretched to three films), that tells the story of Bilbo Baggins and his quest to assist 13 dwarves in retaking their homeland from evil dragon Smaug.

The company, led by the wizard Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield, traverses the wilderness while battling trolls, goblins and orcs to (eventually) arrive at the Lonely Mountain.

The film is a bit of a slog early on, with various side stories distracting from the main narrative. Part of the decision to turn a 300-page book into a nine-hour film trilogy meant some extra padding was needed to flesh out the tale.

However, the film really gets cooking in the second half, making it a bit easier to get wrapped up in Bilbo’s adventure.

A word of caution is warranted. The film was presented in High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D. That means the image was much more crisp and clear than regular movies but it was completely distracting. HFR highlighted the artifice of filmmaking so much that I recommend seeing it in 2D instead.

Presentation aside, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is a welcome return to author J.R.R. Tolkien’s world. Temper those expectations somewhat and you’ll find that this is a journey worth taking.

Frank Miller is a Sacramento writer.