"An Unexpected Journey," the first of three cinematic installments from Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novel "The Hobbit," took more than a decade to bring to fruition.
"An Unexpected Journey," which will open around the world next week, is estimated to rake in a bumper $137 million in its opening weekend in North America. Jackson turned his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy from 2001-2003 into a $3 billion box-office hit worldwide.
But with a running time of three hours and nine minutes, the first "Hobbit" movie was overly long for some critics' tastes, according to early reviews.
TheWrap.com's Leah Rozen said that although fans of the books will "doubtless love this movie," the film is "ambitiously epic and visually inventive, (but) it's neither as engrossing nor exhilarating as the first time around with 'Rings.'"
Variety's Peter DeBruge criticized Jackson for adding a "mythologically dense, computer-generated-heavy prologue" that was devised outside of Tolkien's original narrative.
"For the sake of spectacle, this unnecessary pre-title sequence recalls set pieces from the second and third "Lord of the Rings" movies, as if to assure fans they can expect more of the same," DeBruge said.
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter said the film makers "have created a purist's delight" by translating "every comma, period and semicolon in the first six chapters" of the book.
FREEMAN "THE PERFECT BILBO"
The film follows the epic fantastical journey of hobbit Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, as he travels with a band of dwarves to steal treasures from the dragon Smaug.
The film also stars Richard Armitage and Benedict Cumberbatch, while Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood reprised their "Rings" roles.
Reporter Neala Johnson of Australia's The Herald Sun said British actor Freeman, best known for his roles in TV shows "The Office" and "Sherlock," is "the perfect Bilbo - equal parts wide-eyed wonder, fearful bumbling and dry humor."
ScreenCrush's Jordan Hoffman said Freeman played Bilbo "charmingly and effectively."
Jackson chose to shoot the 3D film using the 48 frames-per-second format as opposed to the normal technique of 24 frames per second.
But the New Zealand Herald reported on Monday that fans attending advance screenings claimed they felt nauseous and dizzy from the higher frame rate.
Rozen said the film's look was "so hyper-realistic that it is both jarring and, ironically, serves to make scenes look fake."
DeBruge said 3D effects caused "odd, eye-boggling moments," and the higher frame rate led to "an overblown, artificial quality in which the phoniness of the sets and costumes becomes obvious."
"The Hobbit," produced by MGM and Time Warner Inc, will be released as three films, with the final installment arriving in July 2014.