Cult cinema professor leads new project on The Hobbit

UBC's cult film professor is leading a new research project on fan-favourite fantasy film trilogy The Hobbit.

The Lord of the Rings novels, followed by the movie series, were a world phenomena and the recent Hobbit trilogy has also captured the attention of audiences around the globe. One of these audience members is scholar and cult film professor Ernest Mathijs. Curious to define the word fantasy and examine the influence these stories have on people, Mathijs is now one of the main coordinators on the Worldwide Hobbit Survey Project.

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are considered masterpieces and the films exemplify their lasting effect on the world of literature and film -- ultimately grabbing the attention of scholars across the globe. Currently, 146 scholars have collaborated to release a worldwide Hobbit trilogy project online. Mathijs is one of the coordinators. Other well-known scholars include Eric Maigret in France, Alberto Trobia in Italy, Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis in the United States and Annette Hill in Sweden.

This survey consists of about 20 general questions and is available online. Why you might ask? The scholars aim to gather a global understanding of just what these films and fantasy mean to audiences.

“People allow these films to play a role, the way you let food play a role or the way in which you let music play a role to orient yourself in your culture and in your community. Fantasy seems to be fulfilling the same role and that’s something we want to test, particularly because fantasy didn’t used to have that role. It was always seen as, you know, childish, fairy-tale like,” said Mathijs.

“It was something you would engage with when you were in your adolescence and then you grow out of it because fantasy was not serious. I think that has changed. I think fantasy has now become more serious and it’s taken more seriously then ever before.”

A similar survey was done in 2003 on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However this new survey on The Hobbit is available in 35 different languages. The researchers are hoping to receive 50,000 responses with this survey.

“I should confess I’m not the biggest fantasy fan myself but I’m intrigued by the appeal that fantasy has, and it’s something that I sometimes struggle to understand,” said Mathijs.

To further his understanding of what fantasy means to people around the world, Mathijs invested his time in this survey. Why these films and not others, such as Batman or Harry Potter? As Mathijs mentions, it’s because of the occasion and the time span that these films have over others. Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are cross-generational given that they have been around for so long.

“In spite of the entire spectacle, there’s a deep yearning with these characters that reach audiences, even ones who aren’t fans,” said Mathijs. “There’s a deep yearning to feel belonging, because we’re all connected. That’s what’s so great about fandom.”

Once the survey is finished and the data is collected, it will take the scholars approximately seven to eight months to analyze the data with the help of computer engineers and software. The data will then be released online to allow for independent analysis and interpretation.

The survey will be available online until May 2015.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the link to the project redirected to the incorrect website. The Ubyssey regrets the error.