Nearly a decade after enjoying worldwide success with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, director Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – the first of three prequels to the previous series.

This latest trilogy doesn’t exactly get off to a roaring start – a nearly three-hour film that is more of a snooze fest than a sweeping epic.

“The Hobbit” follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is reluctantly recruited to help a group of dwarves reclaim their stolen mountain home from a dragon named Smaug.

This journey takes Bilbo and the group through a treacherous series of obstacles – including giant spiders, sorcerers and the lair of the Stoor Hobbit Gollum.

I will say “The Hobbit” is a rather pleasant-looking film, with some sweeping cinematography an impressive set designs.

My praise ends there.

For the most part I found the whole excursion to be rather dull. The action is absent in long stretches, with what feels like an endless string of backstories.

It takes so long to get going, with the dwarves breaking into song twice in the first hour, that by the time Gollum appeared in the final hour, I had already mentally checked out.

I was a fan of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, although my excitement was not as high as some, so I wanted to like “The Hobbit.” Jackson makes it hard, though, with a film that features so many CGI characters (and in some instances the CGI isn’t very good) that I felt like the film seriously lacked a human element that helped the previous series.

The result is a film that feels more like a really long “Saturday Night Live” parody than the beginning of another engaging franchise.

DVD dandy of the week

This week’s dandy is “Killer Joe” (A-), a twisted and slightly disturbing black comedy that isn’t for everyone. “Killer Joe” isn’t afraid to cross the PC line, and I loved it for that.

Based on a play by Tracy Letts, “Killer Joe” begins with a Texas small-time crook named Chris (Emile Hirsch) in a bit of a bind. He owes money to the local drug dealer, partly due to his mother, so he approaches his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), with a crazy proposition. Chris has discovered that his mother, and Ansel’s ex-wife, has a large insurance policy when she dies and that his younger sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), is the beneficiary. Chris has a plan to get that money – hiring Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas detective who is a hit man on the side.

Ansel agrees to the plan and goes with Chris to make arrangements with Joe. At first it appears the deal won’t go down, with Joe insisting on getting his fee up front. Joe agrees to waive that fee, however, if he can have Dottie as a “retainer.”

As sleazy as this sounds, it actually manages to get even sleazier from there, culminating in a final act that is so insane it is amazing that the film didn’t completely jump the rails.

Letts, who also wrote the screenplay, helps keep the movie somewhat focused with dialogue that sizzles full of dark humor.

There are moments in “Killer Joe” that are nothing short of brilliant. You can feel the sexual tension between McConaughey and Temple in their first scene together, and that final act – while pushing the envelope into an extremely disturbing place – also manages to be filled with some rather awkward humor that McConaughey pulls off quite nicely.

This may be one of McConaughey’s best performances – the perfect mix of charm and homicidal violence. It’s been a good year for McConaughey, who has hit the acting

trifecta with strong performances in “Magic Mike” and “Bernie.”

Temple has the most difficult role in the film, being asked to play an innocent girl who may not be as naive as she appears. She pulls it off quite well.

I also liked Church and Gina Gershon, who plays Ansel’s new wife.

“Killer Joe” is very uncomfortable to watch at times, but that is actually part of the charm. This is a twisted bit of pulp fiction that makes my short list as one of the top 10 to 15 films I’ve seen in 2012.

“Killer Joe” is rated R for strong and disturbing violence, sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language, and will be available Friday on DVD.

— To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.

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