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.