31
Dec 12

HOBBITSES: or HOW EVERY GOOD STORY DESERVES EMBELLISHMENT (as Gandalf teaches us)

FT32 comments • 1,973 views

gollum-ring1: I saw this last night (2D/24fps) and here are my notes
2: which is to say SPOILERS and DO NOT READ IF YOU HATE MORE FvCKING ELVES and ABANDON DIGNITY ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE and — above all — BEWARE THE CAVE TROLL IN THE ROOM
3: bcz, in the sense that at the end I very much wanted straight away to be watching the next ep I clearly liked this one, despite there being plenty wrong with it also
4: anyway I am largely going to write a DEFENCE of the plot-changes (and reserve the main critique for stuff PJ also got wrong in the LotR trilogy?)
5: And it is very rough and note-form bcz Silmarillion

Let’s set out the main issues.

a: a film of a book is like a cover of a song — a reworking, a conversation, an ARGUMENT, hence the collision of rival sensibilities, where differences and variations are less failings than clues and indeed content

b: anyone who makes a film of his works has explicit concrete beef with Tolk, who firmly argued (in On Fairy Stories) that cinema cannot do fantasy, a point he hammers away on at some length. The dragons of stage and cinema cannot, claimed Tolkien, possibly enchant (JRRT hated the rival Ring-cycle — some say he wrote LotR as a corrective — so possibly did not go see Fritz Lang’s two-part silent-movie version, feat.FAFNER, who we cannot BUT adore today, soooo cuuuuute, except judging by “On Fairy Stories” Tolk wd have curled his lip mightily).

Fafner-the-dragon

c: so this is someting — “enchantment” in Tolk’s sense — that PJ is hot to prove cinema can too provide. But straight away there’s a glitch. Tolkien never goes for full-on undiluted enchantment — he moves to it (and out of it) from its deflationary opposite, which is to say, from his sense of the absurd; his sense of humour. The EPIC is wound into the matter-of-fact everyday, the two not so much clashing as juxtaposing, irresolvable opposites underscoring both the necessity and the inadequacy of their counterpart. (Tolk was soft on elves and the causes of elves, but he knew that i. he was not an elf, and ii. nor were any of his readers — that in fact for one to imagine one was an elf, let alone to live as an elf, would drive one actually mad, were it not already prior proof of madness mad… Hobbitry is there to keep the books sane; elves and dragons, dwarves and orcs, trolls and spiders and wizards provide adventure, the escape from the staid timid wryly self-aware self etc etc.)

d: but PJ’s sense of humour is very much NOT Tolk’s, which ensures the tone of the book was probably never going to be a viewing option. Partly because verbal humour is not cinematic; partly because JRRT’s dry narrational irony is very early-20th-century upper-middle-class English donnish, and doesn’t easily travel. Indeed plenty of people are massively allergic to it. PJ favours a much more circus-like humour — amazing acrobatic stunts and broad-clownish pratfalls. These of course are paradigmatically visual, but allow of little observational content. Tolkien isn’t Jane Austen, to be sure, but his wit (when it emerges) is amusedly social. PJ hands this entire element over to Martin Freeman and his face. Which is by no means a terrible decision, since Freeman turns out to be a great comic actor and deflationary straightman…

e: … and I very much liked Freeman’s reading of Bilbo, though it departs (as the script requires it to) some way from the book’s portrait. However, here we have to ask HOW SERIOUSLY IS THE BOOK’S PORTRAIT OF BILBO TO BE TAKEN. Recall: Bilbo is the AUTHOR of The Hobbit (or give or take translational shenanigans the book that The Hobbit is “based on”), and the source of its tone and humour and perspective and attitude and insight into the events at hand. He is NOT a reliable narrator, as LotR establishes more than once (not least since he’s the Ringbearer, which eats into openness and honesty; but he’s a talespinner and embellisher by temperament). Also cf “The Quest for Erebor” in Unfinished Tales: where (post Sauron’s fall and Elessar’s crowning) Gandalf tells his version to the gathered Hobbits in Minas Tirith: Gandalf says outright that not only did Bilbo seem utterly “fatuous” to the Dwarves, who were quite angry with the wizard — suspicious and prickly as ever, they thought he was poking fun at them — but he was quite unaware of what a ridiculous figure he was cutting. But nevertheless Gandalf was correct in this seemingly daft hunch and gamble (though he did not really know why). Some of this is — somewhat heavy-handedly — sketched in in the film, at various points: particularly Gandalf’s sense of both certainty and puzzlement — why Bilbo? Why a hobbit at all? IT MAKES NO SENSE… but when asked directly he is so caught up in the puzzle that he is unaware of Galadriel TOTES vamping him, the massive witchy minx. In fact a strength (I would argue) of PJ’s version is that Gandalf’s unreliablity — or anyway anxious fallibity — is very much retained from the The Hobbit, where Gandalf (from Bilbo’s shrewd POV) is simply a different kind of character to the towering, wise, masterful figure he becomes in LotR: viz a bit of a vain show-off, who likes praise and etc (indeed The Hobbit is often fairly catty about him). If Gandalf is certain that the destiny of Middle Earth needs Bilbo, but isn’t at all clear why, then Bilbo presumably bring perspective and insight to the story, perspective and insight that Gandalf by himself can’t deliver, despite his being wise and ancient and from the West and etc. And yet Bilbo (in The Hobbit = his book about himself) enjoys telling the tale his way — which includes presenting a somewhat mocking and sillified portrait of himself. In fact the film and Martin Freeman take Bilbo a lot more seriously than he does himself.

f: anyway my suggestion here is that, once you have bought into the post-LotR retcon of the Ring*, as a SIGNIFICANT ITEM OF POWER in VERY BIG STORY INDEED, then you are not only entitled but somewhat enjoined to recast the tale of the book through the lens of subsequent Tolkien development and evolution. Not only are several backstories (historical-genealogical) and blanks on the map (geographical-political) irrevocably filled in, but all kinds of balances and shifts take place, in meaning and perspective, that would significantly clash with unadorned Bilbo-POV and OG Hobbit tone. There’s an issue of scale — you can move from Hobbit to LotR to LotR-embedded-in-Appendices and etc to Silmarillion, but it’s much harder (I think actually impossible) to move coherently in the other direction. Having made the films in this order, PJ had three choices: just cut the links between Hobbit-world and LotR-world (but if you make this choice, you are surely required to return to the first-edition version of the Ring&Riddles section); film the quest entirely as from Bilbo’s unreliable POV (as per tone and scale); and do much as he has done — which is to say, gather together all Tolk’s writing on and discussion of and backstory towards this tale, and embed the quest-at-hand within the (much) larger story. Which necessarily balloons it enormously: Tolk’s later view of the The Hobbit (or shall we say Bilbo’s memoirs) is that they tell the story of one of the central epochal moments in the history of Middle Earth — viz the unexpected and unprecedented passing of the One Ring to the Halfling — only from Bilbo’s own extremely limited, ignorant and sare we say somewhat self-satisfied POV. (Or rather, so I’m arguing, this is Gandalf’s view…) *

*(In the first edition of The Hobbit, Bilbo wins the ring — no more than a minor if useful conjuring device — from Gollum by winning the riddling game)
**(The unavoidable problem with the question “Is it true to Tolkien” is: Tolkien when? He changed his mind. He rewrote. He switched modes — The Silmarillion may be his best known later work but it’s probably his least loved: his actual best later books are the two very small ones, Farmer Giles of Ham and Smith of Wootton Major: both books more in Bilbo comical mode than Gandalf the Grand mode.)

g: So anyway PJ opted for the third option in f., for good or ill artistically. What it’s not is a betrayal of JRRT (exceopt insofar as ANY film was always going to be), or of Bilbo’s “actual” character (as opposed to his character as variously perceived and delineated). And of course in key ways it plays to PJ’s strengths. In particular, his immense capacity for taking pains with mise-en-scene detail: his fealty to Tolkien’s world-building (invention of no less than five languages etc) is a vast feat of world-building via backdrops, props, costumes, settings, vistas and so on. And it’s on his rendering of these — settings like levels in a computer game, the effect of their succession, which we’re only a third through — that his translation of Tolkien stands or falls. He really can do stunning; and he can also do well-timed clownish deflationary absurd. So what does he get right and what does he get wrong?

1: The framing device at the start is opaque, to say the least: we see Bilbo and Frodo, during the preparations to the Party, and Bilbo writing up this tale, and saying something about finally telling all of it. Why does PJ feel he needs this? To hook us back into his LotR trilogy? (At most it reminds us that we’re going to need to hook ourselves back into LotR: newbies will surely be quite baffled.) Or to hip us to the idea that Bilbo was the author of The Hobbit, and what we’re going to be seeing is the REAL STORY (not his amusing because deflating, and somewhat misleading version). This makes more sense intellectually, but still doesn’t actually justify the device in terms of stand-alone storytelling. Because basically it’s quite boring and takes way too long, and…
2: … PJ’s version of the Shire continues to be annoyingly dreadful, mimsy faux-celtic cartoon rusticana. Bearing in mind that the Scouring was never filmed — so the Shire as a whole doesn’t get to redeem itself (on film) the way Bilbo and the Four Fellowship Hobbits of course do, demonstrating that their soft silliness as a culture (©Thorin) is actually a virtue. Fundamentally, the Shire is once again a bad place to start, and (as with LotR-on-film) Hobbit-on-film doesn’t pick up speed till its first party.
3: The Dwarves. OK, I loved em, comical haircuts, strong characterisation, non-Hobbity sensibility. What PJ has to pull off is a longish comic scene with an undertow of mysterious romance: the second is done more with cutaways than dwarves telling amazing tales in your front room, but this is a movie. Tolk doesn’t bring much vividness that I can recall to Dwalin, Oin, Ori and Nori or Bifur and Bofur. (Dori is decent and hangs back to help Bilbo several times; Balin is older than the others and warm and friendly to Bilbo soonest; Fili and Kiii are the youngest and come as a cheerful pair; Thorin is Thorin; Bombur is fat and doesn’t like being last). Here I ended up with no clear memory of Oin, Nori and Bofur — though I think one of them uses a child’s catapult? (Gloin is pre-established, as Gimli’s dad at Rivendell in LotR1). Thorin is actually probably the least satisfactory recharacterisation: whereas in Tolkien he’s generally like a mini-Gandalf in manner, perhaps a little haughtier, here he’s more proto-Boromir, a proud and stubborn and patriotic warrior (he even sounds somewhat Beany). But of course the script and the screen demand that at least some of the dwarves be capable warriors. (Dour Dwalin with his tattooed head I loved.)
4: Moria backstory — very flubbed and bludged in this retelling, for questionable reasons. Maybe this will all be clearer in the Director’s Cut, but if I was unable to distinguish Thorin’s grandad Thror from Thorin’s dad Thrain in these flashbacks, then newbies are surely going to be totally baffled. Azog is introduced, but merely wounded by Thorin, rather than — cf LotR Appendix B — decisively killed by Thorin’s second cousin the young Dain Ironfoot. (I accept that the original backstory is unnecessarily complicated for speed-read exposition: but this substitute backstory currently remains way too cloudy, I’d say… ) (Will more emerge about Thrain in Hobbit 2: Electric Boogollum, and how Gandalf got the map and the key from him as a prisoner in in Dol Guldur? Other current rewrites seem to clash with this a little: see below.)
5: Getting Bilbo out of the house. He motivates himself here: he wakes happy that the horrible dwarves have all gone, then gradually realises he’s missed the chance of adventure and wants it. Gandalf chivvying him out of the house removes Bilbo’s agency to comic effect, but PJ wants a less omniscient wizard. I don’t object to this change — in fact I think it’s a good one, if cheeky.
6: The Mockney Foodie Trolls (or Jamie Trollivers if you will). Less verbal slapstick, more physical; more Bilbo-ish agency, less Gandalf. This is a stand-alone scene anyway — PJ amps up the grisly nastiness, which Tolk only really hints at.
7: Several significant cut-and-paste rearrangements ahoy. Goblins and Wargs abroad in Eriador, and Radagast also, having made a discover the book-Gandalf makes some 90 years earlier, that something is afoot in Dol Guldur. The White Council meeting in Rivendell: eg Galadriel and Saruman brought into the story. (They weren’t in The Hobbit at all, but they ARE in LotR’s Appendix B “The Tale of the Years” and Unfinished Tales‘s “The Quest for Erebor”. Basically material from the other side of the Misty Mountains (meaning from Hobbit 2?) is introduced in Hobbit 1; as is material from long before the start of The Hobbit (viz the fuller Necromancer stuff). All this is brought in as current action (rather than being deployed as flashbacks). Given that an expansion of the Dol Guldur story is more than somewhat necessary to justify Galdalf’s vanishment during the entire middle of the quest I don’t begrudge PJ most of this cut-and-paste per se (though not all of it has been well written). Each part of the film has to stand alone in terms of dynamics (which has not really been achieved in Hobbit1), but the whole trilogy must also knit and cohere in respect of dynamics: this is sufficient rationale for the changes, whether or not they actually work. The Goblin-Dwarf war, for example, has become a personal long-running Azog-Thorin grudge match — but the latter is perhaps cinematic where the former is just lots more talking or even more longer birds-eye-view flashbacks.
8: As for the presence of goblins and wolves west of the mountains, well, there’s precedent in the Hobbit (Golfimbul etc); and who — aside from Trolls — were the Rangers patrolling against? Aragorn’s dad was killed by orcs somewhere round here, while patrolling with Elrond’s sons, just ten years before the start of the story. We are after all “beyond the edge of the wild”. On a technical structural level, the Azog hunting band somewhat undermines what would otherwise be the first appearance of Goblins, as primarily an underground people who dislike the sun. But it helps set that Goblins are on the rise all across the north — which is the deep backstory of Gandalf’s worry about the dragon teaming up with Sauron, and the rise to joined-up govt of the Shadow. (Except of course the film’s timing of Necromancer-anxiety now somewhat messes this deeper worry up, since Radagast only brings first news to Gandalf of new happenings in Dol Guldur after the Quest begins )

hobbit-map-wilderland

9: As many readers will crossly recall, Radagast is a character hugely underused by Tolkien. I loved loved loved PJ’s expansion here — almost worth the price of entry on its own. And the “Blue Wizards” joke deftly put the ball home I think: Tolk left his goal wide open here.
10: Rivendell. Ugh. The tone was wrong in LotR and it’s still wrong (even though I abstractly admire the care that’s gone into the look of it, all the Arts & Crafts curlicues and such… ). Elrond remains a dud as a character: Jackson just can’t work out what he wants to do with him, and the four-person White Council becomes a three-hander (or actually two two-handers: Gandalf vs Saruman and Galadriel ♥ Gandalf.) I enjoyed the mutual elf-dwarf disaffection and wariness.
11: The Stone-Giants. They’re there in the book, deal with it.
12: The Goblin set-piece was fine really, half ugly danger, half slapstick. This is exactly what you hire PJ for, and in a cartoon (or Pirates of the Caribbean) you wouldn’t blink an eye at any of it. As the Barnet Ape pointed out, neither orcs nor elves are big on guard-rails. ELF AND SAFETY: yes I went there.
13: Gollum. I actually thought this section was superb — a better rendition (and root for) of Smeagol’s split personality than LotR managed. The predator — faced with a version of himself, rather than orc or fish — suddenly caught between piercing lonely memories of times long ago, and immediate greedy hunger (especially as he’d just eaten). This doubleness has sanction in the text, stretching a point (he remembers riddlegames with his grandmother, and the sun on the daisies).
14: and let’s close there, in anticipation of part 2, just noting the following. LotR and The Hobbit are both books (importantly) about the drama and dialectics of scale: scale of geography, scale of event, scale of personality, scale of morality, even scale of mortality. What role can small persons play in the gale of the world? And PJ is also wrestling with just these problems, in a very different medium, with a whole bunch of legacy conundra from his earlier trilogy, and from the specific nature of his fealty to Tolkien. I don’t think he get everything right by any means — and I’m agnostic on the worthwhileness of the whole exercise. Beyond the fact that I enjoyed watching it, and have enjoyed thinking about it.

Comments

  1. 1
    Pete on 1 Jan 2013 #

    My biggest response, next day, was how it seemed like an amazing double snub to Christopher Lee (in a delicious way). Lee, being catty about being cut from, the widely agreed to be somewhat overlong, LOTR: Return of The King gets a nice bit of dialogue that is completely overspake by Gandalf and Galadriel. Best in joke snub ever.

    Guardrails and first twenty minutes, and yet again the spectre of “if you can summon Roc’s at will, why doncha” is raised as per LOTR. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would (historically being very underwhelmed by Freeman on screen), but the pacing is wildly wrong in the first half and not sure where they are plucking two more films from. Bonus for the kite though.

  2. 2

    OK I naughtily just made some minor edits and clarificatory rewrites after Pete’s comment at 1, plus added the end-paper map which has the “Edge of the Wild” marked on it.

    Prediction:
    Film 2: Dwarves and Hobbit meet Beorn (partytime), Spiders in Mirkwood and Wood-Elvish Bondage. Much White Council action in Lorien: Gandalf persuades Saruman et al of necessity Sauron out of Dol Guldur. Dwarves and Hobbit reach Laketown and see Mountain up close (ends).

    Film 3: Party in Laketown. Hobbits and Dwarves first beard Smaug. Death of Smaug (and Laketown). Hostilities between Wood-Elves/Men of Laketown over treasure. White Council and Lorien Elves assail Sauron in Dol Guldur. Goblins arrive at Erebor from Mt Gundabad; Dain’s Dwarves from Iron Hills. Battle of Four Armies. Eagles arrive (Battle of Four Armies + 1); meanwhile down south Sauron is defeated. Death of Thorin. Extremely long extended multiple happy ending.

  3. 3
    swanstep on 1 Jan 2013 #

    There’s an issue of scale — you can move from Hobbit to LotR to LotR-embedded-in-Appendices and etc to Silmarillion, but it’s much harder (I think actually impossible) to move coherently in the other direction. Having made the films in this order, PJ had three choices
    But why can’t, for example, a more artful PJ make The Hobbit films so that ultimately – by younger viewers and subsequent generations – they get viewed before his LOTR films? Your idea that the order of viewing that *we* have now is the one that has to be primary, is optional to say the least, and that this is so vitiates much of what you go on to say. Faithfulness to the revised Riddles in the Dark section of the Book does *not* require or recommend any let alone all of the LOTR-connecting and embellishing in which PJ indulges. And let’s not forget that the boring deja vu-ness of TH:AUJ extends to utterly gratuitous details. It’s characteristic of The Hobbit book that things just happen fortuitously, e.g., mountain Eagles that hate Goblins aren’t called rather they just *happen* to notice things are up. It’s enough for a kid that the world depicted turns out to be essentially richer at every point than he or she thought it was. PJ isn’t satisfied with courting that sort of expanding wonderment, however, and so we instead get a re-run of the characteristically more tightly plotted LOTR idea that Gandalf summons the Eagles (and people who see the films Hobbit trilogy first will experience the LOTR as a boring re-run – nothing good can come of such micro-duplications I’d suggest).

    I agree that Radagast the Brown as depicted is a good, even genius move by PJ, but it could have been shortened by half (i.e., his whole involvement with the orcs is unnecessary and ill-judged as is the whole orc-jeopardy sub-plot in my view. [And, for example, doesn't making Azog a super-duper mega-orc undermine the novel additional threat that the Uruk-hai are supposed to represent in the LOTR book and films?])

  4. 4
    Tom on 2 Jan 2013 #

    #2 Film #2 looks a little underweight there – since it’s called “The Desolation Of Smaug” I expect a bit more Smaugian action, the cup-theft and subsequent reprisal at least, maybe even make the second film’s setpiece/climax the Smaug-Bilbo conversation to mirror the Gollum-Bilbo one in the first (not that I’ve seen it yet)

  5. 5

    Finetuned prediction: White Council action will include much detailed flashbackery, of the various issues rising = Smaug desolation and the shadow of Sauron and the threat of reoccupied Angmar and what’s brewing in Moria and Mirkwood (and perhaps elsewhere). Gandalf’s commitment to the assailing of Dol Guldur at this chosen moment was to offer at minimum a counter-distraction, so that the Necromancer did not intervene on Smaug’s behalf.

    I’m sure Smaug-Bilbo will be a key set-piece but it comes before the Battle of the Five Armies, and the latter is not going to be tiny. (Unless PJ goes totally rewrite crazy…)

  6. 7
    tom f'zel on 3 Jan 2013 #

    very pleased you mentioned the Tolkein rewrite of the riddle competition and ring section, which I didn’t know, or if I did know, had forgotten. Went to see the film last night – this was easily the best bit in it, but when Bilbo picked up the ring I thought ‘Wait that’s not how he finds it’.

    The Hobbit is the first book I remember reading – in fact what I remember most clearly is my dad coming home from work holding it in his hand and giving it to me. That’s a very early memory, I must have been about five. The only other book I have a similar memory of my dad giving me is The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I remember reading The Hobbit in the book corner at school, and the teaching reprimanding me for ‘pretending’ to read it because it was too hard.

    Which is by way of saying that it’s very bound up with me at some inarticulate level, which is why I was so unnerved when I got back home and downloaded it to my kindle, only to find that indeed that *was* how he found the ring.

    I like the way the ancient but capricious ritual of the riddle competition is the place of the birth of the ring, and the way a deceit wins it for Bilbo seems appropriate. I can’t remember the original answer – is it nothing? or hands? Nothing would be appropriate!

  7. 8
    Andrew Farrell on 6 Jan 2013 #

    Radagast the Brown is also, from a tactical point of view, a farking liability – Lead them away from us! No, the other away!

    The necessity of doing the films this way around does mean that it loses the less-remembered emotional link, that three of the dwarves that survive are among those that take back Moria, and whose deaths are recorded in the book. I am amused by the idea that PJ will go full Lucas and rerelease The Fellowship of the Ring with added blue glowing dwarf ghosts for that scene.

    Also while rewatching it to see if they get named there (Balin yes, the others no), they do get some sport out of the pomposity of Gandalf by having him present theatrically his first two attempts to open the Gate of Moria, then get v. catty about his failure.

    I’m also curious about what the decision to give Bilbo all his heroic journey in the first third (and to make it “finds his warrior spirit”) does to the rest of the films.

    “But of course the script and the screen demand that at least some of the dwarves be capable warriors.” – see this is I think one thing that worked – when reading the books I’d assumed that all the dwarves were well hard because dwarves, while the film does a great job of making clear that this isn’t a battle-toughened warband picked by Thorin so much as all the dwarves he can get to come along, like a dwarvish version of a stag do.

  8. 9

    Just rewatched 2D/24fps with a whole gang (or “troop”) of FT elf-fanciers. Will write up in the next couple of days, but a couple of tiny points first

    1: very weird blooper when G is first good morning-ed by the pre-adventure bilbo (unless i’m being super-dim): bag end’s front door faces east, towards the misty mountains — according to maps, tolk’s pictures and the sense of direction the film gives you — yet the morning sun is here apparently shining from the west (if light on the trees on the nearby horizon are a guide)… why would bilbo not sit IN THE SUN when smoking his pipe of a morning? the next day this seems to have right itself
    2: KING THRANDUIL ON A MOOSE: ISN’T IT DELICIOUS?

  9. 10

    and adding 3: I put names to faces of all the dwarves this time, except I forgot to remember to note which is Fili and which is Kili (who I always think of as identical twins) (possibly bcz they have same-colour caps in the book), and I’m still not 100% certain which of Nori and Ori is which. My *guess* is that Nori is the with one the silliest (three-pointed) haircut, and Ori has a kind of flat haircut and uses the catapult in battles and wants chips in Rivendell. Obviously I could look this up but I didn’t!

  10. 11
    Sabina on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Ori is the catapult, Fili is the blond one. I trundled over to get out Appendix A and Kili is five years younger. Mysteriously, the movie is very insistent that Ori is the youngest of the lot… I feel like the Unexpected Party sequence succeeded at most of its goals except one, which is to lock in ALL the dwarves’ intros, such that the names link up with faces/beards. It gets about halfway in, then throws up its hands and *food pr0n*.

    Aza-azu-DIMRILL DALE (I’d written up comments for someone else): “In moviegoer terms it would have been difficult to explain why the dwarves were so incompetent as to muster an army *after* letting their king wander off by himself and get killed. (If you look at it through the lens of 21st century Earth logic, Thorin’s company is the third time the dwarves do this in a row. It’s depressing.) I also get why Jackson conflated Dain and Thorin, and Azog and Bolg(?) — same reason he conflated Glorfindel and Arwen in FotR, which riled me at the time but there you go. What I don’t get is why he would write out the sub-plot whereby the Necromancer is responsible for Thrain’s death, if the former is to be an onstage antagonist: it’s the one demonstrable direct wrong the Necromancer commits against The Actual Heroes Of Our Tale. But maybe, given that Gandalf isn’t supposed to know about Dol Guldur until “now,” the timeline was too difficult to work out. Or Jackson didn’t want to introduce the idea of the Dwarven Rings of Power at this late stage in the game (it doesn’t come back into the story; and you have no idea what happened to the other six. Dwarves don’t even wraith properly!).”

    Radagast: the bit that drives me nuts is, how did he get from Dol Guldur to west of Rivendell on a rabbit sled in… well, the movie made it seem like one non-stop action?? Does Radagast have the power to warp between forest groves????? It also wasn’t fully clear to me *where* Azog was — both times he seemed to be informed more quickly than distances should allow. But as you note PJ is good with scale and space in a completely different way from how Tolkien is good with scale and space; he’s a level designer. In fact I think he’s most effective when the story beat aligns with a single-level “gameplay goal,” eg. escaping Moria in FotR, Gimli and Legolas’ competition at Helm’s Deep… “Out of the frying pan,” here, is a beautifully economical example of “player nudging”: without being obviously manipulative, the entire sequence is designed to put Bilbo, for a few crucial seconds, in the position of being the only person physically able to come to Thorin’s aid (he’s closest to the ground because retrieving his sword from the dead warg delayed him getting up the tree; Gandalf is tied up in making sure the others don’t fall).

  11. 12
    Sabina on 7 Jan 2013 #

    JRRT’s dry narrational irony is very early-20th-century upper-middle-class English donnish, and doesn’t easily travel. Indeed plenty of people are massively allergic to it. PJ favours a much more circus-like humour — amazing acrobatic stunts and broad-clownish pratfalls. These of course are paradigmatically visual, but allow of little observational content. Tolkien isn’t Jane Austen, to be sure, but his wit (when it emerges) is amusedly social. PJ hands this entire element over to Martin Freeman and his face. Which is by no means a terrible decision, since Freeman turns out to be a great comic actor and deflationary straightman…

    Really like this; gets to the heart of why I think Freeman is essential to the enterprise (per Jackson’s story of watching Sherlock on his iPad and angsting and finally changing *his* schedule…). He embodies an element the LotR adaptation didn’t need.

    Galadriel and Gandalf: makes you wonder what had gone on way back when in the Blessed West, doesn’t it?

  12. 13

    Further quick Thrain-thorts (plus some others)

    We don’t yet know HOW Gandalf acquired the key and the map in the film, and will surely at some point learn this — either at Beorn’s in H2 or in the Director’s Cut of the Party at Bag End.

    I’m wondering if
    (a) Thrain escaped by the little thrush-door (we know Thror and Thorin didn’t)
    (b) failed to hook up with his dad or his son and wandered in the wilderness (he is not identified for us at Kheled-Zaram, though this may also be Director’s Cut material-to-come)
    (c) meaning Gandalf encountered him at his last lonely end SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN DOL GULDUR??
    (d) … or else at Dol Guldur pre-ruin many many years ago. (Whose fortress HAD IT BEEN it in the film, and who ruined it? — I think more was probably said about this at the White Council than we saw post-edit.)
    (e) You’re probably right about the seven dwarvish rings going unmentioned, at least in respect of Thrain. Dwarves don’t wraith up because they believe in reincarnation!

    Getting Radagast across the Misty Mountains: in fact it’s a big shlep for Galadriel also (unless she risked going across the Moria pass). Radagast at least does have TurboRabbits to take him down round the end and up past Isengard. Plus we don’t actually know how many weeks/months in the past his encounter with spiders and the Witch King was — the cut to Rhosghobhel (?) may actually be a flashback.

    First time we see Azog in now-time is at Weathertop, so he is west of the mountains. He is a Gundabad Orc, so pesumably can come down through Angmar etc. Unless he still shacks up in Moria with the Balrog.

    wtf did Saruman actually call the White Council FOR?? I mean what was on the actual Agenda he sent to Galadriel when requesting her attendance? All we actually watched was the telepathic AOB.

  13. 14

    And here’s the dwarf-cheat:

    Clearly identified bcz properly introduced at party:
    Thorin: any fule kno
    Balin: ditto, white hair, oldest by look
    Dwalin: bald with tattooed pate, dour Scottish warrior
    Fili and Kili: much younger, cheerfully not that bright but very brave, go round as a pair, Fili the blond one (thanks Sabina)

    Not well identified at the party:
    Oin and Gloin: Oin has unkempt white-grey hair and an ear-trumpet, Gloin is recognisable from LotR and has red hair

    Dori, Nori and Ori are the Three Stooges, almost: Dori is a bit fey, has very braided white hair and beard and a blobby face, offers Gandalf first beer then a (teenytiny) glass of spiced red wine at Bag End party; Nori has the silliest haircut, with its three distinctive spikes; Ori has a kind of yokel flat-top, a catapult and likes chips — he is offended at the Bag End party when Balin suggests some of the party may be a little dim (he seems a little dim).

    Bifur, Bofur and Bombur: Bombur is easy, he’s the fat one. Bofur is JAMES NESBIT, Irish, hat with wayward earpieces, actually chats to (and teases) Bilbo most often. Bifur is I think the hardest to spot — he has black and white hair, braided into a pattern, looks fierce the whole time and iirc hasn’t spoken (except possibly in backdrop chatter).

  14. 15

    And I think Andrew is right: this is a VERY MIXED BUNCH of old Erebor lags, young nitwits, cranks, oddballs and outliers. This entire enterprise surely shows that Thorin is actually more than a little bit mad (and ditto Gandalf): Bilbo’s version of the story doesn’t get across how loopy it all was, how poor were its chances of success, perhaps because to do so would be to blow his own trumpet in ways he disliked (there remaining plenty of ways he liked to blow his own trumpet).

  15. 16
    Andrew Farrell on 7 Jan 2013 #

    According to the press pack or similar, Bifur is quiet because he has a rusting Orc axe embedded in his head(!) and so mostly communicates in Khuzdul, the Dwarves’ secret language.

    I think we’ve probably escaped the seven rings, as their effects on sturdy dwarves are that they live longer and become obsessed with gold – it would have made some sense for Thror to have one, but then the psychic weight of the hereditary gold (and the Arkenstone) seems to be solely responsible for Thorin’s own slide later on.

    Gandalf’s plan can be read as less mad (though a little chilly) in the books: distract Smaug (and if possible Sauron) for a window of opportunity to try an assault on Dol Guldur. Actually retaking Erebor not required.

  16. 17

    Gandalf: “Who have you told about this?”
    Thorin: “No one! Only what’s in the press-pack!”

  17. 18
    Andrew Farrell on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Mindless pedantry: In the book, when they’re looking across the river in Mistwood (and I’m not sure what it is about that problem precisely that reminds me of Fighting Fantasy books…) Thorin calls out Fili, as the youngest, to have a look. But as p^nk sez, inconstancy thy name is John Ronald Reuel.

  18. 19
    Sabina on 7 Jan 2013 #

    There’s an intriguing suggestion that Galadriel is teleconferencing (vis the way she disappears at the end of the scene). Though IRL it was Christopher Lee who was spliced into the scene!

    Gimli’s genealogy is precise about the Thorin’s Company dwarves: Balin, Dwalin, Oin, and Gloin are great nobles of the realm (in fact the line of inheritance goes from Fili and Kili the heir-and-spare, to Dain Ironfoot and descendants, to Balin/Dwalin, then Oin/Gloin; by FotR Gimli is probably the noblest Erebor dwarf not the direct heir who’s young enough for the enterprise). Ori, Nori, and Dori are “more remote kinsmen,” and Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur are Moria dwarves not of Durin’s descent. PJ brings out the subtle class thing here: half of these dudes are in because they have direct stakes, the *oris are somewhat fatuous upper class types who’ve gotten an ideal into their heads, the b*urs are working class fellas (Bofur is clearly a miner) in either for the 1/14th share, or because Bifur insisted and evidently cannot be allowed to go by himself, being quite mad. (This would explain why Bofur, who’s one of the more aware ones, takes to Bilbo.)

  19. 20

    teleconferencing: if this then it’s a VERY good connection: she brushes a strand of gandalf’s hair back behind his ear :)

  20. 21

    bcz ♥

  21. 22
    Barry Freed on 9 Jan 2013 #

    Late to the party (again – and the dwarves have eaten all the food). You’ve really made me reevaluate the movie which I saw over the holiday with my nephews and mostly appreciated through their eyes. Last year one of them asked me for a story and I told them the Hobbit from memory, after that they asked me to read them the book and we were only able to get up to Beorn’s cabin by the end of the summer. I’m definitely going to give it at least a second viewing if not a third and that’s down to your write up here.
    Your explanation of why PJ expanded the movie because of the larger framework he’s working within makes a great deal of sense to me where I was very skeptical before.

    I also like that Radagast was expanded (he was definitely underutilized by JRRT and he is such an intriguing character) but I didn’t like the way he was characterized as more than a little bit loony. I get that he’s a hermit type guy out in the woods doing his Dr. Doolittle thing but that bird turd encrusted face was just too silly for words and really put me off the character. I’d like to read your thoughts on that point especially.

  22. 23
    Barry Freed on 9 Jan 2013 #

    Ugh, that old ugly Gravatar has followed me once again :(

  23. 24
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 9 Jan 2013 #

    Hi Barry! Very quickly re Radagast and the bird-poo: this struck me as a lift from/”hommage to” Merlin’s look in The Sword in the Stone (book not movie)? Merlin’s skullcap and wizard’s cape are (if I am remembering correctly) marked by Archimedes’ er contributions (the owl spends a lot of time on Merlin’s head). Not really a justification, but this is what I assumed was going on. Also worth recalling that the Wizards have been in middle-earth for some 2000 years — since c.1000 TA — so Rad has maybe spent QUITE a long time not mixing with people and caring only for animals and birds (with consequences for his attitudes to personal grooming).

  24. 25

    Also well worth reading Sabina‘s post on reasons for the expansion (we came to similar conclusions independently, but she says things I didn’t think of).

  25. 26
    Tom on 8 Jun 2013 #

    Just finished watching – over several nights – w/my 6yo who I read the book aloud to (the film works pretty well as a mini-series) (also I am a Bad Parent as it’s certificate 12 in the UK for its Xtreme Scary Orcs)

    Nothing to add to this fascinating discussion except to pick up on something Swanstep said above about youngsters going from this to the LOTR trilogy – I expect this is how mine will do it, and it struck me how the additional material gives this a decent chance of working well (better I suspect than Star Wars, which is the obvious – only? – similar example). The big future-trilogy call-backs are:

    - The Shire set-up: this is actually MORE pointless if you’ve seen LOTR – to our first-timer it’s just framing the story as an old hobbit telling his young relative of his adventures.

    - Ominous Saruman intro – I said to L, “That’s Gandalf’s Boss” and the rest of the scene made sense.

    - Gollum/Ring/Gandalf realising something’s up with the ring – Gollum gets a great introduction, the Ring is suitably spooky, and as long as Gandalf doesn’t say too much in H2 and H3 this will tie up fine.

    The main tip-off that PJ is assuming a familiarity with the LOTR films is the way major characters from them – Frodo, Saruman, and ESPECIALLY Galadriel – and a couple of concepts (Mordor!) get completely inadequate introductions. But I think despite that the film works as a first-of-six.

  26. 27
    Ed on 13 Jun 2013 #

    Trailer for Part 2: The Desolation of Smaug, here: http://www.hollywood.com/videos/trailer/55017618/the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug-trailer

    Looks like fun, but two immediate thoughts strike me:

    1) Smaug is like Jaws: better when you can’t see him

    2) Is it just me, or does Legolas look disturbingly like King Joffrey?

  27. 28
    swanstep on 13 Jun 2013 #

    @Tom, 26. Well, I guess the test for your little guy will be whether for him the LOTR ends up feeling like a re-run of The Hobbit or not. My worry, if you recall, was that introducing constant scary orc jeopardy to The Hobbit film not only bloated out the story and lost the more child-like tone of the Hobbit book, but also made it too similar to LOTR, a price that’ll be paid later.

    At any rate, An Unexpected Journey works better at home than in a movie theater. It’s quite fun to dip into I’ve found, whereas seeing it in one go brought out the harsh critical knives from me. Treating it as a mini-series seems to me likely to be very productive.

    As for Star Wars… I tend to think the following is the right order for young ‘uns to watch ‘em: 4, 5, 3, 6 (and just omit the dreadful 1 & 2 altogether – or perhaps use a few things like the pod-racing scene or the battle with Darth Maul as bonus scenes for more background on Annikin and Obi-wan). That is, treat Revenge of The Sith as one big explanatory flash-back immediately after the big revelation about Luke’s parentage.

  28. 29
    Ed on 31 Dec 2013 #

    Coming back here post-’Desolation’ viewing to acknowledge my foolishness @27: Smaug is *fantastic* when you see him.

    Overall, it’s much better than the first film, I think: less of the added material feels like Jackson is clock-watching, and the action sequences are more ingenious and more thrilling.

    Tom called it right about the structure @4, too. My question now is whether there’s enough material left for the last one.

  29. 30
    Tom on 31 Dec 2013 #

    I have plenty to say about TDOS (& said a bit on my Tumblr) but I am waiting in case Mark S blogs about it (esp. as his post has a very good title).

    re. #15/16 above – PJ has now made the enterprise LESS Quixotic and doomed by rewriting the Arkenstone plot: without it the dwarves can’t unite, so Thorin’s plan now completely pivots on the burglary element – this also resolves & maybe even explains the suicidal lose-king-then-muster-army behaviour pattern Sabina identifies upthread. I like this retcon a lot – it keeps Thorin as obsessive, arrogant, tactically not terribly shrewd, willing to throw Bilbo under a bus when it comes to the Arkencrunch, etc. (all the traits we know and love!) but it significantly reduces the level of deluded idiocy his canonical plan A requires.

    (In the book you get the feeling he’s secretly hoping to turn up and find Smaug – who has not been seen for years – dead. Can’t remember whether this figures in the films)

    Am I the only person who always pronounced it Sm-OW-g not Sm-OR-g?

  30. 31

    uncle kicks it UP

  31. 32
    lonepilgrim on 31 Dec 2013 #

    Uncle rools

    (except for B.Hateman etc.)

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