The Hobbit is an unexpectedly slow journey


Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) embarks on a journey to take back the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the treacherous dragon, Smaug. Adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel to the Lord of the Rings series, The Hobbit is director Peter Jackson’s latest attempt to keep his adaptation of Middle Earth alive. The film, while beautiful looking, is unfortunately very poorly paced and tonally inconsistent.

Ben Lerner, Staff Writer

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes place in the fantasy world of Middle Earth, inhabited by recognizable races such as orcs, druids, elves, dragons, Dwarfs, wizards, and the like.  The story revolves around Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a hobbit who remembers how he was once convinced by a wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) that he must help the Dwarves reclaim the treasure and kingdom that was stolen from them by a vicious dragon, Smaug.  Baggins agrees to join a group of Dwarves on their adventure, and the ragtag group of thirteen Dwarves, a wizard, and a hobbit venture off to the mountain of the Dwarves to reclaim the stolen treasure and defeat the dragon.

The entire movie is about how the team gets from point A to point B.  The introductory scene is wonderful, because it not only neatly explains how the dragon conquered the Dwarves, but also because it never showed you exactly what the dragon looked like; only split-second glimpses.  The actual image of the creature that was breathing vast clouds of flames upon the city was left to your imagination.

The rest of the film did not follow this example.  In an effort to spread a relatively short book over three movies, many small details were magnified and given loads of unnecessary exposition and backstory.  Tolkien fans may enjoy the roundtable discussion between the elves and the wizards, but it served no purpose other than to show a couple fan-favorite characters and to name-drop others that only fans of the books will appreciate.  Many of the enemy encounters that the characters faced were similarly superfluous.  They didn’t further the plot, bring the characters together, or give some of the less prominent Dwarfs a chance to shine.  They were simply nuisances.

The only significant conflict, between Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the leader of the Company of Dwarfs and his rival, an Orc chieftan, made Thorin a bit more sympathetic when we learn of his tragic past and motive to reclaim the Dwarf kingdom, but it merely built up to a pseudo-climax that gave the illusion that something significant had happened over the course of the movie, when in fact, nothing particularly important came to pass.

Speaking of unnecessary, the CGI in this movie was borderline gaudy.  The humanlike characters, namely the Dwarves, elves, and wizards, were portrayed with extensive makeup and costumework, which added to the fantastical charm of the movie.  Others, particularly the Orc chieftan and the entirety of the Goblin race, did not mesh well with the rest of the characters.  They looked too out-of-place.  Some scenes that relied wholly on CGI, such as the chase through the Goblin lair, stood out as particularly fake, and as a result the tension was noticeably depreciated.  Scenes that took advantage of New Zealand’s lush scenery, however, stood out as fast-paced, engrossing, and often gorgeous to look at.

Although their quest wasn’t particularly riveting, the characters themselves were enough to keep viewers’ attention.  Freeman played an excellent nervous, reluctant-yet-bold Baggins, and McKellen was as likable and grand as ever.  Andy Serkis’ performance as Gollum was the most memorable; the scene in which he and Baggins exchange riddles to decide Baggins’ fate was intimate, dangerous, and exciting.

Although I personally may have underappreciated this movie, to me this felt too much like a prequel that sets everything up without resolving anything.  At almost three hours long, if you’re not completely enamored by the source material, you may find yourself zoning out from time to time.  Still, you might want to go see it in 48 frames-per-second simply for the novelty of watching a movie whose cinematography is as real-looking as a daytime soap.


Disclaimer: I had never seen or read anything associated with the Lord of the Rings franchise before seeing The Hobbit.  It might be the first of three movies, but it deserves to be judged by itself.  Much of the talk surrounding The Hobbit has surrounded its frame rate of 48fps, while I saw it in 24fps.  If you choose to see it as Peter Jackson intended you to see its 48 fps, in Digital 3D, then you may experience the film differently.