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FILM FANS: 'The Hobbit' is close to perfect, yet long

EDITOR'S NOTE: Film Fans features local residents reviewing the movie of the week: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Want to be a film fan? Email features@gwinnettdailypost.com.

3 out of 4 stars

Yes, it is long. Yes, it veers somewhat from the book. Yes, there are 13 dwarves, and by the end of the film most will probably remember only two or three of their names. But like the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy that went before it (by release date, at least), the first installment of "The Hobbit" will plunge you deep into the amazing and frightening realm of Middle Earth. And that is a magical place to spend three hours.

Based on J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved children's classic, "The Hobbit" hurls the audience headlong into the quest of a royal dwarf named Thorin Oakenshield, who -- along with 12 of his kinsmen plus Gandalf and Biblo Baggins -- seeks to reclaim the lost kingdom of Erebor inside the Lonely Mountain. To do so means to defeat the evil fire drake (dragon) Smaug. "The Hobbit" presents essential exposition and the first leg of the journey that will take two more full-length films to complete.

The movie feels just like what it is: a setup for the movies to follow. However, that does not mean it is short on fun or action. The dwarves' sense of humor and mission is infectious and it's crucial to point out that there is not a Jar Jar in the bunch. Thorin makes for a fascinating hero who is torn between his destiny and his distrust. Ian McKellen is born to play Gandalf and his entry on screen will immediately make "Rings" fans right at home. However, the show is stolen again by Andy Serkis as Gollum and by Martin Freeman, who is excellent as the seemingly in-over-his-head Bilbo.

Director Peter Jackson is a third of the way through making another masterpiece, and this is one not to miss while it is in theaters. Now how long must I wait for the inevitable extended edition?

-- Jeremy D. Beauchamp, Lawrenceville

3 and 1/2 out of 4 stars

"The Hobbit" compares favorably to the popular "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in every respect. Director Peter Jackson seems on surer footing in his latest outing especially in taking exquisite advantage of New Zealand's magnificent vistas in almost every scene.

The plot of the movie is pretty straightforward. Bilbo Baggins is recruited by the wizard Gandolf to accompany the dwarves on an adventure to reclaim their mountain homeland. The audience and Bilbo are not quite sure why he is to be involved as they fight through several dangers on their journey. Several characters from the "Lord of the Rings" make appearances so as to form a link from one trilogy to another.

As a trilogy, the movie does seem to have several moments where filler and unnecessary scenes are included to extend the movie and segue to the next two movies which is where the movie bogs down at times. There is plenty of action and the adventurers do seem to go from one near death experience to the next fairly often.

-- Mark Weinstein, Lawrenceville

3 and 1/2 out of 4 stars

I was very excited to see "The Hobbit," especially being a huge fan of the "Lord of The Rings" trilogy. I even shelled out the extra cash to see it in 3-D on IMAX and it didn't disappoint. In this first of three movies, the story centers around Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a quiet, peaceful living hobbit that always craved adventure. He is invited on a dangerous adventure by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a band of 13 dwarves. Their quest to reclaim the dwarves' kingdom, Lonely Mountain, from Smaug, a ruthless killer dragon, takes the group through many life-and-death battles.

Director Peter Jackson again creates the incredible and breathtaking scenery of Middle Earth while crafting the beginning of the "Hobbit" trilogy. The ending sets up the next movie, "There and Back Again" due in 2014, very well. Although the movie is a little long, and some scenes drag a little, don't let that persuade you from seeing this film. It has all the elements that made the "Lord of the Rings" movies so good -- lots of action, exciting battle scenes, mythical creatures, humor and the beautiful and dark world of Middle Earth.

-- Ken Gamble, Lawrenceville