The Hobbit: AUJ, Contemplating Change

It’s been a week since I first saw The Hobbit film, and I’ve spent much of my free time since contemplating the changes made. I warn you now, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, this and future posts should be avoided until you do. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s own first impression.

I happened across the LotR marathon on TV today, and it got me to thinking about Jackson and Co’s treatment of Tolkien’s works. As much as I may get on their case for adding complete fabrications, much of their adaptations just stretch the truth so to speak. Sometimes it’s masterful, as in the fleshing out of Gollum’s character, and sometimes it’s downright disasterous, as in Theoden, Faramir or Treebeard.

The same is true of the changes made in this first part of The Hobbit. Most of the changes involve stretching the written word, sometimes with information from the LotR appendices, and sometimes from the minds of the writers/director. I can say, from my initial viewing, that unlike some changes made in the previous trilogy (basically all TTT!), the choices made by Jackson and Co. make sense and further their goals in making this new film trilogy…and if done right will only strengthen the final product. My only tiff with this is it does end up creating a new tale, rather than a realization of the original tale.

So the changes.

The most fundemental change is the introduction of Azog, an orc cheiftain from Thorin’s past. I am assuming his role will largely be to unite the three films with a common villain, which will also help bring clarity to the Battle of Five Armies. I can understand his insertion, and would at least half-heartedly support it if not for one thing: the scene “Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire.” Now his appearance here doesn’t bother me, it actually makes sense and lends a heightened level of urgency to the moment. However, to have Thorin go after him and subsequently have Bilbo fight to save his life is a complete and utter breach of character. Thorin’s action of course makes sense and furthers our view of his anger and pride, but why couldn’t the eagles have swooped in then?

Well…the answer is simple. Breaking the movie off here, there has been little opportunity to build up Bilbo’s story arch or to ingratiate him with the dwarves. I understand that, and how it makes for a better film ending, but it fundementally changes Bilbo’s story arc, irreparably I would say. Would it not be enough to have Bilbo escape on his own, and sneak past the Dwarven guards as in the book? Weak yes, but still consistant with the stature of Bilbo at this time. This move ultimately lessens the courage and ingenuity of Bilbo when he saves the dwarves from the Spiders and later from the Elven King. What unites all of Bilbo’s saving actions is not his valour in arms, but his intelligence and wit, as is emphatically proven with the two episodes above and his dealings with Smaug. I do not yet know how this quality can be regained.

The second major change/addition is the White Council. It is alright in and of itself, but I found the content of their discussion troublesome. The whole idea of the Morghul blade is intriguing evidence, but the entire notion of the Witch-king’s tomb and all of that is utterly perplexing. I also fear Radaghast has gone the way of Gimli, and though he makes for a fun character, it is ultimatley demeening to the idea of the Istari. In the end, these changes do not bother me over much as the White Council’s doings are never really described in detail, so some freedom is to be expected. I’d put this change in the “wait and see” category, much like the insertion of Azog.

Most of the other changes are rather simple, much less noticeable, and generally unobjectionable:

Thorin’s complete disdain for all elves, including those of Rivendel. Which helps to establish his gruff and stubborn character, but fails to lend him any wisdom.

The encounter with the Trolls-giving Gandalf’s lines to Bilbo, which I thought was actually quite clever.

Bilbo trying to leave to go home on Goblin-town’s front porch was good for demonstrating Bilbo’s home sickness, an ever repeated element of the book, but still a bit distasteful since this could have been used as a moment to build up Bilbo instead of bringing him down…he was the one to notice the crack opening after all!

I also noticed the idea of “magic” really pervaded this movie, in a way it never did in the previous films or for that matter in the books. Tolkien never really describes what the Istari do, or what manner of magic the Elves may have. The only time he overtly mentions magic is in the scene with Galadriel, Sam and Frodo at the Mirror. And here it is explained as a sort of knowledge or science beyond the understanding of the hobbits. The idea of magic as such smacks too much of fan-fiction and gaming, and does not ring true in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. That is not to say that magic or miracle does not exist, but the treatment is much more of an enigma; the unexplained skills of the wise. It’s not a big deal, but as it is repeatedly used in the current film, it did bug me.

The last change of note to me is literally only seconds long, and yet I absolutely hate it. I can forgive almost all the other changes listed above, but this one has irked me ever since I saw it: the finding of the Ring. I will of course be posting on this in more detail, but in brief the nature of the finding of the Ring in the film fundementally changes the nature of Middle Earth. It denies the element of chance and Providence by which Bilbo is “meant” to find the Ring. In the film’s case, the finding of the Ring is a misnomer, Bilbo sees Gollum lose the Ring and consciously decides to pick it up. This negates all element of chance, completely changing the nature of the Ring’s coming to the hobbits.

I will be posting on each of these topics in further detail in the future, but figured I’d summarize the salient points now, and flesh them out as I reread the source material.

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4 thoughts on “The Hobbit: AUJ, Contemplating Change

  1. I agree. The changes that concern me the most are the changes to Bilbo’s character, the need to make him a palatable hero much earlier in the story than he should have been. Though I found the “Riddles in the Dark” scene delightful for the most part and loved how Jackson connected this Gollum to the Smeagol/Gollum duality we later get to know, I also hated the “finding” of the Ring for exactly the reasons you state.

  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about the moment when Bilbo finds the Ring, for I too was horrified to watch it fall from Gollum knowing this would mean Bilbo would know exactly where it came from and would deliberately pick it up. I’ve only seen the film once so I could be wrong, but it seems that it is actually the audience alone who watches the Ring fall, for when we next view Bilbo he is hidden and seemed not to be looking directly at Gollum in that moment. So it could lightly be argued he does not in fact see it. But he does seem to come upon it rather directly, and the role darkness plays in the book in that moment is clearly not possible cinematically, alas. It’s interesting to compare that moment in The Hobbit film to the same moment as filmed for The Fellowship of the Ring, when Ian Holm as Bilbo really does seem to stumble upon the Ring in the dark, commenting with curiosity, “A Ring!” before hearing Gollum’s wail of its loss in the echoing background. If only we were able to change those cinematic moments that seem out of step with Tolkien’s world and keep the exquisite beauty of those the filmmakers crafted perfectly!

    • The second time I saw the film, I saw what you describe, the “audience sees, but Bilbo does not” conceit, which made the scene somewhat easier to stomach. I still would have preferred something closer to Ian Holm’s finding of the Ring…crawling along the ground…brushing up against it…etc…rather than reaching down and picking it up, which implies either 1) Bilbo knew it was there or 2) he knew to look.

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