DWARVES are front and centre in Peter Jackson's new Hobbit epic An Unexpected Journey.
While the first instalment of the trilogy centres on the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, older cousin of Lord of the Rings character Frodo, it is the baker's dozen of rowdy dwarves who steal the spotlight.
No longer are the pint-sized warriors relegated to the role of sidekick as in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The dwarves, with their elaborately braided beards, are the heroes, battling against all odds to reclaim their kingdom Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.
Director Peter Jackson honours the lighter, more child-friendly tone of Tolkien's book by opening the film with a humorous introduction to the company of dwarves.
Bilbo, who has unknowingly been chosen for the quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain by Gandalf the Grey, finds his home taken over by a "dwarf frat party".
Despite his reservations about adventures, which he describes as "nasty things that make you late for dinner", Bilbo eventually joins the team on their quest.
So why bring a sheltered, home-loving hobbit on a dangerous mission?
As Gandalf says, "It's the small deeds of ordinary folk that keep the evils at bay".
Just as there is only one hobbit for this adventure, there was only one actor in, Jackson's opinion, who could play Bilbo - Martin Freeman.
To accommodate Freeman's filming commitments for the TV series Sherlock, Jackson scheduled a six-week break in The Hobbit's 18-month shoot to secure the actor.
"It's not the sort of thing you normally do on a film, but I'm incredibly pleased we did it," Jackson said.
"It's the best thing that ever happened."
Elijah Wood, who played central hobbit Frodo in Lord of the Rings, has also praised Freeman's portrayal of Bilbo. "He's the heart of the movie," Wood said on the red carpet at the film's world premiere in Wellington.
There's plenty of Orc slaying, but An Unexpected Journey is more about establishing the characters and relationships that will span the trilogy and whetting appetites for what is sure to be plenty of sword-wielding action in the second instalment, The Desolation of Smaug.
The Hobbit is the first feature film to be shot at 48 frames per second, twice the industry standard of 24 frames per second.
The majority of cinema-goers will see the film at the standard rate though, with only 1000 of the 25,000 screens showing The Hobbit equipped for the doubled frame rate.
The faster frame rate definitely helps to smooth the movements in the action sequences, particularly the lengthy fight scene in the depths of the goblin tunnels.
Speaking of goblins, Aussie Barry Humphries makes a cameo as the voice of the Great Goblin.
It was the actor's first introduction to WETA Digital's performance capture technology, which was also used in James Cameron's Avatar.
"I always thought motion capture was something you did when you were taking a specimen to the doctor," he joked at the press conference a few hours before the world premiere.
Reprising their roles from the Lord of the Rings trilogy are Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, as Old Bilbo, Christopher Lee and Andy Serkis as Gollum.
Serkis also makes his debut as second unit director in The Hobbit trilogy.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened on Boxing Day - for a review of the day, click here.
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