Arts & Events

The Hobbit’s journey lags in Peter Jackson’s film

Plenty can happen over the course of three hours. Turkeys can roast in the oven, nine innings of baseball can be played, even a week’s worth of class can be attended. Although a lot can happen in the course of three hours, The Hobbit proves that it does not have to.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson’s newest adaption of a J.R.R Tolkien book, is a lengthy film clocking in at 11 minutes shy of three hours. Following the success of his previous Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson has returned to the franchise to direct and produce the prequel to the Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, released in December 2012, is just the first of Jackson’s planned three films, the next two due in successive years.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey promises to be the start of a very compelling expedition centered on a group of feisty dwarves, a hobbit and a cagey wizard. With extravagant hair and an insatiable appetite, the dwarves embark on a journey to regain their homeland, lost to the subject of the next movie—a fire-breathing dragon. Traipsing around Middle Earth, this band of lovable misfits stumbles from one mishap to the next, getting in trouble with trolls, orcs and goblins.
As a book, The Hobbit is immensely popular and widely read, making the writing of the movie a very difficult task for Peter Jackson. Limited by a text that may not be suited for adaption, he was charged with making highly successful follow-ups to his previous movies. With unrealistic expectations abounding, The Hobbit suffered.
Tolkien created an entire universe, providing elaborate detail and backgrounds for his characters. This level of attentiveness is what makes his stories so interesting, and what handcuffs the director of the movies. If Jackson were to address every small nuance of the book, he would have to make more than just three movies, and yet he is critiqued for every piece he omits.
In many ways this is not “an unexpected journey,” and not just because I have read the book. Many of the characters and their respective actors return. It also features familiar scenes of The Shire and Rivendell. Although Jackson is not being accused of treading on the success of the previous three films, it should be said that he is clearly following a similar pattern.
Jackson is known for utilizing computer animation in his movies to whisk the viewer off into a land of fantasy. The reliance on digital effects as well as the astonishing clarity in which it was shot, used to transport the viewer to a magical realm, is not inherently bad; but in this movie, there is an overreliance.
Where Jackson really shines as a director, and consequently where this movie excels, is in his ability to tell a tale, to make the story feel epic. Around every corner in Middle Earth lurks a new danger, and yet the adventure improbably ambles on, in many ways a testament to Jackson’s storytelling skills. He tiptoes on the line between exciting and chaotic, always managing to slow the story down just as it seems to be getting out of control.
It is difficult to pinpoint the problem with this movie, as it has all of the elements of an excellent story. The actors are fantastic; Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey, who reprised his former role with ease. The iconic and striking music returns for the film, setting the backdrop to the adventure.
The problem lies then not with any one piece but the overall film: It is slow, methodical and leisurely like a hobbit. Almost an hour into the film and the “unexpected journey” has yet to begin. As lovely as New Zealand is, the tracking montages of dwarves walking on mountaintops become tiresome. If it is not about the destination but the journey, get to the journey already! Go see The Hobbit if you want to go on an adventure, need to fill up an entire evening, or just want to see Gollum sing and solve riddles.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey plays Apr. 12–14 in Rausch Auditorium, Friday and Saturday at 8 and 10:30 p.m., Sunday 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $1 at the door. Come see Cult Classic Wednesdays—Fight Club—April 17 in Rausch Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $1 at the door. More info: