Director Peter Jackson’s new movie, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” recalls other things that took us by surprise.
Everyone could see the housing bubble coming, but few believed all of Wall Street would burst along with it.
The Hindenburg crashing and burning, that was dramatic, terrible and unforeseen.
And I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition, but then, no one does.
Glad tidings: compared to those episodes, “The Hobbit” will leave far fewer dead, tortured or broke, but viewers expecting to recapture the excitement of Jackson’s version of “The Lord of the Rings” should prepare for a long haul.
In the departed world of J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” was a single book, a ripping yarn that served as a fantasy prequel to the intense clash between good and evil of his rings cycle. For the movies, Jackson and fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro have set us hopping down the path to another trilogy. They have freighted this hobbit with a lot of baggage, which as any trekker can tell you, is not a good thing.
Fortunately, they have herded together many of our favorite characters from the rings movie, plus one. Martin Freeman arrives as the young version of Bilbo Baggins, whom we again encounter in his golden years played by Ian Holm.
When we last left the Bagginses, Bilbo’s young “nephew” Frodo was the center of quest attention. In this new yet earlier story, the older Bilbo is recalling his adventures, with Frodo for company in the comfortable person of Elijah Wood.
The younger edition of Bilbo experiences the action. It’s quite eccentric for a stay-at-home Halfling, and Freeman is a perfect choice. He has already made his mark as everymen in unusual circumstances, whether Arthur Dent hitchhiking the galaxy or Dr. John Watson in the excellent if intermittent modern version of Sherlock Holmes.
In keeping with Tolkien tradition, Bilbo is extracted from the comforts of Bag End by another happy holdover from the rings, Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf. In this epoch, Gandalf is merely gray and a bit mischievous. He has assured a group of wandering dwarves that Bilbo is just the half-man to help them recapture their long-lost home and treasure from the dragon Smaug.
It is going to be a long trudge to Smaug and the Lonely Mountain, but at least the dwarves have a nice song. Hugo Weaving reprises his turn as the smug elven Lord Elrond. Cate Blanchett normally serves as the illustration for “whiteness,” but she is calmly beautiful again as Galadriel, “the mightiest and fairest” of the elves.
The ever-welcome Christopher Lee returns as the mighty wizard Saruman, here in what might be called his Christopher Cerf pre-commissioner of education phase, with conflicts of interest planted but yet to fully flower.
New Zealand, Jackson’s homeland, is the other key player here, contributing its snowy peaks, plunging waterfalls, rocky ledges, deep forests and rolling plains to create a truly fantastic Middle Earth.