Peter Jackson became one of the world's leading filmmakers after he released "The Lord of the Rings." Jackson aims to repeat the feat with a new trilogy based on "The Hobbit," to which "The Lord of the Rings" was a sequel. But he doesn't seem to realize he's dealing with different material.

"The Lord of the Rings" consisted of three novels totaling more than 1,500 pages. It made sense to tell the tale in three movies over nine hours. "The Hobbit" is a single volume of slightly more than 300 pages. Yet, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is the first of a projected trilogy that looks to be as long as the previous one: This film clocks in at nearly three hours. And so the quick pace of the book is lost -- along with its charm -- and we're left with a film even more ponderous than the sometimes-overlong "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Perhaps Jackson can make only three-hourlong movies, though. His love of slow motion would seem to require additional length.

"The Hobbit" feels like a mere rehash of "The Lord of the Rings," with just a number of different characters. The only thing different about this venture is that it's the first film to be made in high frame rate 3-D. Instead of the standard 24 frames per second, "The Hobbit" flashes at 48 frames per second. So it does look very unlike "The Lord of the Rings," and every other film -- but the comparison isn't a favorable one. This high frame rate makes the film look strangely cheap and a lot like television-quality. The cinematic quality of film disappears.

On screen
'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'
2 out of 4 stars
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
Director: Peter Jackson
Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images
Running time: 169 minutes

Which is too bad, because Middle Earth is an enchanting place, and those who populate it are played by some talented thespians. The hobbit of the title is Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), and this is the story of how he came into possession of the One Ring that was the heated focus of "The Lord of the Rings" 60 years later.

The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) recruits Bilbo to help a group of dwarves reclaim their homeland, which was overtaken by the dragon Smaug. Their leader is Thorin (Richard Armitage), whose ancestors ruled before the dragon and his Orc army took over. He's a hotheaded youth (of course) who doesn't see the point of bringing the burden of a hobbit on the road. But though the easily frightened Bilbo misses the Shire, he'll prove crucial to the cause. Especially after he gets his hands on that ring.

He, the ring, Gandalf and an awful lot of use of deus ex machina, that is. Those who found a bit of ridiculousness in the fantasy of "Rings" will be well-advised to stay away from "The Hobbit." Given the lack of originality here, you might prefer to stay in the comfort of your couch and give "Rings" another viewing instead.