Sunday, December 23, 2012

Restless realm revisited

Comparisons are inevitable, but while it may not be as grand an adventure as the first “Lord of the Rings,” the initial part in “The Hobbit” film series is certainly a spectacular cinematic offering.

Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth looks and feels comfortably familiar; its newer locales and denizens expand the previous trilogy’s fantastic mythology, similarly a visually ensorcelling roster of heroes and terrifying lands.

The first part of this new prequel trilogy, “An Unexpected Journey,” tells the tale of a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the hobbit approached and persuaded by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) into joining him and a squad of dwarf warriors in their quest to reclaim lost territory.

Bilbo gets into one monster-related scrape after another, proving time and again his heroism and loyalty to his new allies. A momentous meeting with the mad creature Gollum (Andy Serkis) introduces Bilbo to a long-coveted magic relic, while Gandalf uncovers a strange conspiracy that heralds more ominous events to come.

Like with most heroes from familiar sagas, Bilbo goes on a transformative journey, initially a reluctant, selfish fellow who eventually recognizes his desire for change. Freeman is a snug fit, credibly changing into a more confident presence in a couple of the film’s pivotal moments.

It’s elating to see older characters and their actors return; aside from McKellen as Gandalf, Cate Blanchett returns as the majestic Galadriel, Hugo Weaving is back as the commanding warrior-king Elrond, and Christopher Lee reprises his sinister sorcerer role Saruman.

While it doesn’t quite radiate the grandiosity of the previous films, “An Unexpected Journey” is sturdy and mesmerizing, a richly rendered reintroduction to the otherworldly realm. And Bilbo Baggins’ journey is rife with conflict and wit, giving us a new underdog to root for all over again. 

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