Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mirkwood

The Movie: Thorin's Company, now less a wizard, walk the path of Mirkwood single file. The woods are dark, and choked with vines and cobwebs. As they get deeper into the forest, the dwarves begin to complain about the stuffiness of the air. This journey seems to take no more than a full day. The path disappears suddenly, as if it had been swallowed by a ravine. The dwarves search for the path, but by then the black magic of Mirkwood has taken effect: they are lost and suffering from some sort of supernatural confusion. Their sense of reality starts to become skewed; Bofur finds his own tobacco pouch and fails to realize it belongs to him, Bilbo confuses Dori for himself, etc.

No wonder Radagast lives here; just breathe the air for a free acid trip!

Bilbo, though suffering the same hallucinations of the rest of his party, is the first to realize that they've been traveling in circles. Thorin says that they must go east, but without being able to see the sun, none of them know how to find their way. The dwarves begin to fight, and Thorin realizes that they are being watched. Bilbo climbs a tree to see the sun. He breathes the clean air above Mirkwood, and is comforted by the sun's light and a swarm of blue butterflies. He finds east quickly, and realizes that they are almost out of the woods.

The Book: Thorin's Company walk the path, single-file. The forest was filled with massive cobwebs (though none spanning the path), black squirrels, and strange noises all around. The woods become incredibly dark; at night, it is completely pitch black, like it was in the goblin's caves. All of the dwarves, and Bilbo, hate the stillness and stuffiness of the air. During the nights, they could see glowing eyes in the dark, of various sizes and colors. Their rations begin to grow low, implying that the journey through Mirkwood took at least two weeks. The path is blocked by a river one day; heeding Beorn's warning, they do not drink from it or refill the water skins.

Bilbo, his eyes the sharpest, makes out an abandoned boat on the other side of the river. Fili throws a hook tied to a rope, guided by where Bilbo tells him the boat is, and on the third try he catches the hook to the boat and pulls it to their side of the river. Thorin decides that they will cross in groups of four: Dwalin and Bombur go last, because Bombur is so fat he needs to be on the lightest load. After all the dwarves had safely crossed the river, as Bombur was getting out of the boat, a great deer charges the dwarves and leaps across the river. Bombur gets knocked into the water.

Every group of friends has a Bombur.

The dwarves pull Bombur out, and he is fast asleep. Thorin's Company is forced to carry him for several days, even after they run out of food. When he finally does awake, he has forgotten everything since Bilbo's house. Thorin's Company does not lose the path through any of this. They hear eerie singing and laughing in the woods, which disquiets Thorin enough to order Bilbo to climb a tree so they could find out how much longer they must endure the forest. The hobbit does so. He basks in the sunlight and watches hundreds of black butterflies flying around his face. However, he is not comforted by what he sees - he sees no end to the woods in any direction.

My Opinion: I am very disappointed by how Peter Jackson handled Mirkwood. I was looking forward to seeing the enchanted river, but apparently that part of the book had to be cut for time. I guess to make room for exciting elven love triangles, I don't know. That's a big part of the chapter, though. Similar to the caves where Bilbo met Gollum, there seems to be an odd source of light present. Mirkwood is supposed to be dark and terrifying. Everything is just too saturated in orange and blue to really be menacing.

These butterflies are black in the book, but to be fair, I think Peter Jackson suffers withdrawal if his movie goes more than ten minutes without filling the screen with orange and blue.

I did enjoy, however, the evil magic that has corrupted the forest. That's not in the book at all, seeing everybody trip balls like they ate the wrong brownies. It not only provided a nice visual, but it sort of emphasized the dangers Sauron represents. Mirkwood is this way because of his influence in Dol Guldur - if he wins, perhaps all forests will become like this? It's a neat touch. I don't think it necessarily replaces the loss of the river, but it was still cool.

At one point in the movie, Dwalin mumbles that he "doesn't even know what day it is." I can't tell if this is meant to imply that several days have passed, or just his general state of confusion. The movies certainly doesn't imply that more than a few hours had passed. That's something I feel the movie has gotten very wrong. The passage through Mirkwood feels far more sinister and epic if it's something that takes almost a month of travel. You shouldn't be able to get through it in a hearty afternoon.

Gandalf Leaves (again!)

The Movie: Thorin's Company rides for what appears to be less than a day before arriving to the edge of Mirkwood. It is a sudden change, with massive ugly trees looming at the edge of the grasslands. Gandalf finds the Elven Gate, which is the entrance to the path. It is overrun with vines. He sees, in the distance, Beorn in bear form, and tells the dwarves to return the ponies to their rightful owner. A comment from Dwalin insinuates that Beorn had protected them this far. Bilbo says that the forest feels sick, "as if a disease lies upon it." He asks if there's another way around.

Motherfucker, this is Middle Earth. You'd be hard pressed to find a forest or mountain that's not haunted.

Gandalf says the only alternatives are a two hundred mile detour north, or a four hundred mile detour south. He explores the entrance to the forest and finds an elven statue, on which someone had painted an eye in red (blood?). At the same time - the movie is ambiguous if they are related - the One Ring begins whispering to Bilbo, and Gandalf receives a telepathic message from Galadriel telling him to explore the tombs in the High Fells. He turns around and tells the company that he is leaving, and adds that he would not do this unless he had to. Before going, he and Bilbo have a conversation. Gandalf tells Bilbo that he has changed, and Bilbo nearly confesses about the ring - but lies about it at the last minute. Gandalf tells Thorin to meet him in front of Erebor, and to not enter the mountain with him. He gives a final warning about Mirkwood, whose very air is "heavy with illusion," and rides off. His last words are "Stay on the path!"

The Book: The journey to the edge of Mirkwood takes over three days. One night, as they set camp, Bilbo sees the shadowy form of a great bear. Before they arrive at the forest, Bilbo notices a dead silence, with fewer deer and birds. The trees of Mirkwood are huge and gnarled. At the edge of the forest, Gandalf orders the dwarves to return their ponies. They grumble about it, until Gandalf reminds them that Beorn would be a terrible enemy, and that he had been following them "to keep an eye on the ponies." Gandalf tells the dwarves that he is leaving. This is not the first they had discussed it - Gandalf actually had mentioned this to the dwarves as soon as they left the eagle's company - but everybody is upset at the timing. Gandalf snaps that he has pressing business, and says to the dwarves that he is "already late bothering with you people." 

"What exactly do you mean, you people?"

In the edge of Mirkwood, Bilbo notices that the forest had "a sort of watching and waiting feeling" that makes him uneasy. He asks Gandalf if there is another way around. Gandalf tells him that the only alternatives are two hundred miles north, which is "stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs," or he could go south, which would take them into the lands of the Necromancer. Gandalf tells Bilbo that there are "no safe paths in this part of the world." He hops on his horse and rides away. His last words are "Don't leave the path!"

My Opinion: There's a lot here to discuss, so I'm going to save some of it for future posts, especially Bilbo's fascination with the Ring, and Gandalf's investigation of the Necromancer. I will say, however, that his departure was not a sudden decision in the book. Gandalf had plans to attend a meeting of the White Council, and had already warned Thorin's Company that he wouldn't be sticking around the whole time.

There are some minor changes here that gall me worse than they really should. Gandalf's kindness in the movie vs. his rudeness in the books, Beorn's protecting the dwarves vs. his protecting his own ponies, etc. I know the movie characters aren't exact matches to their book counterparts, but it's still annoying seeing these kinds of changes. The outside of Mirkwood, however, is on point. I think the movie has done a very good job of communicating the danger of this forest to the audience.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Queer Lodgings

The Movie: Beorn, in bear form, guards his house against the orcs lurking outside. Everybody is asleep when he returns, in the middle of the night. The next morning, Bilbo Baggins is woken by the sounds of ponies and bumblebees. He is the last one up; everybody else is already at breakfast, being served by Beorn. He serves milk, fruit, bread, and cheese. All of the furniture and tableware is huge for the dwarves and Bilbo, since it is made to fit a very large man.

Or thirteen tiny little people. 

In a somber conversation, they discuss Beorn's history and Gandalf's plans for the company. Beorn warns them about the evil in Mirkwood. He lists orcs, wood elves, and the Necromancer as things to be careful of. Gandalf says that they plan on taking the elf path through the forest. Beorn offers the use of his ponies to help the dwarves reach the woods. This all happens in the span of no more than a few hours.

The Book: Thorin's Company, having already met Beorn, are invited to supper. At Beorn's instruction, they are all served by his animals. His ponies carry torches in their mouths and push together tables. His dogs, standing on their hind-legs, set the table. Beorn serves nuts, fruits, honey, and bread. They exchange stories; Beorn talks about, among other things, the dangers of Mirkwood. After dinner, Beorn leaves, and the dwarves sit around the fireplace, drinking mead and singing a song. Bilbo could hear the growling and scuffling of a bear outside and, terrified, dives under his blankets.

Everybody else is eating breakfast when he awakes. Neither Gandalf nor Beorn are around. Bilbo and the dwarves just sort of wait around all day until Gandalf returns in the evening. Gandalf refuses to answer any of their questions until he has eaten and smoked. Gandalf says that he noticed several bear tracks, not all belonging to Beorn; there had been a meeting of bears last night. Bilbo is frightened that Beorn has gone to bring the goblins back. They go to sleep for the night. Beorn himself awakens them the next morning by picking Bilbo up and laughing at his fat belly.

"Have some waffles, you chubby little bunny!"

Beorn is acting "most jolly" and tells jokes and funny stories over breakfast. Beorn tells the dwarves that he had noticed that the goblins, angry over the death of their king, were amassing an army to find the dwarves. Beorn shows Bilbo a goblin's head on a stick, thus allaying the hobbits concerns of betrayal, and tells the dwarves that they have won his respect by killing the Great Goblin.

Gandalf tells Beorn the whole story of their journey. Beorn offers enough food to last them for weeks, as well as ponies (and a horse for Gandalf). He warns them to avoid drinking water in Mirkwood, especially the great black river that carries "a great drowsiness and forgetfullness." He insists that they do not stray from the path, for any reason.

My Opinion: As usual, the movie streamlines some things. This is understandable in an adaptation from book to movie. Still though, I'm a little disappointed in how rushed this scene feels. Beorn speaks almost exclusively in cliches ("Once there were many, you are running out of time, etc.") and the dwarves are rushed out as soon as breakfast is over. We know that the orcs are in Dol Guldur right now, so this suspense is entirely manufactured. Why not at least imply that Thorin's Company stayed for a few days, like in the book? Maybe then it wouldn't feel like we were being hustled from scene to scene. You don't necessarily need to show the dwarves singing, but it wouldn't hurt to inject some of the levity of the book into the movie.

Why have songs and funny stories when you can talk about slavery and genocide instead?

Everything else about Beorn's long hall was fantastic. It looks just like I imagined. I guess I could whine about the omission of the serving animals, but I don't think I could stomach seeing a dog walking around on its hind-legs, serving plates in its paws. I think I had trouble accepting that as a very young child reading this book. And, as a vegetarian myself, I am very happy that they kept Beorn's larders meat-free!

A Commander of Legions

The Movie: Azog is blocked from his pursuit of Thorin by Beorn, who stands vigil over the long hall. Another warg-rider, who we later learn is Bolg, arrives to relay a message: Azog has been summoned back to Dol Guldur by Sauron. Deep within the heart of the fortress, Azog has a conversation with a massive, amorphous shadow. It demands that Azog lead his armies, and to stop focusing his attentions on a single dwarf. Unwilling to let Thorin off the hook, but also unwilling to defy his master, Azog summons Bolg and appoints him leader of the pack hunting Thorin's Company.

"Ew, gross. Can't we just kill them?"

The Book: No such scene exists. Bolg, not Azog, is the leader of the goblin/warg legions.

My Opinion: I'll save my analysis on Sauron's current status for a later post (and that one's gonna be messy as hell). I'm happy that they're bringing in Bolg, but I'm not sure about the way he's been used in this movie. Frankly, I feel like they're just replacing one evil orc with another. Yeah, they're both cool looking and all, but what does this mean for Bilbo and Thorin? Is one orc more dangerous than the other? And while it may be best to reserve judgment until the third movie, I got a problem with Azog being appointed the leader of Sauron's army. That's Bolg's job. If Peter Jackson wanted a new character to personally hunt Thorin, that's cool. But why demote Bolg from his leadership role so that Azog - who's not even in the damn books! - can have it? It's another pointless change.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Beorn

The Movie: As a man, Beorn is tall and muscular. His brown hair grows in a strip down his back, like a huge mohawk. He has an interesting beard that touches neither chin nor lip; it looks more like long muttonchops that run down the entire side of his face. His eyebrows are enormous.

He obviously has a razor - he leaves his lip bare - so I guess he just prefers his eyebrows like that?

As a bear, Beorn is a wild, unpredictable berserker. As a man, Beorn is polite and stoic, though he does express a dislike for the greed of dwarves. He talks freely about his past and his people; he says that Azog the Defiler killed most of his family and enslaved the rest. The slaves were tortured for sport. A manacle on Beorn's wrist implies that he was once such a slave. Beorn pins the genocide of his race on Azog, and claims to be the last survivor of his people.

The Book: Beorn isn't described as having such an exotic appearance; he is "a huge man with a thick black beard and hair." He is rude, interrupting and makes demands of his guests. When in a better mood, however, he is much jollier; cracking jokes and laughing loudly. He does state that he is not overfond of dwarves, but does not mention their greed or selfishness. Beorn is seen speaking to animals in their own language. There's no indication that his personality changes as a bear or a man - however, both Beorn and Gandalf warn the dwarves not to venture out at night, while Beorn is wandering around as a bear, "at their own peril." Beorn enjoys stories; he is pleased by Gandalf's recollection of their journey thus far, and over dinner he tells tales of his own adventures in the forest. He does not mention his past or his people. Gandalf surmises that Beorn is a descendant of the "ancient bears of the mountains," or descended from the "first men who lived before Smaug," but admits that he does not know the truth. Beorn is also not the last of his kind. Very little about his people is ever stated in the books (or even if they are a separate race), but during the Council of Elron, Gloin made a mention of Beorn's son, named Grimbeorn. There's at least one other.

My Opinion: Beorn was nothing like how I imagined him. I guess he's technically not far from how the book describes him (I'd hesitate to call that thing on his face a beard, though), but I always imagined some great big lumberjack, or a Hagrid-looking dude. I think the mohawk and unique beard are just silly. Not everybody has to look special and unique. Some people just hang out in the woods and don't shave. His personality, too, was different. Beorn of the Book was a man of passions and wild moods. Beorn of the Movie was stoic and serious. Why the change? This version of Beorn is just... boring.

My girlfriend disagrees, for some unfathomable reason.

I prefer the movie's version of Beorn's history. Making him one of the lone survivors of a race of badass shapeshifters is pretty neat. The book's implication is... absurdly stupid. I'm sorry, Tolkein, but it's quite silly to say that he is either descended from ancient bears or from ancient men. All men are descended from ancient men! All bears are descended from ancient bears! If he is not under some enchantment (as both the movie and book claim), then why not make the claim that he is a member of a different species?

Wilderland

The Movie: After Bilbo warns Thorin's Company about Azog, and the giant bear he saw, Gandalf makes a decision to take refuge at a nearby house. Thorin asks who the house belongs to. Gandalf says the owner of the house is neither friend nor foe, and has an equal chance of helping them or killing them. Seeing little alternative with Azog and the other warg-riders so close, the dwarves run off. Azog's pack chases them - through a vast meadow, through a small forest, and finally to a large, moss-covered long hall. Also on their trail is the bear Bilbo saw earlier. It roars and lunges at the dwarves. They slam the door of the long hall in the bear's face, just barely keeping it at bay.

"Dude, what the fuck? This is my house!"

Gandalf explains to the nonplussed dwarves that the giant bear was, in fact, their host - a skin-changer named Beorn. Gandalf tells everybody to get some sleep, and they bed down in the long hall. Beorn is later seen keeping watch, guarding his home against the orcs.

The Book: Bilbo asks Gandalf why the large rock the eagles landed on is called the Carrock. Gandalf replies that it is called the Carrock because "a very great person" calls it that. The wizard explains that this person is a skin-changer named Beorn, a man who can be kind, but is terrible when angry - and he gets angry easily. Therefore, to keep him in good humors, Gandalf tells the dwarves not to come to Beorn's long hall all at once. Instead, they ought to wait behind, while Gandalf approaches with Bilbo, alone. Then the dwarves are to arrive in pairs, once every five minutes. Gandalf works this into a conversation with Beorn very cleverly, so that Beorn isn't bombarded with a dozen dwarves all at once. This keeps the skin-changer interested, and in good enough humors to invite everybody into his hall for dinner.

My Opinion: I didn't care for this change, but I can understand why it was made. Watching two dwarves introduce themselves at a time to their begrudging host is something that's much easier to read than it is to watch - especially to filmgoers who just saw that exact thing happen in the beginning of the first movie. Even that didn't play out as slowly as it did the book. But did Gandalf's clever scheme have to be a thrilling chase? Just because perfect fidelity might not have been an option, it doesn't have to turn into some kind of theme park thrill ride.

And this isn't exactly a comparison, but I just gotta ask - what is up with all the sudden, drastic changes in scenery? I understand trying to make the whole thing feel epic, but this is not the first time that the movie has drastically switched from one kind of locale to another in one scene. First they're on a mountain, then this vast prairie, then they're in the woods. It's jarring.

You could cut out all these scenes from the movie and shave off, like, 45 minutes, easy.

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 later, 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.