Sunday, March 31, 2013

Good Morning

The Movie: Bilbo Baggins is outside enjoying a morning smoke from his pipe. Gandalf appears, and gets the hobbit's attention by magically making one of his smoke rings turn into a little bird. Bilbo says "Good morning," and Gandalf responds with a clever speech about how many uses there are for that phrase. After a small awkward silence, Gandalf mentions that he's looking for someone to "share in an adventure." Bilbo gets cross, says no, and opens his mail and pretends to read it. He says "Good morning" again, and as he tries to leave, Gandalf mentions that he knew Bilbo's mother, and that Bilbo had changed since he was a young boy. Bilbo fondly remembers Gandalf as a fireworks merchant, then Gandalf decides Bilbo should, indeed, come on that adventure. Bilbo gets truly offended this time, says "Good morning!" one last time, and slams the door. Gandalf magically etches a sign on the door and walks away.

The Book: Bilbo Baggins is still enjoying a smoke from his pipe, but it's much longer than the one shown in the film; it reaches down almost to his feet. The conversation they share is nearly identical, with a few exceptions.  Bilbo initially offers to share his tobacco with Gandalf (who does not use any magic at this point in the story), and makes mention of a few other things Gandalf was known for in the Shire - like giving Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that never came undone until commanded, and taking a bunch of other young hobbits on adventures. Gandalf indulges in a bit more wordplay about giving out pardons before Bilbo says his final good morning. But our eponymous Hobbit, too polite even when angry, can't leave without inviting Gandalf over to tea the next day... which he immediately regrets after closing his door. Gandalf scratches a sign on the door with the spike on his staff and walks away.

What does it matter? The conversation is word-by-word the same in most places, aside from a few cuts made for the sake of the film. The only substantial things left out are Gandalf's past dealings with the Shire, and Bilbo's invitation to tea.

My opinion: This scene did everything right. I'd have liked to see Bilbo invite Gandalf to tea, even when annoyed at the old wizard, just because I find his unfailing politeness to be an endearing, Hobbit-like quality. Little is missed without it, though. I am very happy they did not mention the magic diamond studs - such silly magic things added to the whimsical fantasy of The Hobbit, but never fully meshed well with the somewhat more "mature" atmosphere of the Lord of the Rings saga as a whole (a problem The Hobbit admittedly has in spades). As for leaving out the fact that Gandalf has been known to take "so many quiet lads and lasses" on "mad adventures," well... the less said about that, the better.

"Wanna come with me and a bunch of my hairy homeless friends? It's cool, I knew your mom."

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Smaug's Attack on Erebor

The Movie: Smaug's attack is told by Bilbo, as a sort of prologue to the Red Book of Westmarch. Bilbo starts by telling us about the wonders of Erebor, its gold and gems, and of course the Arkenstone itself. Thror, Thorin's grandfather and the King of Erebor, had become sick with greed - and this brought the attention of the mighty "firedrake from the North." Thorin himself calls the alarm, as Smaug rains firey destruction down on the town of Dale, then turns his attention to Erebor itself. As Thorin leads the dwarven defense, Thror is seen hastily grabbing his prize, the Arkenstone. Unfortunately, the dwarven army fails, Thror loses the Arkenstone, and Thorin is forced to physically drag him to safety as Smaug claims the riches of Erebor for himself. Outside the front gates, as dwarves flee for their lives, Thorin sees, at a distance, an army of elves being led by the Elf King Thranduil. Thranduil, ignoring Thorin's pleas for help, turns his army away.

Any excuse for him to practice that creepy head tilt.

The Book: Thorin tells the tale, not Bilbo, and he does so during the supper the dwarves all have at Bag End. The immense richness of Erebor is still mentioned, especially its "marvelous and magical toys," though no mention of the Arkenstone is made at this point in the story. Also absent is any indication of Thror's intense greed. Smaug still attacks Dale, but only after he defeats the dwarven army outside the front gate (instead of them meeting him inside). The battlefield is covered in fog, as Smaug's fire evaporates the rivers of Dale into a great steam. Thranduil and his army never arrive, and in fact are never even mentioned. Thorin's role is much smaller in the book. He isn't even present during the attack; it happens while he is out adventuring, and he sees it from a great distance. During Smaug's attack, Thorin "wept in hiding."

What does it matter? Thorin's differing roles is pretty huge. In the movie, he sounds the alarm, leads the attack, leads the retreat, and personally saves the life of the King. In the book, he... hides and cries. This provides the audience with a more heroic, likable character to get emotionally invested in. 

Fighting dragons > sobbing in the fetal position. It's an objective fact.

The inclusion of Thranduil is a bit more complicated. The elves of Mirkwood were close to Dale and Erebor, but not close enough to march an army down in a few hours notice. While there's all sorts of help they could have offered to the dwarves, and they didn't (at least, there is no mention of any assistance), it's a bit unfair to actually show Thranduil and his army refuse to help. By the time he found out there was an attack at all, it would have been days or weeks after the fact. 

My Opinion: As minor as the changes in the order of Smaug's attack was (fighting the dwarves outside the gate instead of inside, etc.), I was kind of disappointed in the absence of the steam from the rivers of Dale. It was just a small, cool detail that would have made things more visually interesting - though, honestly, seeing the little bits and pieces of Smaug, itself, was good enough.

You can almost make out his butthole through the smoke.

Including the Arkenstone, as well as Thror's intense greed, are also welcome additions at this point in the story. I don't like things being introduced late in the story and being told how important they are. Setting up the Arkenstone as an immensely valuable stone now prevents some eye-rolling later. Also, Thror is a bearer of one of the Seven Dwarven Rings, and his greed is certainly a byproduct of that. Showing the audience that side of him (and the rings) now is a nice touch. 

Thranduil's inclusion sits fine with me, too. As unfair a portrayal as it may be, it cuts down on centuries of history between dwarves and elves and gives a good explanation to the layman, who isn't interested in reading the Silmarillion or all the appendices. Thranduil's refusal to help was never explicitly mentioned in the books, but, neither was any mention made of any offer of assistance. That's conspicuous in itself, and I don't think Peter Jackson took too many liberties in portraying Thorin as bitter about the lack of help.

The Prologue

The Movie: It begins with an elderly Bilbo Baggins, the same one we remember from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, being played by Ian Holm. An Unexpected Journey uses this bookend as a narrative device, having Bilbo writing the "true tale of events" in the Red Book of Westmarch, including (eventually), the famous "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit" opening line of the book. He addresses Frodo as he writes, making it seem like the book is being written for his nephew/cousin/whatever.

I had about the same reaction at seeing Frodo.

Frodo and Bilbo have a short exchange about an upcoming party (Bilbo's 111th birthday), and the scene ends with Frodo scampering off to wait for Gandalf, precisely where the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring picks up. After Frodo leaves, Bilbo sits down for a smoke, and then the story starts proper - with Martin Freeman playing a younger Bilbo.

The Book: Very little is actually changed; instead, Peter Jackson has just added an extra scene. The only change worth noting is the great age difference between Bilbo now (played by Ian Holm) and Bilbo then (played by Martin Freeman). He looks significantly younger as Martin Freeman.

What does it matter? The aging of Bilbo Baggins, or lack thereof, is actually an important plot point (both in the books and in the movies). The One Ring grants extended life; one of the things that tips Gandalf off about Bilbo's ring is the fact that he hasn't aged. The addition of Frodo and the "post-adventure" Bilbo has no impact on the written story.

My Opinion: Regarding Bilbo's aging, I'm not too concerned or upset by the change. Hobbits usually don't make it to their 111th birthday, and showing Bilbo looking as young as he did (comparatively speaking!) for such an advanced age is no big deal. He did age, and noticeably so, but certainly not six decades worth. An error this size is a small price to pay to see Martin Freeman's excellent portrayal of Bilbo Baggins. However, I'd honestly rather have just started with a younger Bilbo Baggins in the first place; there was no need to show Frodo and Bilbo talking at all. Tying the movie directly into the opening of Fellowship was not only unnecessary, but it dragged the movie on before it even had a chance to pick up.