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FIRST LOOK AT "THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY" TRAILER!

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- There’s only one real wizard in Middle Earth - and it’s director Peter Jackson.
The auteur from Down Under unveiled “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” - the first installment of his prequel trilogy to his “Lord of the Rings” series - in his native New Zealand Wednesday.

It was an eye-popping night, from the celebrity-filled red carpet to, more important, the action on screen.

Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 children’s tale which set the stage for the author’s much darker and heavier later books, Jackson’s “The Hobbit” harkens back to a more innocent time when men were men and gold-hoarding dragons were the biggest evils plaguing the land.

Martin Freeman stars as the titular reluctant hero, who’s tricked by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) into accompanying 13 dwarves — led by Thorin (a square-jawed Richard Armitage) — on a quest to reclaim their ancient homeland from the worst of those dragons.

Like all unexpected journeys, there are a few pitfalls along the way, most notably the tangential subplot surrounding bumbling wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), whose buffoonery at times descends into Jar Jar Binks territory.

The movie offers technological wizardry, thanks to a 48 frames-per-second format, twice the industry standard. Critics who saw a trailer earlier this year were unimpressed, but after a minute or two of adjusting, the higher resolution is eye-popping, similar to discovering HD television for the first time.

Alas, the higher resolution has one downside: it really makes you wince when you see the obscenely corpulent Goblin King in such crystal clarity.

Lighter and funnier than its “Lord of the Rings” predecessors, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” remains faithful to the fantasy world last seen in the 2003 Academy Award-winning “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

The connections abound through the two-hour-forty-minute epic, including important cameos from Andy Serkis’ Gollum and Elijah Wood’s Frodo.

The result runs rings around most special-effects driven blockbusters.

The movie opens Dec. 14 on this side of the Pacific.



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