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New "Hobbit" film is a wild ride through Middle Earth

The lead actors of the third and last installment of "The Hobbit" series are warning moviegoers before they head into to the theater to see "The Battle of the Five Armies" -- study up first.

"I would advise that you watch the first two ["Hobbit" films] -- it will make the whole experience all the more interesting," says Luke Evans, who plays "Bard" -- one of the film's heroes with dragon slaying skills in the trilogy's finale.

"The Battle of the Five Armies" starts off right where the second installment, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," left off -- with a massive dragon about to breath fire down on a town.

"Come to the third film having done a little bit of homework," laughs Richard Armitage, who stars in the role of Thorin Oakenshield, the Dwarf King. "It is a race to the finish line," he says with a grin.

"The Battle of the Five Armies" is a fast-paced, epic fantasy with -- as the title implies -- no shortage of fighting between dwarves, elves, humans, orcs and a bevy of CGI beasts too fearsome to describe.

Armitage's character, making a third appearance in the series, takes on a dramatic turn here - he's driven to the edge of madness in an obsession for gold. There's a mountain full of it...and who takes control of that treasure is what drives the armies to clash.

The movie is still fun, even if you haven't seen at least one of the "Lord of the Rings" or "Hobbit" films that have brought in some $5 billion at the box office.

Newbies to the franchise may feel a bit lost for the first few scenes, but fans of the series of books written by JRR Tolkien and film by director Peter Jackson likely won't be disappointed. At the London premiere, super-fans -- dressed in full hobbit, elf and orc costumes -- lined a "green" carpet by the dozens.

"The fans are the lifeblood of what we do. We put out this work for people who love it and want to see it," says Evangeline Lilly, who plays lady elf archer Tauriel.

"Peter Jackson is a fan of the fans," chimes in Orlando Bloom, seated next to Lilly for a group interview for journalists.

Bloom reprises his role as the long-haired elf Legolas in "The Battle of the Five Armies" (Ian McKellen as Gandalf the wizard, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and other favorites return as well). Like in the "Lord of the Rings," Bloom's Legolas character seems to defy laws of gravity in his ability to body surf beast while killing baddies. But that's the power of CGI animation, that in this "Hobbit" film, seems to work, drawing the viewer into the many emotional and often violent fronts of a battle sequence that goes on for upwards of an hour. The film is all the more engaging in 3D, where available.

What's most refreshing about the success of "The Hobbit" films -- and this installment will surely do well -- is that the triology's main hero defies the western movie stereotype: The title character Bilbo Baggins is portrayed as a scraggly, short, big-footed character -- not exactly central Hollywood casting.

"You know, he's not a big Viking. The basic premise of the story is that there is a very unlikely hero at the heart of it," says Martin Freeman, who plays the title role. "Fans want to see a story with characters, and they want to see a story."

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" opens on Dec. 17.

Follow Alphonso Van Marsh on Twitter: @AlphonsoVM

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