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Cate Blanchett returns to Middle Earth with Jackson's 'Hobbit'

Also, paradoxically, back to earth.

Blanchett has been a superb performer, but she badly mauled Blanche DuBois in Liv Ullmann's clunky production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" a year ago, despite all the starstruck raves she received in Washington, D.C. and New York. It was as if Ullmann and Blanchett thought they could avoid any dramatic imbalance between DuBois and her crudely charismatic antagonist, Stanley Kowalski, by making Blanche equal parts noble victim and bawdy camp. Neither fit into Tennessee Williams' poetic conception of the haunted,  valiantly witty, lyrically sad character. The final spot-lit tableau of Blanche Agonistes (in a slip) was a howler.

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As Galadriel the elf in Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Blanchett pulled off the near-impossible -- portraying an ethereal figure with strength, without breaking a bead of sweat. It's smart for Jackson to bring her back for his version of Tolkien's "The Hobbit," though she doesn't appear in the book, just as it was shrewd for the "Narnia" moviemakers to bring Tilda Swinton's White Witch into "Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Characters and performers like these imbue fantasies with flesh-and-blood electricity. For this Blanchett fan, it will be a relief to see the actor relax into her natural greatness.

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