Deep into the first hour of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – I think it was towards the end of the dish washing scene – I began to wonder if even a hobbit might find Peter Jackson’s film a little on the slow side.
At 170 minutes, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a very long film, and it feels like it too. Peter Jackson has seen enough potential in the original story for a trilogy. The first film takes us only to chapter six of Tolkien’s book.
This is a pace suitable only for the greatest fans of middle earth. For everyone else, it isn’t a question of whether The Hobbit: An unexpected Journey is too long, but rather by how much. For me, 45 to 60 minutes could have been cut without compromising the story line.
David Cox in a Guardian blog post goes even further, suggesting that 90 minutes is more than enough screen time for The Hobbit. Cox says, “the superfluous 80 minutes have to be padded out with excruciatingly repetitive battles, dreary meetings, banal utterances, unnecessary backstory and general flannel.”
Dana Stevens in Slate goes even further. For her, The Hobbit: An unexpected journey promised a chance to spend more time in Middle Earth. “More time in Middle Earth is exactly what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey provides—so much more that the movie starts to feel like some Buddhist exercise in deliberately inflicted tedium.”
No detail from the original story is too insignificant to dwell on. And when that turns out to provide too little screen time, Jackson fills The Hobbit with additional material. Step forward Radagast the Brown, with his sick hedgehog and rabbit powered sled, described as “dreadful” and “unfunny” by Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.
Another addition is Azog the pale Orc, who resembles a beached dugong on steroids. Everywhere the little band of adventurers turn, he is not far behind. Inexplicably, he is incapable of running them to ground, despite the backing of endless Orcs on Wargs.
When The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey does get going, the action eventually gets carried away, as in the subterranean battle with the Orcs. Somehow a dozen little dwarfs and one wizard prevail against an unfeasibly large quantity of Orcs. As John Walsh in the Independent on Sunday says, it makes yours thumbs twitch as though you are at home playing a video game.
Despite this, there is still much to like about The Hobbit. Martin Freeman as Bilbo, is excellent, as is Gollum, played by Andy Serkis. Their riddle scene should have been the highlight of the film, and would have been if viewers weren’t mentally exhausted by the time they reached it.
All of that, and we are only a third of the way through the story. To get all the way to the end I and the little band of cinema goers I went with would have to return to Middle Earth for another two years. Trouble is, we’re not going to, because life is too short. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is already the end of the road for us.