A Word on the Desolation of Smaug – Extended Edition Trailer

The blu-ray for the extended edition of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug comes out November 4th in the United States. My copy will hopefully arrive that day but in the meantime here’s a trailer that offer two major bits that got axed from the theatrical edition.

First of all, though he looks a little tall to me in the trailer, that is Thráin, Thorin’s father, confronting Gandalf in Dol Goldur and shouting that Thorin must never enter Erebor. Finally, after getting a name drop in the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey perhaps what has happened to the last dwarven ring of power will be explained. Also, with the jumbling of time Jackson has done I can’t wait to see how he explains Gandalf getting the key and map from Thorin’s father before they’ve actually met in Dol Goldur, that being originally how he got it in the books.

Second, there’s Beorn, barely even in the theatrical release it seem, and this is just my guess, most of what was cut from the film involves Beorn. Before the release of the film there was talks of Beorn hunting down orcs at night to corroborate Thorin and Gandalf’s story. The other part seen in this trailer involving Beorn is in his garden with him chopping wood, possibly for a scene of exposition between Gandalf and Beorn or perhaps the introduction of the dwarves and the telling of what has happened to them so far just as in the books. Also, it looks like a scene in the forest involving Beorn and Gandalf is included as well. It could be possible that Beorn escorts Gandalf part of the way to Dol Goldur considering that the wizard has one of his horses.

Also in the trailer, besides reiterating what was in the theatrical release are scenes involving a conversation between Thorin and Bilbo upon arriving in Laketown and one between the Master of Laketown and Alfred of what Thorin’s quest means to him.

Not included in the trailer but released earlier this summer is extended Mirkwood scene mirroring the one in the book where they have to cross the river and poor Bombur falls into the enchanted water and the company is forced to carry him. You can see most of that scene here:

In interview, Richard Armitage mentions Bilbo and Thorin seeing the white stag, just like in the books, but this stag is projection of Thranduil into the forest. Thorin will try to kill it of course, because dwarf king no like elf king.

It’ll be interesting to see what else was cut that are scenes from the book and what Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh made up for their version of The Hobbit.

The Magic of Middle-Earth is Unexplainable, Nor Should It Be.

For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy – Galadriel

 

“Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician. There is one proviso : if there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories.

This video has been gaining traction today detailing how Legolas could not really see as far as he claims according to the laws of physics. This is a common occurrence when it comes to the fantastical things in Tolkien’s Legendarium. The problem is that Tolkien’s magic cannot be explained using a set of rules. It is more mythical and mysterious like the folk tales of Anglo-Saxon, of Norse sagas, Arthurian romance and probably the Old Testament.

I can’t believe I have to explain this but magic isn’t science, it doesn’t have to be explained. It can be, and that can be fun too. Brandon Sanderson is known for his magic systems. He even has what he calls Sanderson’s Laws for his series of rules when creating magic systems. Patrick Rothfuss goes to painstaking details to create rules for his magic system. Then comes naming. Naming cannot be explained like love, humor or music yet no one gives Rothfuss any guff trying to explain the rules of naming.

My point is you can have a magic system in a fantasy book that does not have rules and the work of J.R.R. Tolkien is a prime example. The problem is that “magic” in Middle-Earth is what men and hobbits calls thing they cannot explain leading to reactions like the Galadriel quote above. “Magic” is part of Arda (the earth) itself and the elves are connected permanently to Arda. What we as readers such as men and hobbit may see as magic the elves see as a natural part of their skills and their very being. It is more of a divine power with few explanations to how it really works.

Here is where critics start throwing out words like Deus ex machina without fully understanding what it means. What makes Tolkien’s works have that mythical feeling about them is that there are aspects that cannot be explained such as the elves, the wizards, Balrogs and beings like Sauron.

Partially to blame is Hollywood, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and films in general. Those are visual mediums, as such they need visuals to convey what is going on. The problem is magics is not all visual in any of Tolkien’s books. While the film showed forcefields and battles of light coming from his staff and slashes of his sword versus the Balrogs swipes and cracks of his whip the fight in the books is more of a battle of wills, a battle of power between to divine beings that we cannot see with barely any swordplay.

The Balrog reached the bridge. Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in his other hand Glamdring gleamed, cold and white. His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm.
‘You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.’
The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly onto the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.
From out of the shadow a red sword leaped flaming.
Glamdring glittered white in answer.
There was a ringing clash and a stab of white fire. The Balrog fell back and its sword flew up in molten fragments. The wizard swayed on the bridge, stepped back a pace, and then again stood still.
‘You cannot pass!’ he said.
With a bound the Balrog leaped full upon the bridge. Its whip whirled and hissed.

Neil Gaiman has a great quote about magic in film when talking about the film adaptation of A Winter’s Tale which by the way is a terrible movie mostly despite his warm review of it.

There’s a thing that happens in Hollywood, when you hand in a script with magic in it, and the people at the studio who read it say “We don’t quite understand… can you explain the rules? What are the rules here? The magic must have rules” and sometimes when they say that to me I explain that I am sure it does, just as life has rules, but they didn’t give me a rule book to life when I was born, and I’ve been trying to figure it out as I go along, and I am sure it is the same thing for magic; and sometimes I explain that, yes, the magic has rules, and if they read again carefully they can figure out what they are; and sometimes I sigh and put in a line here and a line there that spells things out, says, YES THESE ARE THE RULES YOU DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION and then everyone is very happy. 

I understand, I really do. It seems frustrating because we live in a world of science that strives to explain how the universe works and that can be beautiful but Middle-Earth isn’t our world. It is a epic myth such a The Odyssey, The Prose Edda, The Arthurian Legends and Beowulf. The problem is people still come along and try to explain it or disprove parts of it.

The other problem that pertains to the video about Legolas’s eyes is the perceptions that elves are just some kind of different humanoid type species. Elves are preternatural beings, outside the rules of nature yet also connected to nature itself. This comes from the Tolkien Gateway entry on elves under arts, crafts, powers and magic.

Other races often spoke of ‘Elf magic’, or of objects made by Elves as if they contained enchantments. It is unclear how accurate it is to call Elvish arts and crafts ‘magic’ or ‘enchanted’. Elves themselves only used these words when attempting to simplify or clarify how elvish-made things seemed to have a special quality that no other races were able to achieve. Powerful Elves seemed to have control over nature and the elements, their clothes seemed to shine with their own light, their blades seemed to never lose their sharpness. Less educated folks couldn’t explain these effects, so they simply called them ‘magic’. However, each race had their own special abilities that seemed incomprehensible to others. Hobbits had a seemingly supernatural ability to hide when they wished to remain unseen. Dwarves were unmatched in the art of mining and building halls underground. Wizards had such wisdom and knowledge of the world and all things in it that they appeared to have mystical powers. To each of these races, what they did had nothing to do with magic, it was just how they did things. It may have been so too with Elves. Whether there was any kind of mystical energy involved in the things Elves made can never be proved or disproved.

N.K. Jemisin who wrote the Inheritance trilogy wrote this great article for io9.com just on the subject of magic and rules titled Why does magic need so many rules? In it she makes a connection of what might be the blame for why modern fantasy readers and viewers need rules for magic in Dungeon and Dragons which has rules clearly defined using systems of numbers. Why stop there though? What about video games which also when it comes to magic has a system in place for how magic can be done but Jemisin argues…

It’s supposed to go places science can’t, defy logic, wink at technology, fill us all with the sensawunda that comes of gazing upon a fictional world and seeing something truly different from our own. In most cultures of the world, magic is intimately connected with beliefs regarding life and death – things no one understands, and few expect to. Magic is the motile force of God, or gods. It’s the breath of the earth, the non-meat by-product of existence, that thing that happens when a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it. Magic is the mysteries, into which not everyone is so lucky, or unlucky, as to be initiated. It can be affected by belief, the whims of the unseen, harsh language. And it is not…

 

In LotR, sometimes magic meant forging a ring with a chunk of soul melted into the alloy. Sometimes it meant learning obscure/dead languages, or talking to obscure/dead creatures. Sometimes it meant brandishing a particular kind of stick in a particular kind of way, and shouting really loudly. Sometimes it meant being born with pointy ears, and sometimes resisting magic meant being born with hairy feet. It was organic, embedded, a total crapshoot. And it was wonderful.

 

The point is, magic can have a system of rules such as Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series or Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, hell, my own fiction has a system of magic but quit trying to find fault in Tolkien’s magic system because magic doesn’t always need so many rules.

Jackson’s The Desolation of Smaug expands Tolkien’s The Hobbit for Film

 
     The director of The Hobbit film trilogy expands the film version of Middle-Earth for it’s second outing. While some have called turning the children’s novel into a three part film a stretch, Jackson manages to flush out the Tolkien’s world and characters. In the second part of the film trilogy Jackson continues to do without the slow pace some critics complained about in An Unexpected Journey.

     Right out of the gate the hobbit, the wizard, and the thirteen refugee dwarves of Erebor are still on the run from Azog the Defiler and his orcs. From there the breaks in the action are very short transitioning from Beorn’s House to Mirkwood to Thranduil’s Kingdom to Lake Town to Erebor. Beorn himself and the encounter with the spiders receive the short shaft of this film sure to be expanded upon in the extended edition.
     The second film is far more removed from the source material, but in doing so Jackson makes a better film than the first one. Adapting literally means to make suitable to requirement or conditions and Peter Jackson does a wonderful job in this film. It is different from the book and in one of the rare cases this change made it a better movie than if they strictly stuck to it.
     While Thorin continues down his path to Shakespearean-like tragic hero, Bilbo’s characterization takes a step away from the books that was refreshing. Bilbo struggles with the power of the ring, Unlike Frodo, who has information about the ring during The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo has no idea there is an outside force working against him. This makes his struggle with the power he now has a more inner conflict he needs to work out. In that way, he becomes a better foil to Gollum’s struggle with the ring then Jackson tried to do with Frodo.
     What is highly interesting is Jackson’s depiction of where Gandalf went off to during the journey. Technically, Jackson and company cannot use any material from Tolkien’s other works other than The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that explains exactly what Gandalf was up to when dealing with the Necromancer. Instead, Jackson surprisingly skirts around the story depicting what happens differently while remaining as close as possible to how it Tolkien canon it actually went. This also gave him the opportunity to backtrack over his mistakes in The Lord of the Rings with his depiction of Sauron as a giant eye.
     Like the Riddles in the Dark scene in the first firm, the highlight of the second was easily Bilbo’s interaction with Smaug. Benedict Cumberbatch was the perfect choice to depict Smaug, which the trailers so far do no justice to how incredible of a dragon he is. Even the often criticised scene of the dwarves and Smaug together is enjoyable just to see more Smaug. The dwarves cowering outside of the Lonely Mountain as depicted in the book would not have worked for this film.
     Complaints of Tauriel’s inclusion will come unfounded as her addition add great dramatic conflict to Thranduil’s philosophy of withdrawal from the problems of the world. Legolas’ inclusion comes more into question as he remains there for pretty action scenes. Despite this, another criticised moment that was highly enjoyable was the barrel action scene depicting it in a fun way that shows off Legolas’ action and a good transition to Laketown what would otherwise be a slow moment.
     Laketown and it’s inhabitant was another expansion of the small scene in the book that served to make a better movie, as Bard the Bowman, The Master and the town itself are more flushed out to make a better conflict for the story. Overall, with a few minor quibbles like changing Bard’s ancestor from a king to a lord and the shortened scenes involving Beorn and the spiders of Mirkwood, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is an example of a film where change is welcome.
     J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit will still remain the way it is, and this film does no harm in highlighting what is great about the author’s creation.

How Faithful Are ‘The Hobbit’ Films to Tolkien’s Books? by Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor

The Desolation of Smaug Review by Aaron Diaz, author of webcomic Dresden Codak

Movies Will Never Be Books, and TV too! by Me

A box without hinges, key, or lid – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Part 2

     If you read my last post about 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey then you know the jist of what this one was about. Also, I suggest reading my posts about adapting books to movies for my views on that sort of thing. Let’s get right to it.


Parts of the book I was glad wasn’t in the film.

The bits of children’s magic – I can honestly say I didn’t miss the mentioning of the Old Took’s magic studs that never came undone and fastened themselves. Nor did I miss William’s mischievous purse that Bilbo tries to steal, alerting the trolls to Bilbo’s presence when the hobbit tries to prove himself as a burglar.

The bit with the hoods – In the book, everyone of the dwarves has their own uniquely colored hood that distinguishes them from each other with eventually loaning Bilbo one that is too big for him. Instead of using brightly colored hoods to make them look different the movies give them different personalities, clothing, speech, appearance and ways of fighting. 

Parts of the book I was surprised to find in the film.

Good morning! – The banter between Gandalf and Bilbo in the beginning just screams “I don’t advance the plot! Cut me!” so I was highly surprised it wasn’t cut.

The Songs – Although changed a little bit, I was highly surprised to find any of Tolkien’s songs in the movie at all. Of course Blunt the Knives is on my top 100 songs played on my iTunes now. I’m wondering if there will be any songs in the next two films, who knows?

This turned out a lot shorter than I thought it would, so I’ll post it shortly after Part I.

More like a grocer than a burglar – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Part I

     Last year’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was met with mixed reviews ranging from people who were either expecting the book, or people who were expecting The Lord of the Rings films. I, on the other hand, loved it. I saw it three times in the theater and about eight times repeatedly on blu-ray. The movie is a strange case for movie adaptations because it takes a lot of liberties with the story of the book, but it manages to keep in little aspects of the book that you’d think would be cut day one for a movie script. What else it manages to do is keep to key themes Tolkien often included in his books.

      Let’s get the negative out of the way first.

Three changes from the books I disliked.

Grocer vs. Burglar – I want to note the distinction really quickly that I used “dislike” instead of “hate”, two very different meanings. In the film when the line “He looks more like a grocer than a burglar” is delivered by Thorin, everyone has a nice laugh and Bilbo looks at Thorin and then to Gandalf in confusion, as he has yet to be informed he’s to be hired for burglarious activities. The entire dinner scene after Thorin’s arrival has Bilbo basically trying to get out of whatever adventure Gandalf is planning. 
     Switching the line from Gloin after hearing the details of the adventure to when Thorin makes his entrance not only takes away a good line from one of the secondary dwares of the film but makes the line seem more cliche movie-like. By that I mean, “hey Thorin’s the main dwarf so he gets the best lines as soon as he makes his entrance.” My bigger problem though is Bilbo’s reaction, and this might be one of those changes that without the inner monologue the screenwriter’s felt it would be hard to convey. In the book, we see Bilbo’s inner conflict with the two sides of him, the bookish Baggins side and the adventurous Took side. In the film there’s is no conflict at all until the argument between Gandalf and Bilbo in his sitting room where the family line is mentioned. We don’t get any visual confirmation of Bilbo’s inner conflict until the brief scene of Bilbo awake in his bedroom listening to the dwarves singing Thorin’s song. I have no doubt that Martin Freeman would have been able to give a performance to show this inner conflict beforehand as someone else said “Martin Freeman might be the best hobbit who ever hobbited.

Azog’s Hand – I honestly don’t mind Azog the Defiler not being killed off and his son taking his place. This might confuse moviegoers who didn’t see the difference between Saruman’s orcs and Sauron’s orcs with how they created, given the scene with the Uruk-hai basically being born from mud and slime of the ground, the question of how orcs reproduce would come into question. The scene I bring into question is the flashback to the Battle of Moria, in which Thorin Oakenshield earns his nickname. It’s all fine and good until Thorin cuts off Azog’s hand. I get what they’re trying to do, link the evil of Azog to the evil of Sauron, raising the unexpected villain up to the level of the Dark Lord and foreboding the darkness settling in on Middle-Earth. The problem is, it seems rehashed more than repeating thematic and not only does it not raise up Azog as a villain, but lessens the scene in the Fellowship prologue with Isildur and Sauron, putting Sauron on the same level as an orc.

Bilbo’s Sword – This one stems from my study of Corey Olsen, The Tolkien Professor’s criticism of The Hobbit but has been so ingrained into my understanding of the book now that I can’t shy away from it. In the book, Bilbo’s discover the knife he would later call Sting on his own in the Troll’s cave along with Gandalf taking Glamdring and Thorin taking Orcrist while in the film Gandalf discovers Sting on his own, handing it to Bilbo with a bit of exposition and how it’ll glow blue. Gandalf’s explanation takes away from the development of Bilbo later on in what Corey Olsen and I believe is the turning point for Bilbo.

But in slapping all his pockets and feeling all round himself for matches his hand came on the hilt of his little sword – the little dagger that he got from the trolls, and that he had quite forgotten; nor fortunately had the goblins noticed it; as he wore it inside his breeches. Now he drew it out. It shone pale and dim before his eyes. “So it is an elvish blade, too,” he thought; “and goblins are not very near, and yet not far enough.” But somehow he was comforted. It was rather splendid to be wearing a blade made in Gondolin for the goblin-wars of which so many songs had sung; and also he had noticed that such weapons made a great impression on goblins that came upon them suddenly.

The scene in the film yet again establishes Bilbo as a humble hobbit and not an adventurer or someone who intends to use a sword, setting up the scene in which he shows Gollum mercy, but it takes this turning point away from Bilbo in the film. It’s after he realizes his sword is the stuff of legends that he decides there’s no going back. It’s an important moment for him, on his own, without Gandalf or the dwarves to help him when he encounters Gollum. Sting is just as important to Bilbo’s development as is the One Ring and the film sort of fails to establish this.

Additions to the film I enjoyed.

Radagast the Brown – Even though he does a terrible job of drawing off the Wargs and Orcs the addition of Radagast the Brown imbeds An Unexpected Journey with a theme very familiar to Tolkien’s work that the Lord of the Rings film trilogy failed to realize at times. The theme of nature and the natural world being affected by the dark power infected Dol Guldur as well as the theme Gandalf mentions to Galadriel later in the film.

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.

His addition also brings a lighter tone to the film that I believe is refreshing.

Dol Guldur, The Necromancer, The Witch-king of Angmar and the Morgul Blade –  While everyone was complaining that they turned the Hobbit into three films, I got excited because this meant everything only mentioned in the appendix of The Lord of the Rings would come to fruition in these movies. In the book Gandalf just disappears for a bit, says he took care of the Necromancer and wanders back into story. Now in these films we have Sauron in his Necromancer body bringing back the Nazgul, including the Witch-king of Angmar who I believe was underused in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Gandalf and the White Council basically on their own side-quest that will have grave repercussions for The Lord of the Rings. I really hope we get to see the Necromancer in the two films, as we know Benedict Cumberbatch did some acting for it.

Everything changed about the dwarves (so far)- Until the very end of the Hobbit, after Smaug has been taken down the dwarves are kind of goofy, falling over each other, getting captured by trolls, orcs, and elves. None of them are very distinctive at all except with a line or two here and there until later on when Thorin becomes infected with dragon-sickness. In the films, they’re much more unique with drastically different physical appearances, personalities, speech patterns and motivations though sometimes subtle. In the film you can see Balin and Bofur taking a liking to Bilbo, and how Fili and Kili are young warriors trying to prove themselves to their Uncle Thorin, with a bit of youthful mischief still in them. You can see Ori as the baby of the group, a bit more naive than the rest of them and Balin is the eldest, wise grandpa dwarf, friendly but a bit cynical and cantankerous.
     Then there is Thorin Oakenshield, the tragic king of the likes of Hamlet or Macbeth as compared to Aragorn’s King Arthur. Thorin is kingly but filled with anger and mistrust, unable to discern friend from foe, easily holding grudges against those who have wronged him. His progression from dismissing Bilbo to embracing him was great for this story and I am even more excited to see his development in the next two movies.
     Keep reading for Part 2 in which I discuss what I am glad they left out from the books and what I was surprised to find they put in.