- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

LAS VEGAS — Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” is preparing to leave the shire.

The director of the Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” trilogy previewed 10 minutes of assorted footage Tuesday from his upcoming prequel.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was filmed in New Zealand using twice as many frames per second as the Hollywood standard. Mr. Jackson said in a video introduction that using 48 frames per second produces a smoother image.

The movie could usher in a new era of filmmaking and require film houses around the globe to embrace digital technology.

Mr. Jackson said the human eye no longer sees individual pictures under the faster speed, but a steady stream of clear images.

“The movement feels more real,” Mr. Jackson said while introducing his film at the CinemaCon convention for theater owners on the Las Vegas Strip. “It’s much more gentle on the eyes.”

Indeed, the footage was vivid, with grass blades, facial lines and soaring mountains appearing luminous and pronounced. The actors looked almost touchable, as if they were performing live on stage.

It’s unclear what the final product will look like when it’s released in December. Mr. Jackson said he is still editing the movie and that the shared footage included green screens that eventually will be used to add scenery, action or special effects.

Other digital pioneers are making the same push for higher film speeds. “Avatar” creator James Cameron has promised to shoot the sequel to his science fiction blockbuster at 48 or 60 frames per second.

Mr. Jackson warned that it would take time to adjust to the new approach. Some bloggers agreed, quickly branding the footage released Tuesday as a failure in digital technology. The critics said the unfinished scenes looked like a low-budget TV show.

In the film, British actor Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit who acquires the evil ring that sets “The Lord of the Rings” into motion.

The footage showed Baggins lost in Gollum’s cave. Andy Serkis’ portrayal of the strange creature known for his “precious” obsession and speaking in the third person is just as disturbing as it was in the trilogy, with Baggins forced to appeal to Gollum’s love of games to survive.

Ian McKellen, reprising his role as the wizard Gandalf, persuades Baggins to leave the shire and join him on his journey. The footage of the hobbit’s hometown is stunning, with each color having almost a neon glow.

There were other brief snippets of story. Orlando Bloom, as the elf Legolas, was shown with his character’s flowing, blond hair. Mr. McKellen’s Gandalf toured an ancient tomb that he surmised once housed someone evil. Trolls engaged in battle.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is the first chapter in Mr. Jackson’s two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic.

The two films were shot simultaneously in 3-D. The second one, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” is due in theaters in December 2013.

The final installment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy swept the 2003 Academy Awards with 11 trophies, including best picture and director.

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