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Nine years after bringing his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy to a triumphant close, Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth to spin Tolkien’s slender children’s book The Hobbit into another three-part adventure fantasy.

An Unexpected Journey, the first instalment, finds home-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) drafted by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) into a company of dwarves seeking to reclaim their lost kingdom.

Unfortunately, when the dwarves turn up mob-handed at the hobbit’s cosy home, kicking off a night of boisterous revelry, it takes the best part of an hour to get beyond Bilbo’s front door. And the combination of dwarves, laboured jests and jollity, and familiar faces off the telly turns the occasion into bad panto. Jackson’s decision to shoot the film in High Frame Rate 3D only makes matters worse. The overly slick screen image produced by the higher resolution makes the film look like daytime television.

Things improve when the journey finally gets underway, pitching Bilbo into perilous encounters with trolls, goblins, orcs and, scariest of all, the slimy treacherous Gollum. And there is much that is good about the film. Freeman is perfectly cast as diffident everyman Bilbo; McKellen once more gives Gandalf a wry, whimsical twinkle; and Andy Serkis performs motion-capture marvels as Gollum.

Indeed, the scene in which Bilbo first encounters the cave-dwelling Gollum and bests him in a duel of riddles is the film’s highlight. But at 170 minutes, The Hobbit contains so much unnecessary padding that the patience of all but the most devoted fans will be sorely tested.