Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bilbo the Scout

The Movie: Bilbo Baggins is surreptitiously spying on something in the mountains. It's Azog, in the distance, leading a pack or warg-riding orcs. He is on the hunt. Bilbo hides to avoid being seen, then dashes off to warn the others. On his way back down the rocks, the hobbit notices a massive bear roaring in the distance.

"It's a pity I don't own some kind of magical necklace that would make hiding easier. Better crouch behind these rocks!"

The Book: No such scene occurs.

My Opinion: I just wanted to take a minute to talk about how Bilbo Baggins is treated differently in the movies than in the book. The movies have taken efforts to make Bilbo a more competent member of the team; in fact, it'd be fair to say that his given purpose is almost as important as Thorin's, and the rest of the dwarves are really only there to escort him to Erebor (more on that alter, when I talk about the Arkenstone). In the books, Bilbo does not scout ahead of the team, or look around for enemies. Perhaps he might have, if the orcs were in The Hobbit, and then again, maybe not. Bilbo's heroic battle with Azog is a complete fabrication of the movies. He is not this brave or helpful in the books, at least not at this stage of the story.

Personally, I like the change. I think having the burglar scout around for enemies makes sense, and I enjoy seeing Bilbo actually do stuff. Plus, since the "Bilbo finds his courage" character arc happened earlier than Mirkwood in Peter Jackson's version, it doesn't seem like a gross misinterpretation of his character. However, this is just my opinion - there's a lot to be said against the decision to take a main character and completely change his motivations and personality. At this point, in The Hobbit, the eponymous protagonist is still being carried (quite literally) by his companions. 

Thorin Meets Gandalf

The Movie: A short cloaked figure is seen walking through the city of Bree in the rain - it's Thorin.

No, not him.

Two menacing figures follow him into the Prancing Pony tavern. He is served dinner by what looks to be hobbit woman, and as he eats, he notices the two menacing figures staring at him. He reaches for his sword. The bad guys stand up, but whatever they're about to do, it's interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Gandalf.

Gandalf sits down at Thorin's table and introduces himself. At this point, apparently Thorin and Gandalf had heard of each other, but never met. Thorin says he had been looking for his father Thrain, near Dunland. Thorin asks Gandalf about his relationship with Thrain. Gandalf admits that he told Thrain to return to Erebor, reclaim his throne, and kill Smaug. He urges the same to Thorin. Gandalf mentions that there are men looking for Thorin - he produces a cloth message, with a bounty for Thorin's head written in Black Speech. Thorin argues that he needs the Arkenstone to rally his people. Gandalf recommends a burglar.

The Books: No such scene occurs in The Hobbit. A similar scene is described in Return of the King, Appendix A. There is no mention of the two men (or anybody) following Thorin, or a bounty on his head. In the book, Thorin approaches Gandalf in Bree and asks him for help. Gandalf says that he has been thinking about the Dragon of Erebor. The book makes no mention of Thorin's purpose in Bree, only that he was returning west from a journey.

My Opinion: This was a really good scene to show, even if it wasn't in The Hobbit. Sure, there are some differences, but they're mostly minor: who cares if Thorin approaches Gandalf, or vice versa? Who cares which of them had the idea to reclaim Erebor? The important stuff is the same - Gandalf is worried about Smaug being used "with terrible effect," and Thorin wants his home back, and they both run into each other at Bree and decide to come up with a plan to kill the dragon. This scene does a good job of reminding the audience of what's going on, while adding a little bit of new information.

I did not care for the the "menacing figures." In fact, that whole little subplot just raised a whole host of questions and inconsistencies. In the previous movie, neither Gandalf nor Thorin seemed to know that he was being hunted - they actually argue about it the first time Azog's orc pack attacks. And what's up with the order being given in Black Speech? The Dark Tongue of Mordor kind of gives away where it came from. Couldn't it have been written down in Common Speech? Shouldn't some serious alarm bells start ringing in Gandalf's when he sees the language made up by Sauron for his orcs?

You know, for a demi-god renowned for his age and wisdom, Gandalf can be pretty fucking stupid sometimes.

I'm also confused about the Thrain subplot they've been kicking around. Thorin knows that Thrain was captured, tortured, and killed at Dol Guldur. Is the movie suggesting that he's still alive somewhere around the Dunlands? I don't want to weigh in too heavily right now, until I've seen the third movie, but I'm wary every time Thrain's name is mentioned with such an air of mystery to it. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Smaug Awakens

The Movie: The thrush flies to the ruins of the Lonely Mountain, and picks up a snail to crack against the stone wall. The sound can be heard inside, echoing in the vast chambers of Erebor where the halls are completely filled with gold. Smaug, buried in the mountains of treasure, shifts enough for us to see the side of his face. His eye opens; he is awake.

Here's hoping that Thror's treasure had a Keurig or something.

The Book: No such scene occurs.

What difference does it make? Showing Smaug's eye has no impact on the rest of the plot. It stands to reason that, at some point in the novel, the dragon opened his eyes.

My Opinion: I remember being a little surprised at how much gold, exactly, Smaug had in this scene. The book is never explicit with any solid number, but it's enough for the massive dragon to comfortably lay on. Tolkien's own drawing of Smaug has a much smaller pile of gold, but it's hardly fair to say that Peter Jackson's interpretation is wrong. The fact of the matter is, Smaug has a lot of money - a nearly unassessable amount.

This scene is awesome, and Smaug's eye looks amazing. Anybody who disagrees with this sentiment is objectively incorrect.

Thorin Awakens

The Movie: Gandalf rushes over to Thorin, who is still unconscious. The wizard places his hand over Thorin's face, closes his eyes, and mumbles a few magic words. Thorin's eyes snap open, and he immediately asks about Bilbo. When Gandalf assures him that the hobbit is safe, Thorin gets on his feet, and begins to scold Bilbo Baggins for getting into danger. He repeats his earlier sentiments that the hobbit did not belong with them, then says "never have I been more wrong" and embraces Bilbo.

"You know you don't have to insult people before saying nice things, right? You could've just said the nice things without the insults."

After Thorin's Company watches the eagles fly away, Thorin sees, in the distance, a lone mountain - Erebor is finally in their sight. Oin notices a bird flying to the mountain, and mistakes it for a raven (in accordance with the portents). Gandalf corrects him; it is a thrush. Either way, Thorin takes it as a good omen. Bilbo agrees: the worst is finally behind them.

Except for the dragon. You remember, the whole fucking point of the adventure?

The Book: No such scene occurs.

What difference does it make? Very little. The events of this scene have little impact on the rest of the plot. 

My Opinion: Thorin's conversation with Bilbo is thematically superfluous. We just had a scene where Bilbo won the dwarves' respect - when he gave that speech about helping them retake their home. Then the hobbit actually puts actions to his words and proves his loyalty, honor, and bravery, by attacking Azog to protect Thorin. The "fakeout" bit of the conversation was just silly. This whole conversation should have been axed. It was nothing but a bad rehash of themes that have already been resolved.

Also: since when Gandalf do that kind of healing? I don't exactly want to get into the quagmire that is "Tolkien's inconsistent descriptions of magic," but, I'm pretty sure he can't do that. Gandalf's healing powers have been referred to on two occasions: with Gwaihir, and with Theoden. Gwaihir once mentioned how Gandalf had pulled an arrow out of him, and Gandalf helped lift Theoden's dark spirits... but those are different. As with several of Peter Jackson's changes, I'm not sure why it was included at all. What purpose do these new powers serve? Why invent powers them at all? Just have Thorin wake up.

Those nit-picks aside, this is a fine scene. The movie needs an ending; rolling credits after the eagles picked the dwarves up would have been awful. Showing the Company gazing wistfully at Erebor in the distance is a good, satisfying end to the movie. 

And an excuse for Thorin to stare nobly into the distance one last time.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Eagles

The Movie: Gandalf's moth returns to him. Dori loses his grip on Gandalf's staff, and he and Ori fall. They are caught by a giant eagle, however, and saved. The eagles attack Azog's pack, killing several wargs and orcs by picking them up and dropping them off the cliff side. One eagle picks up the unconscious body of Thorin, as well as his sword, but his oaken shield falls to the ground.

Thorin Oakenshield loses his oaken shield, which he had obtained after defeating Azog in battle, after he loses a battle with Azog. Ready... set... SYMBOLISM!

Azog roars with fury as the eagles carry away the rest of the dwarves, as well as Bilbo and Gandalf. There's little he can do as the eagles soar away, flying throughout the night. The eagles drop Thorin's Company off on top of a huge rock. far from danger, and fly away.

The Book: Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles, sees the fire from his perch far away. He hears the wargs, and correctly guesses that the goblins are up to some mischief. Gwaihir and his eagles are described as noble and proud, and they hate goblins - they make it their mission to stop whatever wickedness the goblins may be up to, and to drive them back to their caves. The eagles attacked the goblin pack, and snatch up Thorin's Company to take them to safety.

See, it's not just Peter Jackson. This is apparently the only way Tolkien knows how to resolve a climax.

The eagles land at their eyrie, called the Great Shelf. One eagle refers to the dwarves as prisoners, which leaves Bilbo trembling with fear, until he sees Gandalf chatting amicably with Gwaihir. He learns that the eagle referred to them as "prisoners rescued from the goblins," not captives of the eagles. Gandalf, in fact, had once done a favor for the Lord of the Eagles. They were honored guests, and the eagles even brought hares and sheep for the dwarves to cook. The next morning, the eagles refuse to fly the dwarves too close to where men live, afraid of being shot down. Gandalf asked to be taken as close to the Lonely Mountain as possible, so the eagles dropped their passengers off on a great rock several miles away.

The eagles just expected them to climb down, I guess? 

What differences does it make? Peter Jackson took several liberties with the eagles. Notice that they are never summoned by Gandalf in the book - there is no moth, and they investigate the fire and goblin's attack on their own. They did not even know Gandalf was present when they attacked the goblins. Further, in the book, the dwarves are taken back to the eagle's eyrie and treated as guests, allowed to eat and rest. They engage Gandalf in conversation, and even explain why they cannot take the Company too far.

My Opinion: Does Peter Jackson just fucking hate Tolkien's intelligent animals or something? First the wargs, then this. The eagles have been transformed from a noble, intelligent race into some birds that Gandalf has trained to come at his call.

It matters. I can't tell you the number of people who have asked, either in this movie or the end of Return of the King, why the eagles didn't just fly them all the way to their destination in the first place. The books give a reason: the eagles chose not to, for whatever reason (it's honestly not too explicit in RotK). The movies just leave the question hanging. Why can't Gandalf's pet birds fly a little longer? They're not shown to have any intelligence at all, or any ability to really make their own decisions. It's as if the movie literally stripped away every example of these birds having some kind of cognition, and I can't for the life of me understand why.

The moth thing was stupid, too. I'm going to just clear this up right now: there is no moth in the books. Any of the books. Gandalf never uses a moth to call for the eagles. In fact, Gandalf never summons eagles. They came to the Battle of the Five Armies, and the Battle of the Black Gate, of their own accord. They came to help Thorin's Company escape the fire and the goblins because... well, they fucking hate goblins. And remember when they came to rescue Gandalf from Saruman's tower? You know, the first time the movies had him use that goddamn moth?

Radagast sent them.

Peter Jackson worked really hard to make Radagast suck so bad.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bilbo and Thorin Fight Azog

The Movie: Most of the dwarves are hanging on for dear life. Gandalf is the only thing keeping Dori and Ori from falling to their deaths. Thorin, however, is able to find his footing. He stands up and, wielding Orcrist and his oaken shield, runs toward Azog.

"Sword, check. Hair flowing in the wind, check. Piece of wood, check. There's no way I can lose."

Their fight is unfortunately very short; Azog, mounted on his white warg, makes quick work of the Dwarven Prince. The dwarves look on in horror; Balin screams, and Dwalin almost falls in his hurried attempts to rescue Thorin. Only Bilbo is able to regain his footing. As Thorin lays defeated, about to be beheaded by one of Azog's minions, Bilbo draws his own sword, collects his courage, and charges. The hobbit knocks Azog's lieutenant to the ground, and after a short grapple, stabs the orc to death.

Azog's face.

Bilbo then stumbles to where Thorin's body lays, as the rest of the orc pack surrounds him. He swings his sword a few times, in a vain attempt to intimidate them. Azog gives the command to kill the hobbit, but the rest of the dwarves suddenly charge in before the orcs can attack. After a short fight, Azog personally directs his attention toward Bilbo. He is about to kill the hobbit when the moth returns to Gandalf.

The Book: There is no such scene.

What difference does it make? This changes the events of the book a great deal. This scene is not in the book, and adds a violent battle that somewhat changes the tone of the scene. At this point, Peter Jackson has taken a step beyond "adaptation" and is now using Tolkein's book as a springboard to tell his own story. Furthermore, it is not in Bilbo Baggins' nature to rush into a battle like this. He is represented as braver and more skilled with a sword than he should be, according to the source material.

My Opinion: I have to admit to some bias, here. I'm what many refer to as a Bilbo Baggins fanboy. Any change that gives him more screen time and makes him look better is a good change in my eyes. As long as they keep it in character, I'm going to like it. That said... I loved this change.

I understand that this is a controversial viewpoint to have. This whole scene smacked of "action movie," and "obvious videogame tie-in." I can understand rolling your eyes as a 60 pound hobbit tackles a full-grown orc (in heavy armor!) to the ground. I've heard a lot of griping about Bilbo's character arc being complete far too soon, that he's not supposed to be killing things until the spiders of Mirkwood. I'm not convinced. His character growth isn't completely finished, and I'm fine with Bilbo seeing battle at the end of the first movie, instead of halfway through the second. It gives a nice climax that, honestly, the movie needed; a truly faithful adaptation would have ended things on a boring, ho-hum note.

Look closely during this scene. Bilbo is fucking terrified. And, with one rather unfortunate exception (when Bilbo joins the dwarves in combat after defending Thorin), Bilbo is terrible with his sword. He's figured out which is the dangerous end, sure, but otherwise just sort of swings it around clumsily. He doesn't know what he's doing, and is clearly in over his head.

He's just lucky he doesn't drop the damn thing.

Those who look down on this scene because Peter Jackson has turned Bilbo Baggins into some kind of action hero have missed the point entirely. Bilbo is scared, unskilled, and completely out of his element. But he's the first to jump to Thorin's defense, even if it means facing half a dozen mounted orcs by himself. Bilbo Baggins has a lot of heart, and this scene displays it better than the book ever did.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fifteen Birds in Five Firtrees

The Movie: There is no equivalent sequence.

The Book: As the goblins feed the fires by the dwarves' trees, they sing a wicked song:

Fifteen birds in five firtrees,
their feathers were fanned in a fiery breeze!
But, funny little birds, they had no wings!
O what shall we do with the funny little things?
Roast 'em alive, or stew them in a pot;
fry them, boil them and eat them hot?

Burn, burn tree and fern!
Shrivel and scorch! A fizzling torch
To light the night for our delight,
Ya hey!

Bake and toast 'em, fry and roast 'em!
till beards blaze, and eyes glaze;
till hair smells and skins crack,
fat melts and bones black
in cinders lie
beneath the sky!
So dwarves shall die,
and light the night for our delight,
Ya hey!
Ya hoy!

What difference does it make? There is no significant difference to the plot, narrative, or any characterizations due to the lack of the singing.

My Opinion: As cool a song as this was, it just wouldn't have worked in film. I'm not even sure it worked in the book, to be honest. Most of Tolkein's songs make it seem like his world has this rich oral history; that all cultures and civilizations have in common a love for song. Songs like this, though, skirt the edges between "rich oral history" and "full-fledged musical." Are we, the audience, supposed to believe that the goblins have some reason to have memorized this song about a bunch of dwarves burning alive in the trees? Or did they all just spontaneously come up with the same lyrics at once? Even if it didn't stink of "sudden musical" there's something decidedly non-intimidating about carefully choreographed song, mid-battle. I'm happy this was left out.

"Alright guys, don't forget to start the chorus after the third refrain. And for Christ's sake, Gary, watch your D-sharps."