Stuffed with Hollywood's latest technology, Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" prelude is some eye candy that truly dazzles and some that utterly distracts, at least in its test-run of 48 frames a second, double the projection rate that has been standard since silent-film days. It's also overstuffed with prologues, flashbacks and long, boring councils among dwarves, wizards and elves as Jackson tries to mine enough story out of J.R.R. Tolkien's mythology to build another trilogy. Remember the interminable false endings of "The Return of the King," the Academy Award-winning finale of Jackson's "Lord of the Rings"? "An Unexpected Journey" has a similar bloat throughout its nearly three hours, in which Tolkien's brisk story of intrepid little hobbit Bilbo Baggins is drawn out and diluted by dispensable trimmings better left for DVD extras. Two more parts are coming, so we won't know how the whole story comes together until the finale arrives in summer 2014. Part one's embellishments may pay off nicely, but right now, "An Unexpected Journey" looks like the start of an unnecessary trilogy better told in one film. Martin Freeman stars as homebody Bilbo, the reluctant recruit of wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) on a quest to retake a dwarf kingdom from a dragon. The 48-frame version offers remarkably lifelike images, but the view is almost too real at times, the crystal pictures bleaching away the painterly quality of traditional film and exposing sets and props as movie fakery. PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. 169 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
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