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."

Into the Fire

The Movie: The moment between Bilbo and the dwarves is interrupted by the sudden presence of Azog and his warg-mounted orc pack. The wargs without riders are quickest, and manage to catch up with Thorin's fleeing Company. Bilbo draws his sword and manages to kill one (almost entirely by accident). The Company continues to run until they hit a cliff; at Gandalf's command, they all climb the nearby trees. As the wargs circle and surround the trees, Gandalf whispers something to a nearby moth and sends it away. Azog himself approaches, to Thorin's horror. Azog mocks the Dwarvish Prince, as well as his father Thrain, and gives the order to attack. The wargs attack the trees with such ferocity that they begin to uproot and fall on one another. The dwarves leap from falling tree to falling tree until all 13 of them, as well as Bilbo and Gandalf, are perched on a single tree at the edge of the cliff. Gandalf grabs a pinecone, magically sets it on fire, and throws it at the wargs. He lights more pinecones on fire, passing them to Bilbo and the dwarves. Soon, so many flaming pinecones have been thrown that the entire surrounding area is on fire. Just then, damaged by the flames, their tree uproots; Thorin's Company is now hanging precariously over the edge of the cliff.

Am I supposed to feel suspense right now? I thought it was established that they can't be hurt by falling great distances?

The Book: After quite a bit of marching through the woods, Thorin's Company comes upon a glade with no trees. They hear wolves howling nearby, and Bilbo starts to freak out a little. Gandalf orders them all up into the trees. Bilbo has a little trouble climbing, and Dori has to climb down, and let Bilbo climb up his shoulders; he barely makes it back up before the wargs attack. There are hundreds of wargs, but since they can't climb trees, the Company is safe for the moment. More and more wargs keep coming in, and they leave guards at the foots of the trees that had anyone in it. A great grey wolf, the leader of the wargs, speaks to Gandalf in his "dreadful language." He says that the wargs and the goblins were meeting here for an attack on nearby woodsmen, and the goblins were running somewhat late. The warg leader thought the dwarves were friends of the woodsmen, so they would wait until the goblins came to chop the trees down. Gandalf lights a pinecone on fire, a bright blue flame, and chucks it at the wargs. He throws another pinecone, and another; one is in blue flames, one in red, another in green. Soon enough the entire glade was afire.

You seriously didn't see a fucking problem with this, dude?

The goblins arrived all at once, screaming and yelling; they paused when they realized that there was no great battle, but the dwarves were all stuck in the trees. The goblins, not fearing the fire, laughed and sang a song as they piled more wood on the fire nearest the trees where the dwarves were. Gandalf climbed to the top of the tree; lightning flashed from his wand, as he prepared to suicide bomb the goblins to save the rest of the Company.

What difference does it make? The entire climax is changed. Instead of the goblins attempting to avenge the death of their King, Azog's orc pack makes a reappearance. The wargs are once again treated as little more than mounts, and not an intelligent species unto themselves. The scene is somewhat less exciting in the book; there's less combat, no leaping from tree to tree, etc. The book has this scene take place in a glade, while the movie takes place over the edge of a cliff.

My Opinion: As far as "necessary changes" are concerned, I think this scene is mostly fine. I understand the desire to have a strong, central antagonist to the first film, and having this be the scene of the climatic final battle makes good sense. Thus, if you absolutely must have Azog, this is a good scene for him to return and do battle with Thorin's Company. That means all the little changes - the wargs being in league with his orcs, the extra bits of action, etc. - all work rather well. I was pretty happy that there wasn't any singing here, too. It'd be hard to take this shit seriously if the bad guys were singing a jaunty tune.

Why were the wargs treated like dogs, though? They're as intelligent as dwarves or elves. The book has them using tactics and speaking to each other. They're a species. But in the movie, they're nothing more than large, trained, attack wolves. I guess there's nothing stopping Peter Jackson from establishing their intelligence later on, but he seems to be ignoring a detail that made Tolkein's world just a little richer.

That shit with Gandalf and the moth needs some discussing, too, but I'll save that for a later post.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Out of the Frying Pan

The Movie: Thorin's Company has retreated from the Misty Mountains. Gandalf does a quick head count, and when he realizes that Bilbo Baggins is missing, grows angry at the dwarves. The dwarves blame Dori, and Nori mentions that he saw Bilbo slink away when the rest of them were kidnapped. Bilbo, still invisible from wearing the ring, approaches the Company in time to overhear the conversation. Thorin argues that the hobbit saw an opportunity to escape, and good riddance; Bilbo's done nothing but hold them back the whole time. Bilbo interrupts the insults by taking off his ring and revealing himself to the Company.

"He has thought of nothing but his soft bed and his warm hearth ever since oh god he's behind me isn't he?"

Everyone but Thorin is thrilled to see Bilbo, and they ask him how he managed to get past the goblins. Bilbo avoids the question; Gandalf gives him an odd look, but says it doesn't matter. Thorin presses the issue: he wants to know why Bilbo came back. Bilbo Baggins concedes that he has thought of the Shire often, and he truly does miss his home. He's come to better understand what Thorin's Company must feel regarding Erebor, and pledges that he will do his best to help them reclaim their homeland. Moved, the dwarves all look on the hobbit with a newfound respect. 

The Book: Bilbo, lost and still wearing the ring, wanders around a valley on the other side of the mountains. He hears voices, and creeps into a dell where the dwarves are encamped. Balin is the look-out, but cannot see the invisible hobbit. Gandalf and the dwarves are arguing about Bilbo; the wizard wants to go back and look for him, but the dwarves (the book does not mention which ones) argue that he's been more trouble than use. They blame Dori for dropping him. When he starts to defend himself, Bilbo slips off the ring and surprises them all. They are amazed that he managed to sneak by Balin, and ask him where he'd gone. He tells them the story, including Gollum and the game of riddles, but decides to leave out the part about the ring. Bilbo's story about dodging goblins, tricking Gollum, and sneaking past Balin wins him a new respect with the dwarves. Gandalf gives Bilbo an odd look, but then tells their side of events. After everybody is all caught up, Gandalf gives the order for everyone to move on. Bilbo complains of hunger, but since their rations are with the ponies (which the goblins still have), there's nothing to do but snack on some berries during their march. 

What difference does it make? This is an enormous difference. The book version of Bilbo Baggins gains the respect of the dwarves through his deeds - he sneaks past their best look-out, and tells an exciting tale of adventure in the mountains. Furthermore, Thorin has no strong feelings towards the hobbit at this point in the novel; his mild irritation at Bilbo Baggins is shared with the rest of the dwarves. In the movie, there isn't really enough time to swap stories, and nobody seems to care that he snuck up on them. The movie also revisits Thorin's disdain for Bilbo as a lodestone, and has Bilbo win the dwarves respect with a moving speech.

My Opinion: This was amazing.

It's not like I ever had a problem with the book's version of events. But this scene is a payoff to a lot of little things that Peter Jackson had been building up, almost independently of the novel's narrative: namely, Thorin's lack of respect for the hobbit, and the dwarves' quest to retake their homeland. In the book, the focus of the dwarves' quest is on the gold. The movie makes it pretty clear that they want their home back. Their goals are loftier and more noble. The movie also greatly emphasizes Thorin's disdain for Bilbo. These are both things that technically are in the book, but they're so lightly touched upon that they're almost insignificant details. The movie plays them up so much more.

It's a good thing, too, because that gives us this scene. Bilbo Baggins is given a reason to help the dwarves that is simply not present in the book, where he just decides to go on an adventure for no real reason. This not only creates a stronger sense of nobility in the hobbit, but is still entirely in character. Peter Jackson has taken Bilbo's love for his home, a source of comedy in the books, and turned it into an altruistic motivation. This is a big change, but it is an excellent one. 

"Yeah I'm pretty much the shit. No big deal, though."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bilbo Escapes

The Movie: "I won the game, you promised to show me the way out," Bilbo says. Gollum, however, refuses to help until Bilbo tells him what's in the hobbit's pocket. Gollum menacingly reaches into his pocket, then panics when he realizes that his ring is missing. He starts to scream that he has lost his precious. Gollum eventually calms down, however, when he realizes that Bilbo must have the ring in his pocket. Gollum then attacks Bilbo, who runs away. Not knowing the passageways, however, he quickly finds himself at a dead-end. Terrified, and seeing Gollum approach, he tries to force himself through a narrow crack in the cavern wall. It's a tight squeeze; his buttons burst off his jacket from the effort, and he collapses on the other side of the wall. The ring fortuitously falls onto his finger, and he turns invisible.

How many fucking references to Lord of the Rings do we need? Or does Peter Jackson think this is something that actually happens?

Gollum comes screaming through the hole in the wall, but, unable to see Bilbo, continues on his search for the hobbit. Bilbo follows Gollum all the way to the exit, where he sees Gandalf and the rest of Thorin's Company making their escape. However, Gollum is in the way; even invisible, Bilbo wouldn't be able to make it past without alerting the dangerous creature. Bilbo readies his blade for an easy kill, but, seeing the look of utter despair on Gollum's face, finds himself unable to go through with it. Instead, Bilbo opts to try and leap over Gollum. He makes the jump, but his foot strikes Gollum in the face, alerting the creature to his presence. There's nothing Gollum can do about it, though; defeated, he shrieks his hatred for Bilbo Baggins.

The Book: Gollum promises to help Bilbo find his way out, but first, he needs to get something from his hut in the middle of the lake. Bilbo waits impatiently as Gollum takes his raft across the water; he doesn't know that Gollum intends to fetch the ring in order to kill Bilbo with it. Gollum can't find the ring, however, and begins to shriek about having lost the precious. He again asks Bilbo what the hobbit has in his pocket, and begins to paddle wildly back to shore. Bilbo turns and runs. His hand find its way into his pocket, where the ring accidentally slips onto his finger. He trips, and when Gollum runs right by him, realizes he is invisible. Bilbo follows Gollum, who starts to argue with himself. He watches Gollum navigate through the mountain to the way out. Fearing goblins, however, Gollum decides to just wait at a narrow passageway. The only way out is past him. Bilbo weighs the option of killing Gollum; pity wells in his heart, and he decides not to. He instead leaps over Gollum's head. Gollum screams how he hates Bilbo Baggins, but is too afraid of goblins to go any further.

Whatever. Not like we'll ever see this guy again.

Bilbo follows the passageway until he sees a leak of sunshine from an ajar door, guarded by several armored goblins. The goblins attack him; whether by accident or some evil trick of the ring, it was no longer on his finger, and Bilbo Baggins was no longer invisible. He quickly puts it back on, and as the goblins swarm around to look for him, he hides behind a barrel. Even invisible, he's afraid one of the milling goblins would bump into him. He eventually runs to the door, but it's too heavy for him to open. He tries to squeeze through the crack as the goblins realize that something is casting a shadow. With one last burst of energy, Bilbo squirms through, bursting off the buttons of his coat. He's escaped.

What difference does it make? In the end, both versions of events largely show the same things: Gollum tries to attack Bilbo; Bilbo becomes invisible and follows Gollum to the exit; Bilbo decides not to kill Gollum, then jumps over him and escapes. There are a lot of changes, though, some of which really do start to add up: like the omission of Gollum's hut, or the goblins at the end of Bilbo's escape. At a certain point, Peter Jackson is no longer telling Tolkein's story, but his own.

My Opinion: I was really disappointed to not see Gollum's little hut in the movie. I can understand the desire to streamline this whole scene - cutting out the goblins near the end was probably a good idea - but that little detail could have provided a cool visual, as well as given Gollum a little bit more depth. I'd liked to have seen where he sleeps, what sorts of things he's got stored there, etc. For the most part, though, I was happy with Bilbo's escape. The burst buttons I was particularly looking forward to. It's a good mental image that always stuck with me, years after reading the book for the first time. I don't think it matters if the buttons burst at a different time; it's the fact that they broke off at all that mattered.

Hobbits are fat: now an important plot point!

The only change that may have been important is the "trick" that the ring pulls on Bilbo. It's important that the One Ring's malevolent intelligence is hinted at so early on. This attribute is entirely missing from the movie. And I don't really understand the need to have the ring fall on his finger like it did with Frodo. Is it really just an attempt to shoe-horn another fucking reference? If so, I think we're at like 80 references to the original movie trilogy. It wasn't a necessary departure from Tolkein's writings, and actually pulled me away from the story for a few minutes.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What Have I Got In My Pocket?

The Movie: Gollum screams for Bilbo to ask him a question. Bilbo requests a second to think, then, puts a hand in his pocket. He quietly says aloud, "What have I got in my pocket?" Gollum frowns, then grows angry, proclaiming the question to be against the rules. He wants another question. Bilbo refuses: "You said 'ask me a question.' Well that is my question."

"Who's got the sword, motherfucker?"

Gollum wants three guesses, and Bilbo agrees. Gollum's first guess is "handses." Bilbo, having taken his hand out just in time, says, "Wrong." Gollum starts to freak out, and verbally runs through a list of things that he thinks somebody would keep in their pocket: "Fish-bones, goblins'-teeth, wet shells, bat-wing..." before settling on "knife." He tells himself to shut up, and when Bilbo tells him he's down to his last guess, each of Gollum's personalities offers an answer: "String! Or nothing!" Bilbo chides Gollum for using two guesses at once, and tells him that both are wrong. Defeated, Gollum collapses in tears.

The Book: Gollum gets out of the boat and sits down next to Bilbo Baggins. He starts pawing and poking the hobbit, badgering him to ask a final question. Bilbo is unable to think of a riddle; he pinches himself, slaps himself, grips his sword, and feels around in his pocket. Only then does he remember the object he had absent-mindedly put there earlier. He says "What have I got in my pocket?", but not to Gollum - he's just wondering aloud to himself. Gollum interprets it as a riddle however, and argues that it wasn't a fair question. Bilbo decides to stick with his question, so repeats the question a little louder. Gollum demands three guesses, which Bilbo grants. He first guesses "handses," and Bilbo, who had "luckily just taken his hand out," says he's wrong. Gollum mentally makes a list of things he keeps in his pockets - fish-bones, goblins-teeth, wet shells, a bit of bat wings, a sharp stone to sharpen his fangs on - before settling on a knife. He's wrong again, so he takes his time coming up with a third answer. He hisses and sputters until Bilbo tells him that his time is up, so Gollum shrieks "String, or nothing!", trying to work two answers in at once. They're both wrong, and Bilbo is relieved. He knows that a riddle game is a sacred thing of immense antiquity, that even "wicked creatures were afraid to cheat." He muses that his last question was not a genuine riddle according to "the ancient laws," and he fears that Gollum will react poorly to being cheated. Instead, however, Gollum says that he will help Bilbo find a way out, but first, he needs to go get something.

Seems legit.

What difference does it make? In terms of plot, or narrative, the minor changes here make no difference at all. The only real changes are Bilbo's musing over the ring, the book's mention of the riddle game as a thing of sacred antiquity, and Gollum's reaction to losing (which I'll cover in a bit). The differences hardly matter, however; like the rest of the riddle game, the book and movie are almost word-by-word the same. 

My Opinion: I think this scene is really, really good. The only changes that were made are those that are necessary to making a successful movie adaptation. It remained as faithful to the book as possible, even managing to squeeze in a few more references, like Gollum's list of things that go in pockets. I'm not sure this scene could have gone better. However, I'm still a little disappointed in it. It's hard to exactly explain why, but, here goes:

There's a facet of Bilbo Baggins' character in this scene, in the book, that the movie fails to convey. In the book, he doesn't know what's in his pocket; his musing "what have I got in my pocket?" is a total non-sequitur that he decides to run with on a whim. His gambit succeeds, but Bilbo then worries that Gollum will grow upset that he was cheated; the sacred riddle game is something that even wicked creatures play fairly. But Bilbo Baggins, an upstanding citizen of the Shire, cheated. This shows some quick thinking and guile that I really appreciated in the little hobbit. It's not what you'd expect from him. This scene, for the first time, is his time to shine.

The movie doesn't exactly get the character wrong, here. Not at all. Bilbo still shines, and is still a witty, intelligent hero in this scene. But he already knew what was in his pocket, and there's no mention of the riddle game having any sort of inviolable laws that he just broke. The movie version is still great, but there's some depth to Bilbo Baggins that it just didn't get. 

The Riddles

The Movie: Gollum gives this riddle first:

What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up, up it goes!
And yet, never grows?

Bilbo answers this one quickly and easily: "the mountain" . His response is:

Thirty white horses on a red hill,
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still.

Gollum has to think for a little while, but he gets it eventually: "teeth."

It's actually kind of mean for Bilbo to call attention to teeth. It'd be like saying "legs" to somebody in a wheelchair.

Then it's his turn:

Voiceless it cries,
Wingless flutters,
Toothless bites,
Mouthless mutters.

"Just a minute," Bilbo mutters. He thinks for a moment, then sees ripples on the lake and gets his answer: "wind." He goes next:

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.

Gollum has to think about this for a good long while before he comes to the correct answer: "eggses." He laughs, makes a comment about how his grandmother taught him to suck eggs, then gives his riddle:

All things it devours,
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers,
Gnaws iron, bites steel,
Grinds hard stones to meal.

Bilbo doesn't know this one. He thinks long and hard about it, and is starting to despair, when Gollum says, "Time's up." That gives Bilbo the answer, however, and he triumphantly cries out, "Time! The answer is time!"

The Book: Gollum goes first:

What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?

Bilbo calls the riddle easy and guesses it right away.

"Was that it? Man, I should've put money on this."

All he can think about is the possibility of being eaten, so, the only riddle he can think of is one that involves eating:

Thirty white horses on a red hill,
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still.

Gollum gets it quickly, then asks his second:

Voiceless it cries,
Wingless flutters,
Toothless bites,
Mouthless mutters.

Bilbo's heard this one before, so has no trouble answering it. And, having gained a little confidence, thinks of a riddle that a nasty little underground creature would have some difficulty with.

An eye in a blue face
Saw an eye in a green face.
"That eye is like to this eye"
Said the first eye,
"But in low place
Not in high place."

Gollum has a hard time with this riddle, having forgotten many of the things that aren't a part of his underground life. He eventually thinks of his grandmother, whom he once lived with, and that gives him the answer: "sun on the daisies." Being reminded of life above ground makes him angry, so he tries a more difficult riddle next:

It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt,
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.

Once again, however, Bilbo Baggins has heard this one, and comes up with the answer quickly: "Dark."  He can't think of a difficult riddle, so he asks an easy riddle to buy himself a little more time:

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.

This proves harder than Bilbo expected, however, and watches Gollum struggle to come up with an answer. Once again, Gollum thinks of his grandmother, and how he once taught her to suck eggs. 

I'll bet he taught her to suck... no. No, I can't. I just can't say it.

That's his answer: "Eggses!" He's so flustered by this, that he poses his own easy riddle:

Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking.

Similar to Gollum's response to Bilbo's "easy" eggs riddle, however, Bilbo has more difficulty with this one than Gollum expects. It isn't until Gollum makes to get out of his boat, and accidentally scares a fish into jumping at Bilbo's feet, does the hobbit get the answer: "fish." Bilbo, once again in a hurry, gives another quick riddle:

No-legs lay on one-leg, two-legs sat near three-legs, four-legs got some.

Sure enough, Gollum gets it correct right away: "Fish on a little table, man at table sitting on a stool, the cat has the bones." He comes up with his last riddle:

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; 
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

Bilbo is stumped. He can't think of this one at all. He grows frightened, and as Gollum gets out of his boat, he tries to ask for more time. However, he's so afraid that he can only manage to squeak out a word: "time!" By pure luck, he gets the answer right.

What difference does it make? The riddle game in the book is longer and more nuanced. It allows us to see into the minds of Gollum and Bilbo, and to understand each character a little better. The difficulty they have with riddles that the other thinks easy, for example, and how Bilbo tries to use a riddle that incorporates the above-ground world. The movie version lacks some of the detail that the book provides.

My Opinion: This is a necessary sacrifice when adapting a book into a movie. As much as I loved the scene, I would have gotten bored if the movie had included every riddle that was in the book. They had to pick and choose which ones to use, and I frankly think they made excellent choices. Some of the riddles they cut out were pretty good (like the "dark" one), but some were just baffling. Like that one about "no-legs laying on one-leg"? That one was just ridiculous! Nevertheless, though, I think Peter Jackson did a great job, and made some necessary changes in a way that kept this important scene largely intact.

That being said: what was up with the change about Gollum and his grandmother? In the book, he teaches her to suck eggs. In the movie, she teaches him. This is such an unimportant detail that I loathe to even mention it, but, I'm honestly just confused. Why was it even worth changing?

Riddles in the Dark

The Movie: Bilbo makes his way to a vast underground lake, navigating by the sound of Gollum's voice; Gollum is singing a song in the distance as he beats the goblin with a rock. Hiding behind a rock, Bilbo Baggins watches the glow of his sword flicker and fade as the goblin dies. Gollum swims across the lake with his raft and sneaks up on the hobbit. He calls Bilbo a "meaty mouthful," but Bilbo sticks the point of his sword to Gollum's throat before he can move. Gollum asks Bilbo what he is, and he responds, "My name is Bilbo Baggins... a hobbit from the Shire." When Gollum threatens to eat the hobbit, Bilbo swings his sword around and demands to be shown the way out. Gollum begins to argue with himself - one personality is kind, and wants to help, but the other is cruel and harsh. Bilbo is confused, and says he doesn't have time for games. Perking up at the word "games," Gollum offers Bilbo a riddle, which Bilbo answers correctly. The "angry" personality doesn't want to play the riddle game, and wants to kill Bilbo Baggins immediately.

"I am going to get raped to death by a schizophrenic hobo in a fucking cave. This is not how I saw things ending."

Bilbo appeals to the kinder personality, begging to play the riddle game, "just you and me." If he wins, Gollum will show him the way out. If he loses (both of Gollum's personalities agree), Gollum will eat him. Bilbo accepts these terms, sheathes his sword, and dives straight into the riddles. They offer each other riddles, each getting progressively more difficult. Gollum continues to grow angry, at one point forcing Bilbo to draw his sword in self defense. He eventually picks up a rock and menacingly says that Bilbo gets one more question. Bilbo is unable to think of anything, so Gollum screams, "Ask us!"

Christ, Gollum, calm down. It's polite of you to let him have some last words and all, but you don't HAVE to wait if you wanna just kill him.

The Book: Bilbo never follows Gollum to the lake, and never even knows of the creatures existence at first. Bilbo has a seat at the lake's edge, at the end of his wits, while Gollum watches him from a distance. He uses his tiny boat to swim across the lake, and surprises Bilbo, but doesn't leave his raft to do so. In fact, he remains in it for most of the game's duration. He asks Bilbo what he is, to which the hobbit responds, "I am Mr Bilbo Baggins." Gollum, wary of Bilbo's sword, offers a game of riddles in order to get a measure of Bilbo's character. Bilbo agrees, and they go back and forth with their riddles. Gollum eventually starts to get angry and tired of the game, so he gets out of his boat, sits down next to Bilbo Baggins, and says that Bilbo has just one more question. 

What difference does it make? Bilbo's sword is not a necessary source of light in the movie. In the book, it's his only way to see anything (except for Gollum's eyes); without it, he'd be blind in the dark. Therefore, he keeps it unsheathed at all times. There seems to be a mysterious source of light in the movie that lets Bilbo and Gollum see one another without the sword's glow. This doesn't really make a huge difference in how events play out, however.

A much more noticeable difference is one I alluded to in my post about Gollum; specifically, his split personalities. They not only bicker with one another in the movie in a way that is obviously not in the book, but it's an important part of the movie. The reason Bilbo agrees to the game of riddles is an attempt to pacify Gollum, to placate the "good" side in the hopes that he'll be offered a way out, instead of being attacked by the "bad" side.

...or whatever is up with this side.

My Opinion: The inexplicable source of light in the cave is kind of annoying, but it's the sort of thing that plays out often enough in movies that it doesn't matter much; it's not like it's necessary for Bilbo to only be able to see Gollum by the light of his sword (and, in fact, when he does sheathe his sword in the book, there is no explanation for how he is able to see then, either!). It was worth it to see the light flicker as the goblin died; that was a neat touch that I was happy to see. The split personalities weren't a problem, either; they're part of the overall Lord of the Rings canon, and added a nice bit of depth to both Gollum and Bilbo. I'm always annoyed that the movie cuts out various scenes or lines of dialogue that portrayed Bilbo as a good person; I can't have too much of a problem with a scene that serves the same purpose!

It's important to stress, by the way, exactly how pedantic I am being right now. This is not only one of the best scenes in the movie, but it's also the most faithful as well. It's obvious that Peter Jackson went to a great effort to keep this as close to the source material as possible, and it really shows; you can almost follow their dialogue, word for word, in the book. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013


The Movie: Gollum is humanoid, emaciated, with large pale eyes. He has nine teeth, and only a few strands of hair. He is naked save for a loincloth. He occasionally makes a coughing noise that sounds like "gollum." He is clearly mentally ill, and has at least two personalities - one fawning and obsequious, the other cruel and cunning. The two personalities argue, and call each other, as well as the ring, "precious."

Here he is doing his best Gabourey Sidibe impression.

The Book: He is described as a "small slimy creature," who is "dark as the darkness." Only his eyes stand out - large and pale. He sees in the dark with eyes that shine like lanterns. His feet are webbed, and he has six teeth. He calls himself and the ring "precious," but does not appear to have a split personality; he simply has picked up a habit of talking to himself after years of isolation. He does not cough, but instead makes a disgusting swallowing noise that sounds like "gollum."

What difference does it make? None at all. The movie version is almost exactly like the book version.

My Opinion: It's pretty hard to have anything bad to say about Andy Serkis' Gollum. The movie version not only fits with what's in the book, but adds depth and characterization that Tolkein himself never had. The "split personality" aspect of Gollum is not in The Hobbit, but it is in the trilogy (if not quite as pronounced as the movies make it out to be). I have absolutely no problem with the film showing this side of the character; it fits the scene, and keeps continuity intact. The change to the eyes is a good one, too. How is Gollum supposed to sneak around in the dark with eyes that explicitly act as lamps? How does an eye that acts as a source of light actually let one see? Peter Jackson's version makes more sense.

I was a little disappointed that Gollum's eponymous "gollum" noise was changed from a weird swallowing noise to a cough. The book's version makes him look disgusting and gross, whereas the movie just makes him look like he's got a cold or something. The swallowing noise might have sounded odd, but, that's kinda the point. That's... pretty much the only flaw I can find, here.

"I like Andy Serkis' portrayal of Gollum" may be the least controversial opinion about Lord of the Rings, ever.

Bilbo Finds the Ring

The Movie: Bilbo wakes up in a patch of large mushrooms. The goblin he had fought with earlier is with him, but unconscious. Hidden in the mushrooms, he watches as a rasping creature slinks out of the shadows - it's Gollum. Gollum, pleased with the prospect of having so much fresh meat, begins to drag the goblin away. It struggles, so he beats it with a rock until it stops moving. As a result, a golden ring falls out of Gollum's pocket. He drags the goblin away, leaving the ring behind. Bilbo Baggins waits until Gollum has left, then crawls out of the mushrooms. He finds his sword under some mushrooms, then picks up the ring and pockets it.

"I cannot wait to go home and pawn this."

The Book: Bilbo awakens in total darkness; it's so dark he literally cannot tell the difference between having his eyes open or closed. He gropes around on all fours, and his hand accidentally brushes against a small ring of cold metal. He puts it in his pocket without thinking and continues on his way. He sits down for a moment. He feels for his pipe, then for his tobacco, but cannot find a match. That's the last straw for Bilbo Baggins' hopes, and he despairs for a moment. He draws his sword, and noticing that it "shone pale and dim before his eyes," found enough hope to continue. Using his sword as a source of light, he trots along.

What difference does it make? This is actually a pretty big difference. In the book, Bilbo just tosses the ring in his pocket while he's freaking out in the dark, and never gives it a second thought until the game of riddles (I'll discuss how this actually affects that game later). He doesn't know that it belongs to Gollum, that it's made of gold, or anything about it. In the movie, he deliberately steals a precious object from an unhinged cave-dweller, after stopping to give it a close look.

My Opinion: I do like this change, honestly, though there is both good and bad to it. The book keeps Bilbo's morality and good character intact by having him pocket an object he finds abandoned in some cave without a second thought. He forgets he even has it until he puts his hand in his pocket later. In the movie, he sees that it belongs to somebody, but still takes it. Furthermore, it's so incredibly unlikely for Bilbo to have found the ring in the book - it almost makes it look like he found it by some force of fate, as if the ring wanted to be found.

However, both problems can be easily explained in the framework of the movie. If the ring did indeed want a new owner, then having it "luckily" fall out of Gollum's pocket at the right moment serves the exact same purpose as having Bilbo stumble upon it by blind luck. Furthermore, Bilbo Baggins is a burglar. Having him steal things is pretty much par for course. It's all honestly worth it, in my opinion, to answer the question I've had for so long: if Gollum loves the ring so much, why would he keep it in a pile of garbage in his little hut? How can he go so long without noticing its missing? The movie, at least, provides an answer.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Glowing Swords

The Movie: Bilbo's sword glows bright blue whenever orcs or goblins are nearby. This is a plot point - it warns him when an attack is imminent. He uses it to gauge if a nearby goblin is alive or dead, and it's bright enough that he can hold it in front of him like a torch when it's dark out.

Gandalf makes it clear to Bilbo that this is because of the elvish make of the blade. His sword, however, does not glow blue in the presence of orcs or goblins.

Neither does Thorin's.

The Book: There is explicit mention of both Orcrist and Glamdring "shining cold and bright" in the presence of goblins. Bilbo actually notices the glowing of his own blade after the glowing of theirs. Only then does he piece together that his sword must have been made in the same place as Thorin's and Gandalf's.

What difference does it make? As far as details go, this is about as minor as it gets. Showing Orcrist and Glamdring glowing would have been a nice touch, but otherwise would have contributed nothing to the story.

My Opinion: Alright, I know this makes me one of those people, but the sword thing really bothered me. 

On the one hand, it was made pretty clear in the books that the swords glow. It's not super important for Orcrist and Glamdring to glow - unlike Bilbo's, where it's a necessary part of the story - but it's still a detail that is specifically mentioned, and one that should have been visually communicated in the movie. Like Gandalf's beard or pointy hat; technically neither are necessary for the character, and don't do anything to the plot, but they were mentioned in the book and deserve to be in the movie! Similarly, there's no reason not to have the swords glow.

On the other hand... it violates the movie's own internal logic! If only Bilbo's sword is meant to glow, for some reason, then you need to give us a reason for that. "It belonged to a sorcerer who cast a spell on it" or something. Saying that it will glow blue because "it was made by elves" would be fine if you didn't present two other swords, say they were made by elves, and not have them glow! If your movie is going to set rules, it has to follow them. Especially if they violate what's in the fucking book.

Goblin Town

The Movie: The dwarves are presented to the Goblin King. He is enormous, as large as a troll, and covered in sores and pustules. He demands that they explain their presence, afraid that they might be spies or thieves. When they refuse to talk, he threatens to torture them, starting with the youngest, Ori. Thorin speaks up and steps forward. The Goblin King recognizes the King Under the Mountain, insults him a little, then mentions that "a pale orc, astride a white warg" has placed a bounty on his head. He turns to what appears to be his royal scribe/messenger... thing, and asks him to relay the message to Azog.

This fucking guy's got more screentime than half the dwarves.

The Goblin King then inexplicably breaks out in song. One of the goblins hisses at the sight of Orcrist and throws it to the ground. The Goblin King recognizes it as the Goblin Cleaver and freaks out, calling it "Biter" and "The Blade That Sliced a Thousand Necks." He demands the dwarves all be killed, and Thorin beheaded. They are saved by a flash of a light and an explosion. Gandalf is here to save the day.

Spoiler alert: this plot device ain't getting old anytime soon.

He calls for the dwarves to take up arms and fight. The Goblin King is knocked off the platform by Thorin. After an extended action scene, Thorin's Company fights its way through Goblin Town. The Goblin King blocks their exit, and snarls "What are you going to do now, wizard?" After Gandalf disembowels him, he says, "That'll do it," and dies. The bridge collapses, and the Company fall several hundred feet to safety. Bofur opines that the situation could have gone worse, then the Goblin King collapses on them.

The Book: The Goblin King, who is described as "a tremendous goblin with a huge head," demands to know who the dwarves are and what they are going in his kingdom. Thorin immediately offers up his name, then tries to assure the Goblin King that they meant no harm, and were simply seeking shelter from a storm. He goes on to say that they are on a trip to visit family that reside east of "these truly hospitable mountains." One of the goblins calls him a liar, holding up Thorin's sword. The Great Goblin, recognizing Orcrist, gives a howl of rage and orders their deaths, rushing forward to kill Thorin himself. Just then the cavern goes dark, and a great fire explodes into a tower of sparks that sends the goblins running. Gandalf's sword strikes the Great Goblin dead, and Thorin's Company takes the opportunity to escape. Dori carries Bilbo on his shoulders as they follow Gandalf. Gandalf and Thorin fight a few guards during their escape, but never quite reach the "epic battle" scale of the movie. The goblins then decide to try something different; they snuff out their torches and sneak up on the dwarves. This is how they snuck up on Dori and grabbed him, causing Bilbo to fall into blackness.

What difference does it make? The motivations of the goblins are quite different in book and film. In the novel, they're simply suspicious of the dwarves at first. They may be rough with their prisoners, but they only become truly violent when they realize that the leader of the Company is wielding a sword that is known for killing goblins. The Great Goblin decides to kill them much quicker in the book, due to the bounty placed on their heads by Azog the Defiler. This, of course, is not present in the novel at all, since Azog isn't in the novel. There is no "final fight" with the Goblin King; he dies pretty early, and pretty easily. The goblins never try to change their tactics. 

Thorin is treated a little more differently, too. In the movie he is obstinate, refusing to talk at all until Ori (who, it's worth noting, is not the youngest dwarf - Fili and Kili are younger) is threatened. In the book he is not only a great deal more meek, but kind of a coward, too - he lies to the Goblin King to avoid his wrath, and makes a fawning comment about the hospitality of the Misty Mountains. 

My Opinion: I'm not going to get into the details of the action scene that bothered me, like Gandalf's "sword so sharp you won't even know I beheaded you until your head rolls off your shoulders" anime bullshit, but the sheer length and silliness of it was somewhat tiring. Yeah, it was exciting, but it was so painfully unnecessary that I was really starting to feel like the story was just dragging on at this point. It wasn't technically a change from the book - they did escape, and they did have to fight their way through at times - but it was pretty exhausting. And once again, the lack of danger to the dwarves kind of cuts away all of the tension - if they can fight through an army of goblins without any one of them getting injured or separated, and then fall several hundred feet, why should I feel any suspense?

I'll say this: the Goblin King's "That'll do it!" is the worst part of this movie. It's cringeworthy, painful, stupid, and makes me squirm uncomfortably every time I see it. I honestly can't decide why it's in this fucking movie, or what Peter Jackson was thinking. He is literally changing the works of esteemed author J.R.R. Tolkein and replacing them with lines out of fucking Jason X.

Clearly, that's just the Great Goblin's favorite movie. 

While I didn't mind the change in how Bilbo got separated from the rest of the group, I have to say, a small part of me was disappointed that the movie didn't have any scenes of him being carried on Dori's shoulders. It's not a big detail, and honestly may have been difficult to pull off on film (especially if we're to take Bilbo Baggins seriously as a helpful member of the group), but I was kind of hoping to see it. Oh, well.