Journey to Middle Earth

It's not exactly an urgent mission. The film's digressions are full of further digressions. Gandalf's frequent disappearances from the novel are explained here. We see him conferring with Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman, and there's no denying it's fun to see Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee all on screen together again, even if the scene is a momentum-arresting tangent, and far from the only one.

The most troublesome bloat comes at the beginning. It takes nearly an hour simply for our hero, the gentle Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, in a wonderful performance with exactly the right note of comic reluctance), simply to leave his home and embark upon his grand adventure. Jackson lingers over meals like no film since Stanley Tucci's Big Night; later, a slapsticky scene wherein three trolls argue over how best to dine on the dwarves they've captured seems to go on longer than most cooking shows. Not until Andy Serkis reprises his role as Gollum from the Rings pictures, two hours into An Unexpected Journey, does the film recall the mythic resonance of its precursors. So grand is that resonance that it's almost enough.

Klimek is a Washington DC-based writer

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