Monday, April 29, 2013

The Last Homely House

The Movie: The dwarves follow the pathway until the rocks clear away to give them a beautiful view of an elven outpost. Gandalf introduces the dwarves to the "Valley of Imladris," which Bilbo recognizes by its common name: Rivendell. He is awestruck by its beauty. Thorin is angry that they have been taken to "their enemy," and argues that the elves will try to stop them. Gandalf does not disagree, so recommends that he do the talking. The Company makes its way to the entrance of Rivendell, where they are greeted by the elf Lindir. Gandalf asks for Elrond, but Elrond isn't there. When he asks where he is, a familiar warhorn in the distance answers him. The armored warriors from the previous scene ride up, and encircle the dwarves. Thorin commands everybody to close ranks, Bofur tosses Bilbo in the center, and they all ready their weapons until Elrond dismounts and speaks with Gandalf. He complains, in Elvish, of the presence of orcs at their borders. Elrond politely speaks with Thorin, who is curt and rude in response. Elrond says something in Elvish that the dwarves take offense to, until Gandalf translates: it was no insult, but an invitation to break bread.

"What kind of steak you think they'll be serving?" "Depends. What kind of animal just up and dies when you surrender at it?" 

The Book: Bilbo sees a mountain in the distance, and when he's told it's the beginning of the Misty Mountains, and not Erebor, he starts to think of home. Gandalf is leading the way to Rivendell, where Thorin's Company is expected. Thorin raises no complaints. They walk for a full day, until its dark. Bilbo was falling asleep in the saddle when he suddenly caught the smell of elves, who burst out in song from the trees:

O! What are you doing,
And where are you going?
Your ponies need shoeing!
The river is flowing!
O! tra-la-la-lally
here down in the valley!

O! Where are you going
With beards all a-wagging?
No knowing, no knowing
What brings Mister Baggins
And Balin and Dwalin
down in the valley
in June
ha! ha!

O! Will you be staying,
Or will you be flying? 
Your ponies are straying!
The daylight is dying!
To fly would be folly,
To stay would be jolly
And listen and hark
Till the end of the dark
to our tune
ha! ha!

Tra-la-la-lally! Here down in the valley!

Bilbo is excited, and a little scared. The dwarves, however, were annoyed: sometimes elves tease dwarves, especially about their beards. An elf makes fun of Bilbo for being on a pony ("Isn't it delicious!" he says), and they sing another song that isn't transcribed. A young tall elf comes out from the trees, welcomes Thorin and Gandalf to the valley, and invites Thorin's Company in to supper.

What difference does it make? This is, obviously, an enormous change. Thorin's racism isn't an attribute of the character in the book. In fact, the only dislike the dwarves have towards elves is a bit of annoyance since they don't like having their beards made fun of. This is very different from the deep-rooted hatred evinced in the movie. Thorin holds no grudge, and doesn't have to be coerced into traveling to Rivendell. The scene itself is significantly less tense as a result: no insulting tone from Thorin, no raised weapons. Instead, we get song. The elves of the movie are significantly different in tone and demeanor than the book. They're still tall, graceful, and wise, but significantly more somber as well. Tolkein's elves are jolly and goofy, while Peter Jackson's are somber and serious. 

My Opinion: This is the kind of change that Peter Jackson shouldn't be making - it's one that he doesn't necessarily have to make, and seems to be just trying to make an "improvement" over the source material - but I quite honestly love these changes. Elrond is one of my favorite characters, and I really wouldn't enjoy seeing him prance around and singing a silly song. He was spared the Radagast treatment, and for that I'm thankful. I've also talked about my appreciation for Thorin's racism - I think it fits the overall plotlines of the Lord of the Rings universe, and just makes for a deeper, more interesting character. The two elements added together made the scene more dramatic and interesting. It's another example of The Hobbit changing from a light-hearted children's novel to a more serious adult film, but that's not a bad thing. Not everything has to be a ridiculously comical attempt to - 

Oh. Right.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Orc Attack

The Movie: Radagast hops on his sled and draws the orcs off, out of the woods and into a vast open plain. They follow him, while Gandalf and Thorin's Company run in a separate direction. On a few occasions, the Company is forced to change course, as they risk running into the orc pack that is chasing Radagast. Gandalf is leading them somewhere, and when Thorin demands to know where, he refuses to say. The dwarves huddle behind a rock As Radagast speeds off, a warg-mounted orc hops on the rock. Thorin nods to Kili, who shoots it before it can call the alarm on its warhorn. Dwalin, Thorin, and Bifur kill it, but the rest of the orc pack can hear the sounds of combat. Gandalf gives the order to run. Thorin's Company is running out of places to go, as the orcs surround and begin close in on them. Gandalf has disappeared. "He's abandoned us!" yells Dwalin. Thorin commands the dwarves to hold their ground, but Gandalf, having found a secret path, calls them to him. Thorin guards the entrance of a small rock tunnel that each dwarf slides down; he joins them last. A warhorn sounds, heralding the entrance of several armored warriors on horseback, who shoot the orcs down. As the orcs retreat, Thorin inspects an arrow that had killed an orc. Their saviors are elves.

"Fucking elves. You know they hug trees, right? What do you think they do with small shafts of wood?"

The Book: No such scene occurs. There are no orcs hunting Thorin's Company.

What difference does it make? The inclusion of the orc pack is huge. Not just in this scene, but in the movie itself. Unlike the trolls, or the Goblin King, the orcs are not present in the book in any way. Peter Jackson has added a new threat that constantly hounds the dwarves. This means that not only are scenes like this one invented out of whole cloth, but they have to be squeezed in between scenes that actually did happen in the books. This necessarily throws off the pacing of The Hobbit, and changes the order and reasoning of events. Furthermore, by making this a recurring threat, it adds an entire new plot line that requires its own climax and resolution. The more changes like this that occur, the less faithful the movie is to the book.

My Opinion: I'm of two minds here. First, it's a change that didn't have to be made. Unlike the fight with the trolls, or some small condensing of dialogue, this is not a change that was made to streamline the book into a good movie adaptation - it's a wholly unnecessary addition. It was exciting to watch, certainly, but that doesn't justify adding a villain just to chase the characters from one book scene to another. This is more than a mere modification. At this point, Peter Jackson is changing the story of the book. But on the other hand, he did need a reason to get Thorin to go to Rivendell. Thorin's racism, which is in my opinion an excellent bit of characterization, is not in the novel, either. He wouldn't have just taken the Company to Rivendell unless he absolutely had to. Furthermore, since the movie version of The Hobbit is divided into a trilogy, each movie would need a small story arc of its own. A buildup in the first movie for a climax in the second or third would just be bad storytelling. At least Peter Jackson put the orc attacks in places where they would not conflict with the rest of the novel's story. It's better to use it to propel the dwarves to Rivendell than, say, to have the orcs be allies of the trolls or something. It's not a change that I'm really happy with, but it's one that I can understand, and appreciate, the reasoning behind.

That said, I want to talk about what the fuck Radagast was doing. He said he would lead the orcs away, and that's what it looks... at first. He bragged about the speed of his rabbits, and sure enough, he's faster than the Gundabad Wargs. The movie shows Radagast exiting the forest first, then chased by the orcs, then Thorin's Company running out on foot. So why the hell did the dwarves keep running into the orcs? Why were they anywhere near them when Radagast just speeds away? Was he just going in circles or something? Did he forget what he was supposed to have been doing?

To be fair, we did watch him get stoned just five minutes ago. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Old Toby

The Movie: Radagast, on his sled, bursts into the scene through the foliage. He is screaming about thieves and murder until he realizes where he is, and Gandalf introduces him to the Company. Radagast says was looking for Gandalf; he has something important to tell him, but when pressed, can't remember what he was going to say. He grows flustered that he'd lost his thought, then pulls a stick insect out of his mouth. Radagast and Gandalf walk away from the dwarves, and the brown wizard starts discussing the sickness that has befallen the Greenwood. Gandalf grows interested when Radagast mentions the spiders, which had come from Dol Guldur. Gandalf is surprised; the old fortress is supposed to be abandoned. Radagast tells of his investigation, and how he felt an evil presence. He was attacked by an uncloaked Nazgul, and saw the Necromancer, who whispered his name. Radagast grows distraught at the retelling, so Gandalf offers him his pipe and says "a little Old Toby will help settle the nerves." Radagast inhales deeply, and zones out with a goofy look on his face. Gandalf voices his doubts about the Necromancer, until Radagast shows him the sword of the creature that attacked him: "That is not from the world of the living," he says ominously. Thorin's Company hears a howling; Bilbo fears it may be wolves. Two wargs attack the Company, though they are quickly killed by Thorin, Kili, and Dwalin.

It was nice of this stone cold badass to let Kili fire off an arrow before fucking that warg's day up. It's important to let Little Beardless feel important every now and then.

Thorin realizes that an orc pack is nearby, and Gandalf declares that they are being hunted. Ori brings even worse news: the ponies have bolted. Radagast offers to draw them off, but Gandalf warns him that the Gundabad Wargs will outrun him. "These are Rhosgobel rabbits!" says Radagast. "I'd like to see them try."

The Book: No such scene occurs. There is no indication that Radagast was involved in the investigation at Dol Guldur. Thorin's Company is not attacked by wargs at this time, and they had their ponies until they were all captured by the Goblin King. This scene is entirely an invention of the movie.

What does it matter? I'd like to keep my discussion about the investigation of the Necromancer and Dol Guldur in another post, but one very important thing here is worth mentioning: Gandalf's insistence that Dol Guldur is abandoned. In the book, he knows it isn't - in fact, it's where he found Thorin's father, half dead, tortured by the forces of the Necromancer. The depth of this change is actually quite significant, but like I said, it's a topic for another post. I just wanted to draw attention to it here before discussing it again. Radagast plays a very large role in things, now - both by being the catalyst that draws Gandalf's attention to the Necromancer, and by saving the dwarves from the orc attack. His presence causes changes that further distances the plot of the movie from the plot of the book.

My Opinion: We know Gandalf's worth. And as shitty a character as Radagast is, we know he's a capable fighter. Many of the dwarves are warriors. Why, then, are they running from an orc pack, when they have two wizards with them? It's ridiculous. It's bad enough that the scene has nothing to do with the source material, but it's so incredibly contrived that it honestly drew me out of the story. Why retreat? Why not stay and fight?

Radagast, once again, proves to be a humiliating disappointment. His entrance into the scene is marked by shouting random bad things (thieves? fire? Are you warning people, or just screaming about shit you dislike?), then he just continues to act goofy and stupid. I don't know what was up with that bug in his mouth. A random, Family Guy-esque non-sequitur joke? Or is it supposed to be funny that he actually transports insects in his mouth? His battle with the Witch King was pretty cool, but any hopes I had for the character were dashed when I saw him take a hit of Gandalf's Old Toby.

Yeah, we get it, he just got high. Were the cartoon tweety bird sound effects really necessary?

As much as I hate Radagast, though, I really do like the decision to have him involved in the investigation of Dol Guldur. He does live closer to it than anyone else, and it absolutely makes sense to have him notice the darkness in Mirkwood (née Greenwood). This is an excellent decision on Peter Jackson's part, one that fits the role of the overarching storyline, as well as the purpose of the wizards. If only Radagast wasn't such a fucking joke, I'd give it my full support.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Troll's Treasure

The Movie: It's morning, and all the dwarves have been freed from their bondage. Thorin approaches Gandalf as the wizard inspects the petrified trolls and asks, "Where did you go to, if I may ask?" Gandalf replies, "To look ahead." When asked what brought him back, he says, "Looking behind." Thorin smiles and nods, then insults Bilbo for getting them into trouble. Gandalf defends Bilbo for knowing to stall for time. They discuss the oddness of trolls coming down this far south, and Gandalf muses that they used to travel around these parts when "a darker power ruled." They look for, and find, the trolls cave. It's filthy and smelly, but filled with gold. Bofur thinks its a shame to leave it unattended, so Gloin has Nori fetch a shovel. Thorin examines a pair of swords covered in webs. Examing the steel, Gandalf realizes they are of elvish make. Thorin nearly puts his sword back in disgust before Gandalf tells him that he'd never find a finer weapon. Bofur, Nori, and Gloin fill a chest with gold and bury it in the cave. Thorin orders everyone to leave, but Gandalf notices a short sword covered in rubble. He decides to give it to Bilbo. Bilbo protests, having never wielded a sword in his life. Gandalf tells him the sword is of "elvish make," and will therefore glow blue when orcs or goblins are near. He tells Bilbo that true courage is not knowing when to take a life, but when not to take a life.

"You do realize I abstain from killing people all the time, right? I don't need a sword to do that."

The Book: After the dwarves are released from their bags, they demand to hear Bilbo's account of the troll incident. They berate him for trying to pickpocket the trolls, until Gandalf mentions that there ought to be a cave nearby that they should search for. They find it easily, but it is closed off by a large stone door. No amount of pushing, or Gandalf's magic, can open it. Bilbo finds a key that one of the trolls had dropped during their fight, and they use that to open the door. The troll's cave is full of gold, food, and weapons. Two swords catch their eyes, due to their beautiful, jewel encrusted scabbards and hilts. Thorin and Gandalf claim these for themselves, and Bilbo takes a knife. Gandalf notes that the swords were not made by men or trolls, but does not mention their elvish origin. Fili makes the decision to leave, but not before all the dwarves have taken as much food as they could. The dwarves sleep until afternoon, and then bury all the pots of gold in a secret area by the river. A great many spells are placed over the treasure to protect it - the text does not say if it's Gandalf who places the spells or not, but it's safe to assume that he is the only magic user in the Company. Thorin then asks Gandalf where he'd gone off to: the conversation plays out almost exactly as it does in the movie, only Thorin gets annoyed at Gandalf's mysterious answer and asks him to speak more clearly. Gandalf mentions that he'd visited Rivendell, and says that they will be going there in a few days time.

What difference does it make? The contents of the troll's cave is, broadly speaking, the same in both film and movie. The food in the troll's cave is not present in the movie, due to the fact that the dwarves in the movie are not suffering from dwindling rations. The gold and weapons are still prevalent. Orcrist and Glamdring are in simple leather sheathes in the movie, instead of the ornate, jeweled works of art described in the novel. Bilbo's role in opening the door is taken away entirely, and Gandalf's conversation to the hobbit about mercy is an invention of the movie. These both change the characterization of Bilbo Baggins.

My Opinion: I'm okay with the decision to remove the stone door, and consequently, the key that Bilbo finds. It's weird to think of the three stupid trolls digging out some hole in the ground, and then magically erecting a door that even a wizard couldn't open. It was also necessary that their shelter be somewhat temporary in the movie; it is an important plot point that trolls are unusual this far south, and giving them a permanent home with a sealed door would undermine that. I'll talk a little more about this plot point when I discuss the White Council. 

I like that Gandalf gives Bilbo the elvish knife, but I disagree with the decision to have him talk to Bilbo about mercy like he does. It's a weird sentiment to share with somebody who doesn't even want to carry a weapon: "It's better to NOT kill." Why give him a sword if you're going to encourage him not to use it? If he seems hesitant to own and use a weapon, wouldn't you instead want say something that may inspire bravery or confidence? I get that it foreshadows Bilbo's encounter with Gollum, but it doesn't make a lot of sense outside of that context. Furthermore, it somewhat undermines Bilbo's decision to spare Gollum. His gentle nature and sense of morality should have been sufficient, not a lecture he remembers from earlier.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dawn Take You All

The Movie: About half the dwarves (Dwalin, Fili, Bifur, Bofur, Ori, Nori, and Dori) are tied up on a spit over a cookfire, while Bilbo and the rest of the dwarves (Bombur, Thorin, Oin, Gloin, Kili, and Balin) are all in a pile beside the fire. The trolls start to argue about how to cook the dwarves, but William tells everyone to hurry up - dawn is coming, and he doesn't fancy being turned to stone. Hearing this, Bilbo comes up with a plan. He tells the trolls that the dwarves will need something stronger than sage for seasoning. When challenged by William, Bilbo claims to know the secret to cooking dwarves: skinning them alive. The dwarves start yelling at Bilbo for being a traitor. Bilbo notices Gandalf scurrying behind some bushes just as Tom decides that he'll just eat them raw. He picks up Bombur for a snack, but Bilbo interrupts him by stating that he - and all the dwarves - have parasites. Thorin catches onto what Bilbo is trying to do, and kicks Kili. The dwarves loudly, and comically, start to play along with the hobbit's ploy. William, however, is also onto Bilbo, and angrily claims that "this little ferret" is taking them for fools.

You really think this is the face of somebody who's lying to you?

Just then, Gandalf appears atop a rock, and shouts that the "dawn will take you all!" He thrusts his staff down, shattering the rock beneath him, and allowing the light of the rising sun through. The trolls are all instantly turned to stone.

The Book: The trolls were arguing about how to cook the dwarves, and after much discussion, Bert came up with the idea to just roast the dwarves now, and eat them later. "No good roasting 'em now, it'd take all night," said a voice, and the trolls began arguing again. They finally agreed to boil the dwarves, but once again, a voice dissented against it, confusing the trolls and making them fight. Each time they came to an agreement, the voice disagreed; each time they heard the voice, the trolls thought one of the others was speaking. Then, a voice that sounded like William's cried out: "Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!" It had been Gandalf speaking the whole time; at that moment, the light came over the hill and turned the trolls to stone.

What difference does it make? This is a pretty huge one. The movie gives significant responsibility to Bilbo here; he very quickly acts after hearing the troll's weakness to sunlight, and acts quite deliberately to stall them before he even knows Gandalf was present. He's the reason the trolls didn't kill the dwarves immediately, before the dawn. Gandalf, too, was given a largely different role (since he was no longer responsible for stalling the trolls); his sundering of the rock was instrumental in exposing the trolls to such sudden sunlight. The conflict is resolved similarly to the book, but with sizable differences that change and expand the roles of the key players.

My Opinion: I'm all for things that make Bilbo Baggins look better, but this one really wasn't necessary. I don't want to start guessing at Peter Jackson's motivations, but, it looks like he's trying to speed up the pace in which Bilbo becomes a useful, contributing member of Thorin's Company. I get that, and I like it, but this is a little too much, too early. The troll incident suffices as an example of Bilbo screwing up royally - it's the sort of thing to show just how much he's grown later. One day, when he's killing spiders and dissing dragons, he can look back on this night and laugh.

"Remember when I nearly got you all killed by trolls? Yeah... good times."

A personal disappointment: I was looking forward to seeing how they were going to make Gandalf's voice sound like the trolls. Was Ian McKellan going to do his best troll impression? Were they going to use special effects to blend the voices together? Were they just going to use the troll's voices, having Gandalf use magic to literally make his voice sound exactly like theirs? It could have been a cool effect. Instead, we got a lame Bridge of Khaza-dum ripoff. 

Roast Mutton

The Movie: Bilbo overhears the trolls (named Bert, William, and Tom) talking as he creeps into their camp: "Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don't look like mutton again tomorrow," says William. Bert, the cook and apparent leader, corrects William: it's "fresh nags" he's got. Tom complains that he doesn't like horse, but Bert is happy to have anything better than that leathery old farmer. Tom sneezes into the stew Bert's making as Bilbo struggles with the knot that's tied up the ponies. He sees a knife tucked into Tom's belt, and decides to steal it to cut the rope. The trolls continue to discuss William's awful cooking, including his use of squirrel dung as seasoning, as Bilbo sneaks behind Tom.

Ever met someone who's breath smells like they literally just ate a shit sandwich? Imagine what their ass smells like.

Bilbo's timing is awful: Tom feels a sneeze coming on, so grabs his hankey - and the hobbit, too, by accident. He sneezes all over Bilbo before realizing what he has in his hand. Weirded out by the way Bilbo squirms, Tom tosses him on the ground. William asks him if he's a squirrel, and Bilbo answers, "I'm a burg - a hobbit." Tom calls him a "burglarhobbit" and the three trolls try and grab him. After a little bit of dodging, William picks Bilbo up by the feet and asks if there's any more little fellows around. Bilbo immediately says "no," but Tom thinks he's lying, and wants to hold his toes over the fire. Kili bursts out of the bushes alone, and attacks Tom with his sword. He demands the trolls drop the hobbit, so they throw Bilbo at him. That's when the rest of Thorin's Company attacks: wielding swords, hammers, axes, and spears. 

I'm pretty sure Dori straight-up castrates Bert here.

In the chaos, Bilbo takes Tom's knife and cuts the knot keeping the ponies prisoner. The trolls notice what he's doing and grab him, holding him by the arms and legs. They threaten to rip his arms off unless the dwarves lay their weapons down. Following Thorin's lead, they begrudgingly do so, and all 14 members of Thorin's Company are captured.

The Book: One of the trolls says exactly the same line as the movie: "Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don't look like mutton again tomorrer." The difference is, the complaint is valid this time: the trolls do not have horses to cook, nor had they just recently eaten a farmer's family (though William does make mention of Bert and Tom having had eaten an entire village and a half). Bilbo is unseen, and having discovered that its trolls at the campfire, has done his job and can report back to the dwarves. But he remembers reading that a truly exceptional burglar would not go back empty handed. To impress the others, he tries to pickpocket William as the trolls drank. William's pocket had a purse in it, but it was a magic purse, that spoke as it was touched: "'Ere, 'oo are you?" it squeaks, giving Bilbo away. Bilbo is immediately snatched by the neck and asked what he is. He answers: "Bilbo Baggins, a bur - a hobbit," and the trolls call him a "burrahobbit." They lift him by his toes and ask if there's any more of his sort hiding around. Bilbo says, "Yes, lots," then immediately says "No, none at all." He then pleads with the trolls, offering his services as a skilled cook if the trolls would only leave him alive.  William wants to let the hobbit go, but Bert wants to hold his toes over the fire, and they have a fight over it. 

Bilbo is dropped in the confusion, but struck by a wild swing from Bert and lay stunned. He watches the trolls fight for a short while, then Balin approaches the campfire. The trolls stopped fighting immediately and shoved a sack over Balin's head. Tom declares that there must be more dwarves, so they hide in the shadows. One by one, the dwarves approach, and one by one, a bag is placed over their heads. Bifur and Bombur had put up a fight when cornered. Thorin comes last, and Bilbo (who had escaped and hidden behind a tree) shouts that there are trolls; so Thorin leaps near the fire, grabs a flaming branch, and fights the trolls before a bag is placed over his head. All the dwarves are captured, and Bilbo is still hiding in the woods.

No pressure.

What difference does it make? Though this scene plays out very similar to the book - some lines are word-by-word identical - there are a number of very sizable changes involved. The first large change is the object Bilbo tries to steal. In the movie, he needs to steal the knife to cut the ponies free. In the book, there are no ponies for him to retrieve, and in fact his whole purpose there is to gather information, but he wants to steal something to impress the others. The magic talking purse he accidentally grabs is not in the movie at all. While the bag doesn't play any sort of vital role in the plot, it's one of the few magic items in The Hobbit; leaving out makes the world seem that much less magical. The method of capturing the dwarves is a large difference, too. The trolls are shown to be much smarter in the novel than they are in the film, by hiding and laying ambushes for each of the dwarves. The dwarves, comparatively, are shown to be much less intellligent in the book: they don't know what's at the campfire, and walk up one-by-one to get kidnapped. Only three of them put up any sort of fight. Bilbo's evasion of capture is important, as it changes how this conflict is resolved.

My Opinion: Some changes I like, some I don't. The talking purse always struck me as a little out-of-place in the novel, especially considering the role of magic, and magic items, in the Lord of the Rings saga as a whole. I'm personally alright with them removing it, but I can understand somebody disagreeing with this change - it's not really the kind of change to Tolkein's word Peter Jackson should be changing. The way the kidnapping of the dwarves was handled in the movie, though, is significantly better than the novel. I was honestly dreading this scene when I first saw the movie. It would get very tiring, very fast, to show a dwarf walk up, get a bag over his head, then another dwarf walks up and gets a bag over his head, etc etc etc. A battle like this is more climatic, interesting, and exciting - and it doesn't make any significant changes to the plot or characters involved. 

Also: in the movie, all the dwarves, and Bilbo, are captured the same way. A sack is tied around them in such a way that their arms and legs are bound, but their heads are free. In the book, all the dwarves have a bag over their head, yet Bilbo managed to evade capture. This is another example of a minor change that will affect the conversation Bilbo has with Smaug; in addition to having been chosen for the lucky number, Bilbo "came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over [him]." Again, this loses meaning since he was no longer the only one of Thorin's Company to avoid getting a bag over his head (though, technically, none of them got a bag over their head, so...)

Approaching the Trolls

The Movie: The dwarves have made camp for the night, and as Bilbo distresses over Gandalf's disappearance, Bofur says "He's a wizard! He does as he chooses." Then, he gives Bilbo two bowls of stew to take to Fili and Kili, who are watching the ponies. Only, as he arrives, Fili and Kili have some grave news: two of the ponies are missing. Something big had taken them, big enough to uproot some trees. Fili and Kili don't want to worry Thorin, so they decide that Bilbo, their burglar, should be the one to handle it. They see the light of a campfire at a distance, and hear the crude voices of trolls. The three of them get a little closer, just in time to see that one of the trolls had snatched up another two ponies. Fili and Kili decide Bilbo is so small the trolls wouldn't even see him, so they push him forward, telling him to hoot "twice like a barn owl once like a brown owl" if he needs them. The dwarves quickly disappear, and Bilbo works up the courage to creep forward.

Despite some initial reservations.

The Book: The dwarves are frustrated with their inability to make a fire in the rain. To add to their troubles, a pony bolts for no reason into the river, and Fili and Kili nearly drown trying to rescue it - but not before it lost most of the companies food supplies. Balin is the lookout, not Fili and Kili (the text explicitly states that he is "always their lookout"), and he notices a light in the distance. None of the dwarves, or Bilbo, are separated from each other. They argue about the fire, some dwarves claiming that it was too dangerous, and others arguing that it could mean some food and dry clothes. Oin and Gloin get into a fight. They decide to check out the fire, and they all creep ahead together. After getting a little closer, Thorin tells Bilbo that it's his job as the burglar to get as close as he can and make sure everything is OK. If he can't come back, he's to "hoot twice like a barn owl and once like a screech owl." Bilbo was off, before he could argue that he didn't know how to hoot like any owl.

What difference does it make? The differences here are minor. Once again, Peter Jackson plays around with the characterization of the dwarves. But like I said earlier, there's so little individual personality to them in the novel, it doesn't really matter. The changes here all lead up to the same situation: that is, Bilbo sneaks into the troll's camp by himself. It doesn't matter if the dwarves could or couldn't light a fire, or which dwarf told Bilbo to hoot like an owl.

My Opinion: For the most part, I like the changes made here. The desperation of the dwarves in finding food is an important factor in the decision to have them infiltrate the mysterious campfire. If this reasoning remained in the movie, then Thorin's decision to not go to Rivendell would be even worse - he'd essentially be risking starvation due to his own prejudices. In order to preserve Thorin's desire to avoid the elven settlement, Peter Jackson had to change the reason Bilbo needed to sneak up to the trolls. This is a good change, one that allows Peter Jackson to keep his own vision of Thorin's development without sacrificing anything important in the meantime. I also like that the dwarves' inability to make a fire was not a factor in the movie. The novel explains that "dwarves can make a fire almost anywhere out of almost anything," and that Oin and Gloin were particularly gifted at it. If they couldn't make a fire, how did the dimwitted trolls make one?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gandalf Leaves

The Movie: After marching for an unknown amount of time, Thorin and his Company run across an abandoned ruin of a shack. He gives the order to camp for the night. Gandalf seems to get an uneasy feeling about the place after realizing that a farmer and his family used to live there, so he recommends they make for the Hidden Valley instead. Thorin gets angry at the suggestion that they knock on the elves' door, citing their refusal to help him at Erebor. When Gandalf brings up the map - something he acknowledges he cannot read, but that Elrond may be able to - Thorin snaps at the wizard, who takes offense and storms away. Bilbo grows concerned, and asks Balin if Gandalf is coming back. Balin doesn't know how to answer.

"I don't know what to tell you, laddie. Sometimes wise and powerful wizards just throw the occasional bitch-fit, I guess."

The Book: As it's starting to rain, Bilbo begins to complain about how much he misses his home, by the fire with a cup of tea. By night time, as Thorin begins to ponder what they Company is going to do about food and a place to eat, the dwarves notice that Gandalf is missing. Though Dori and Nori complain that a wizard would be nice to have to help with the rain, they don't think anything of it; Gandalf never said if he was with them for the entirety of the adventure, or if he was just keeping them company for a short while.

What difference does it make? This is not an enormous difference. What matters is that, for a short while, Gandalf disappears. It isn't entirely important if it's due to a disagreement with Thorin, or if he simply has his own reasons. However, Gandalf doesn't need a reason for leaving; it's just his way. Gandalf's mysterious ways are part of his allure and charm as a character. Manufacturing reasons for his behavior belies that.

My Opinion: I didn't like the argument between Thorin and Gandalf, for two reasons. One, obviously, I found it to be an unnecessary departure from the character in the book. When Gandalf disappears, you get the feeling that he's up to something - perhaps related to the quest for Erebor, or perhaps not. The mystery is what matters, and leaving it ambiguous kind of hints at a greater character, with a greater purpose. Maybe Gandalf is involved in several little quests, and likes to pop in and out of them at his whim. Or maybe it's just in his nature to come and go as he please. Watching him get all pissy and storm away because Thorin's being stubborn, though, just makes him look petty.

Thorin's attitude is another thing here that I didn't like. Specifically, his attitude towards Elrond and his ilk. Thorin is resentful towards Thranduil, who did not help the dwarves when doom came to Erebor. Transferring this anger towards Elrond is literally racism. Elrond is Lord of Rivendell, and Thranduil is King of the Woodland Realms. Not only are these places hundreds of miles apart, but they have entirely different cultures and even different types of elves living there! (Noldor elves in Rivendell, and Silvan elves in the Woodland Realms, if you're interested) Don't get me wrong, I don't actually mind that Thorin is portrayed here as a bonafide anti-elf racist. It makes for an interesting character. I do mind that his racism goes by unaddressed. That was the perfect opportunity to give Gandalf a reason to storm off! To an audience that might not know the difference in elves, it just looked like Gandalf overreacted to Thorin's simmering resentment. Have Gandalf angrily declare that "Elrond is not Thranduil," or "Not all elves are the same, Thorin Oakenshield!" If you insist on having an argument drive Gandalf away, might as well have it be about the leader's unreasonable hatred of an entire race.

To be fair, they do all look the same.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Witchcraft at Rhosgobel

The Movie: It is raining. Dori asks Gandalf if he can make it stop, and Gandalf snaps that he'd need to find himself "another wizard." When Bilbo asks if there are any other wizards, Gandalf says there are five: himself, Saruman, two nameless blue wizards, and Radagast the Brown. Radagast is a great wizard, Gandalf says, a gentle soul who keeps an eye over the forests of Mirkwood. The scene changes to Radagast, panicking over several dead animals. He picks a mushroom, examines some tree sap, and calls the birds to their nest in his hair before noticing a dying hedgehog. He takes the hedgehog back to Rhosgobel, and begins to despair when none of his remedies work. As Radagast realizes that some dark magic may be responsible for whatever ill has befallen Mirkwood, giant spiders surround and attack his house. Radagast props a chair up against the door to keep them out, and Sebastian dies. Radagast then takes a vial from his staff and begins to chant as he pours its contents down the hedgehog's mouth.

He goes cross-eyed when he casts magic, because otherwise we might accidentally respect him here.

The magic works: the spiders are driven away, and Sebastian returns to life. Radagast asks a bird where the spiders came from; it twitters something about "the old fortress." On his rabbit-pulled sled, Radagast follows the bird to Dol Guldur.

The Book: No such scene occurs.

What difference does it make? At this point in the movie, none of Radagast's activities affect the storyline of The Hobbit for better or worse. In fact, this scene fits in with the same "dwarves telling stories" plot device that allowed the Battle of Azanulbizar to be shown. Using a conversation between Gandalf and Bilbo as a framing device helps show this scene without it having any great impact on the story.

My Opinion: Every time the movie comes to this scene, I have to do a quick calculus in my head. How long is Radagast going to be on screen? How long would it take me to get up, find the controller, and change it to the next scene? By the time I decide "fuck it, I don't care if I lose any time, I hate this stupid character," he's already riding off on his sled of rabbits. Everything about Radagast annoys me. I hate his silly hat, the birdshit in his hair, and his stupid pointy Santa's-Little-Helper shoes.

Somebody actually made the intentional, deliberate decision to include these fucking things in his wardrobe design. They did this on purpose.

His mannerisms are bothersome; everything from the little noises he always makes to the odd facial twitches. He's a CGI body and racist accent away from being Jar Jar Binks. How anybody could have decided that this was a good character to include is beyond me. The fact that they chose to make this cartoon character out of an Istari is the worst character assassination in Lord of the Rings since Faramir. Radagast is not only terrible, but he completely changes the tone of the movie. The Hobbit is supposed to be a more childish and light-hearted story than the trilogy, sure, but Radagast's scene here is nothing but outright camp.  

My hatred of Radagast aside, this scene is not entirely out of place, though it does have a few problems associated with it (since when can wizards bring things back from the dead? Was that vial a one-time use? Does it work on people? Why did Radagast get so upset over one hedgehog, but ignores all those other dead animals?). Radagast's home is in the Mirkwood, and it stands to reason that he would have had some issues with the giant spiders. So it's kind of interesting to see that addressed. And... that's it. I'm out of good things to say about this scene. Fuck Radagast.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Radagast The Brown

The Movie: Radagast is shown in several scenes. He is a wizard, like Gandalf or Saruman, but wears brown robes instead of gray or white. In addition, he wears a distinctive hat, much like Gandalf the Gray. Radagast is portrayed as absent-minded, manic, and a friend to all animals. He is shown growing incredibly upset at the death of a hedgehog, mice live in his house, and he even houses a small nest for birds to roost in under his hat. He is intelligent, with knowledge of herb lore, medicine, and alchemy. His mannerisms are eccentric. Radagast has an... unusual reaction to smoking from Gandalf's pipe, and Saruman reports that his excessive use of mushrooms has addled his brain. Radagat's magic is powerful; capable of repelling the spiders of Mirkwood, and bringing Sebastian the hedgehog back to life. He is formidable in combat, as well, capable of holding his own against an uncloaked Nazgul who very well may have been the Witch King of Angmar. He does not ride a horse, but instead conveys himself on a sled pulled by rabbits.

Fucking... god damnit.

The Book: Radagast the Brown is not mentioned in The Hobbit outside of a few passing statements. Gandalf, speaking to Beorn, mentions that his "good cousin Radagast" lives in the southern parts of Mirkwood. Beorn remembers Radagast and refers to him as a good fellow; high praise for a misanthropic isolationist. Radagast is mentioned again in the Fellowship of the Ring at the Council of Elrond; he was the one who sent Gandalf to meet with Saruman, and who sent the eagles to rescue Gandalf from his subsequent confinement at Isengard. He is characterized as a "master of shapes and changes of hue," a man who speaks the tongue of birds and prefers the company of animals. The character is otherwise not described, and is never seen.

What does it matter? The mere inclusion of Radagast is an enormous difference, and easily one of the biggest and most controversial changes Peter Jackson has made. Radagast's involvement is important to the plot, and to the safety of the dwarves. This means, of course, that there are issues caused (or solved) by his presence that weren't in the novel at all. I will discuss each scene with Radagast in its own post, but the character himself has a very large impact on the plot of The Hobbit.

Regarding the character himself, Radagast isn't actually that different from how he's described in the books - but that's only because no more than a few lines are ever dedicated to him. Peter Jackson added many qualities and attributes to Radagast, but that's only because there was so much room there in which to add these qualities.

My Opinion: This requires some exposition: the five wizards are more than mere humans. They are Istari, a special kind of Maiar, which in Middle Earth are pretty much angels. Literally, they are spirit agents of the gods. Sauron, for example, is a fallen Maiar. They are incredibly powerful, intelligent, noble creatures. And Radagast has bird shit in his hair.

He always looks like he just sharted. Given the rest of Peter Jackson's portrayal of the character, this may actually be canon now.

I had very, very high hopes for Radagast the Brown. A wise, stoic wizard who disdains the politics of men, and who periodically gets involved only out of loyalty to Gandalf. What he lacks in Gandalf's charisma or Saruman's efficient logic, he makes up for in shamanism and animalism. A druid. That is not the case with the movie version. Peter Jackson has taken "eccentric" and "absent-minded" and turned it into full-fledged comic relief. He's goofy, in a Saturday morning cartoon way. He's more suited to be the mascot of some kind of sugary cereal than he is to be a wizard. I don't want to say Peter Jackson ruined the character (because, honestly, there wasn't much there to ruin anyway), but he certainly ruined a wonderful opportunity.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Battle of Azanulbizar

The Movie: Thorin's Company is resting for the evening. Bilbo hears a strange noise, and Fili and Kili tease him by pretending its a mob of orcs. Thorin scolds them, as orcs are no laughing matter. Balin apologizes on Thorin's behalf, and tells them that Thorin has more cause than most to hate orcs.

"Are you about to tell my story? Hold up. Let me go stare nobly into the distance."

He begins to tell the tale of how the dwarves of Erebor, led still by Thorin's grandfather Thror, tried to retake Moria from the orcs that had taken over. The movie flashes back to the Battle of Azanulbizar, where the dwarves defeated the orcs outside the gates of Moria. Balin, Dwalin, and Thorin are shown fighting. The orcs were led by Azog the Defiler, who takes it upon himself to end the line of Durin - starting by beheading Thror. Thrain, Thorin's father, goes missing, mad with grief. Thorin battles Azog personally; his shield rent, he picks up a branch of oak to use a shield, gaining the name Oakenshield. He chops off Azog's hand, and Azog is dragged back into Moria as the orcs retreat. Azog is assumed dead, the orcs are defeated, and the dwarves win. After the flashback sequence is over, we see a pair of orc warg-riders watching the dwarves from a distance. One tells the other to send word to their "master" that they have found the dwarves.

The Book: This scene never happens in The Hobbit, though the narration does make mention of the dwarves telling stories on their journey. There is no reason to assume that the Battle of Azanulbizar is not one of the stories they may have told, and that Bilbo may have heard. However, the Battle itself is not mentioned anywhere in The Hobbit. Also, there are no orcs chasing Thorin's company in the books - at all. I will discuss that in more detail in a later post.

Regarding the Battle of Azanulbizar, quite a bit is changed from "the book" (by which I mean, Appendix A.) III.) of the Lord of the Rings). For one, Thror was not killed at that battle. He was killed by Azog, but it was much earlier, when he went to Moria with only another dwarf. Thror was beheaded, and his body defiled, and his companion returned the head (and a small sack of coins) back to Thrain - who declared war. In other words, Thror's beheading caused the War of the Dwarves and Orcs, which the Battle of Azanulbizar ended.

This is like having Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima happen on the same day.

Thrain and Thorin were both wounded during the fight. Thrain did not leave yet (he led the dwarves for some time after this battle, before deciding to wander off to Erebor by himself), and Thorin did not personally do battle with Azog. Dain Ironfoot killed Azog, and the dwarves beheaded the vile orc and shoved a sack of coins in its mouth. Balin, Gloin, and Thorin are mentioned as participating in the battle. After the battle, the orcs retreated south (not back into Moria); it was Durin's Bane that kept the dwarves from retaking Moria for good.

Seriously, what, did you just fucking forget this thing was here or something?

What does it matter? Most of the details of the Battle of Azanulbizar are inconsequential - even the large ones, like Thror's beheading, or the retreat of the orcs back into Moria. It has no effect on the movie's story to get a few details of history wrong, and we know that the orcs end up back in Moria eventually. Streamlining these details helps keep the audience informed, in broad strokes, without slowing the pace to a crawl. The death of Azog should have also been more final, but like I said, that topic deserves a post of its own.

My Opinion: I'm very happy to see this scene in the movie. Not only was it entirely unexpected (not being a part of the book at all), but it was cool to see a bit of the history of the dwarves that earlier only existed in the appendices. Seeing Balin and Dwalin (with hair!) fighting in their youth was a cool touch, too. I do wish they had shown Dain, though. Even if they wanted to keep things personal between Thorin and Azog, Dain was an important player in this battle (and will be an important player in things to come). 

A small detail, however, that I wish Peter Jackson had handled differently. The Battle of Azanulbizar was told to Bilbo by Balin. I would have liked to have seen another dwarf tell the tale. As much as I like Balin, he's just got so much characterization in the movie (The old warrior? Check. Thorin's second in command? Check. The legal expert? Check. The resident raconteur? Check.), that a lot of the other dwarves simply lack. Let another dwarf show some hidden depths by being a good storyteller. Maybe Gloin, or Dwalin, who were both present. 

Bilbo Joins the Company

The Movie: Bilbo catches up with the dwarves on the road. He happily presents the contract, which Balin reviews and declares to be in order. Thorin orders the dwarves to give Bilbo a pony, despite his objections. Bilbo notices the dwarves exchanging small sacks of coins, and Gandalf tells him it's because they'd made wagers on whether or not he'd show up. For the record: Nori bet against Bilbo, and Oin and Gandalf bet on him; none of the other bets are made explicit, but apparently "most of them" thought Bilbo would be a no-show.

Seemed like a safe bet at the time.

Bilbo sneezes, and abruptly demands that everybody stop and turn back so he can get a handkerchief. The dwarves laugh, Bofur rips off a piece of a rag for Bilbo to use, and Thorin gives the order to move on. "You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, Bilbo Baggins, before we reach your journey's end," Gandalf says.

The Book: Bilbo meets Thorin's Company right outside the Green Dragon Inn. Balin was looking out, but the rest were already on their ponies as Bilbo was running late. No mention is made of any contract. Thorin orders Balin and Bilbo to get on their ponies (which Bilbo has no objection to), and Bilbo complains that he has no hat, handkerchief, or money. Dwalin tells him that he "will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things." He does, however, provide Bilbo with a dark-green cloak and hood. Gandalf arrives late, having still been at Bilbo's house, with a bunch of handkerchiefs as well as Bilbo's pipe and tobacco.

What does it matter? Having Bilbo meet the dwarves on the road, instead of at the inn, has no repercussions on the rest of the story. Nor does Bilbo's lack of handkerchiefs, or the color of his clothing. The addition of the "betting" scene was a humorous touch that added a layer of depth to the personality of the dwarves (individually, and as a group).

My Opinion: I much prefer Bilbo's appearance in the movie than in the book - the red and green give a distinctive appearance that "green on green" rather lacked. I don't have any strong opinions about the change in meeting place, but I can see how one might get frustrated or annoyed by it, especially if they were looking forward to seeing the Green Dragon Inn. It's another example of Peter Jackson changing something that simply didn't have to be changed. This time, however, I don't really care about it.

One thing that did irk me, however, was the change in which character provides which lines. Peter Jackson plays fast and lose with the characterization of the dwarves throughout the movie. This in itself isn't a big deal (though, personally, I'm disappointed that my favorite dwarf from the book is known to my friends solely as the one who said "the wine has a fruity bouquet"). So little personality is given to each dwarf in The Hobbit that it doesn't matter how Peter Jackson chooses to divide their lines in the movie. Gloin's "he looks more like a grocer than a burglar" is fine coming out of Thorin's mouth, for example. Taking away Dwalin's generosity in the book and giving it to Bofur, sure. But it irks me that one of Dwalin's important lines is given to Gandalf, a character who already has more personality and characterization than all of the dwarves combined - in both book and movie! It's hard enough making each dwarf interesting and unique, but it's going to be even harder if you give their lines to the wizard.

The Contract

The Movie: The contract is an incredibly long document, something Balin believes to be rather boilerplate. It details "summary of out-of-pocket expenses, time requirement, remuneration, funeral expenses, and so forth." As Bilbo reads it, he finds that he is subject to one-fourteenth total profit (if any), and also discovers that the contract is quite explicit in the inherent dangers of the quest: death by "laceration, evisceration, and incineration."

If you look closely during this part, you can even see "laceration, evisceration, incineration" there at the bottom!

The Book: There is no contract. At least, there's nothing that Bilbo is required to read, understand, and sign. The note that Thorin leaves on Bilbo's mantelpiece has some attributes of a contract, however. It is as follows:

"Thorin and Company to Burglar Bilbo greetings! For your hospitality our sincerest thanks, and for your offer of professional assistance our grateful acceptance. Terms: cash on delivery, up to and not exceeding one fourteenth of total profits (if any); all travelling expenses guaranteed in any event; funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives, if occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for.
Thinking it unnecessary to disturb your esteemed repose, we have proceeded in advance to make requisite preparations, and shall await your respected person at the Green Dragon Inn, Bywater, at 11 a.m. sharp. Trusting you will be punctual.
We have the honor to remain
Yours deeply,
Thorin & Co."

What does it matter? The contents of the contract are the same in the movie and the book - most of what's included in the book's "contract" is stated aloud. In either case, the contract is never given any serious importance in the book, and very minor importance in the movie. It is an insignificant change.

My Opinion: Like I said earlier, the document in the book isn't a contract at all. At least, not a legally binding one (not according to U.S. law, at least... but what do I know about Middle Earth's statutes and precedents?). I like it's inclusion, though. It adds some depth to the dwarves, especially Balin, who seems to have been the one to have written it. It breathes a little humor into the movie, especially the section that details various ways to die by dragon (in rhyme!)

If you're interested in seeing what Dwarf Legalese looks like, by the way, the contract has been transcribed in whole by a much greater fan than I.

The Morning After

The Movie: Bilbo awakens alone. He wanders around his house, nervously looking for any remaining dwarves. There are none. His expression changes from relief to disappointment, then to something else entirely when he sees the contract laid out for him to sign - already signed by Thorin and Balin. He takes a brief moment to reconsider, then quickly packs a bag, gets dressed, and runs out the door. No mention is made of his reasoning. It could be that he realizes a chance like this will never come again, or he doesn't want to let the dwarves down, but we are never explicitly told why Bilbo changed his mind.

Shouting "I'm going on an adventure!" in the Shire is like shouting "I'm going to an orgy!" in a Catholic Church.

The Book: Bilbo wakes up alone, and after realizing the dwarves are all gone, feels a pang of disappointment that he didn't tag along. He cleans up the dishes they had left behind from breakfast, makes a breakfast of his own, and was sitting down to enjoy a second breakfast when Gandalf barges in the door. Gandalf points out the message left on the mantelpiece by Thorin, instructing Bilbo to meet them at the Green Dragon Inn at 11; it's 10:50, says Gandalf, and Bilbo would have to run. Bilbo tries to argue, but Gandalf yells at him to hurry up, and Bilbo rushes out the door without a second thought.

What difference does it make? This is further changing the characterization of Bilbo Baggins. In the movie, he changes his mind only once - but it's his choice. The book has him flip-flopping a few times, and in the end, the reader isn't even certain that Bilbo made the decision himself. It appears that he was simply bullied into running out the door in order to make the appointment. Giving him time to prepare, though, was an odd choice. Bilbo's rushing out the door without so much as a pocket-handkerchief is part of his overall character arc; he had to leave behind all the comforts and safeties of home, and start to learn to live entirely on his wits and mettle. A filled backpack somewhat takes away from all this.

My Opinion: As much as I appreciate Bilbo being pressured into going on a journey that he (initially) didn't  want to, simply because he was too polite, I like the movie's version better. Having Gandalf literally show up and scream at Bilbo until he immediately left takes away from the decision to go. It should be Bilbo's decision, and the movie made it clear that it was entirely his decision. It's a rather sizable change, in my opinion, and one that makes me a bit leery (especially the part where Bilbo rushes out), but it's nonetheless a change for the better.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


The Movie: Thorin's desire to retake Erebor is complicated, and many reasons for it are given. Reclaiming his "long-forgotten gold" is mentioned in the singing of Misty Mountains, and when Oin mentions there being signs that the reign of Smaug is near an end, Thorin speaks of the unguarded treasure of Erebor that others may want to take for themselves. However, then Balin argues against the journey, he says that the life Thorin built for the dwarves in the Blue Mountains is worth more than "all the gold in Erebor." Thorin does not disagree, but raises a new point: his father, and his father's father, had dreamt of the day that they might take their homeland back. Thorin appears more concerned with the dwarves retaking their rightful home than he is with Erebor's vast treasures.

Bilbo Baggins is initially against the journey. He is comfortable in his opulent little Hobbit home, and shows no signs of wanting to leave. He not only does not want an adventure, but is shown to be incredibly uncomfortable when something exciting happens at home. When the dwarves insult him by saying he clearly lacks the demeanor to be an adventurer, he agrees with them. Balin's contract, with it's mentions of funeral arrangements and various rhyming ways a dragon can kill, make him faint. Gandalf pressures Bilbo by mentioning his Took side, which had manifested itself when Bilbo was a child and would dream of going on adventures. This still does not convince the hobbit, and he goes to sleep without having changed his mind.

"Oh, yeah, just go ahead and bring up the white trash side of my family. That'll endear me, all right."

The Book: The motivation of Thorin - or any of the rest of the dwarves - is never fully explained beyond their desire for gold. The extended lyrics of Misty Mountains not only mention gold and jewels and harps and gems to the point of excess, but Thorin explicity states that - even though they are "not so badly off" - they mean to get their gold back from Smaug.

Bilbo's motives leap around a little. He first refuses any call to adventure, and squirms very uncomfortably at even being suggested as a fellow conspirator to Thorin's Company. However, his Took side is easily offended, and when Gloin insults his ability to be a burglar, Bilbo angrily retorts that he would "walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert." Bilbo specifically asks about "risks, out-of-pocket expenses, time required, and remuneration." He goes to bed maybe doubting his desire to go on an adventure after all, but does not voice these doubts.

What difference does it make? Bilbo's different approaches to working up the courage/desire to go on an adventure don't matter much at all. The important part of this storyline, for his characterization, is first a refusal to adventure, then an acceptance. Thorin's differing motives are quite significant, however. His keen ambition to reclaim his people's homeland is a marked difference from wanting all his gold and wealth back. 

"Remember when we had more money than God? And now I'm squatting in a fucking Hobbit hole. Man, being poor sucks."

My Opinion: Both of these changes are for the better. Bilbo's characterization is far more consistent in the film; showing him jump back and forth from willing to non-willing would be rather jarring. And I don't like how drastically different his "Took" side is from his "Baggins" side. It almost gives him a split personality, and this series has enough of that shit as it is. Thorin's change gives the character significantly more weight and gravitas. His desire for gold and wealth isn't gone, but it's supplemented by the very realistic, and very powerful, wish to provide a nation for his wandering clan. This makes Thorin not only more sympathetic, but gives real emotional weight to his quest. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thorin's Meeting

The Movie: Thorin is late because he had a previous meeting to attend to, which is the first thing Balin and Dwalin ask him about. Thorin had met at Ered Luin with "envoys from all seven kingdoms" to see who would join him in their quest. Dain of the Iron Hills is specifically mentioned; nobody will be joining Thorin's Company. Gandalf calls for more light, pulls out the map, and places it on the table. He points out the runes that mark the secret entrance. Oin and Gloin discuss the "portents," saying that the ravens flying back to the mountain indicate that the reign of the beast is nearing its end. "What beast?" asks Bilbo; Bofur freaks him out by describing Smaug. Kili boasts that Gandalf has no doubt killed hundreds of dragons; when Gandalf denies this, the dwarves start to argue until Thorin shouts in dwarvish. He makes the claim that others will have seen these signs, that Smaug has not been seen in sixty years, and that the vast riches of their people may lie unprotected. When Balin laments that there's no way into the mountain, Gandalf produces a key. He tells Thorin that it was given to him by Thrain, then gives it to Thorin. Fili says: "if there is a key, there must be a door."

"Very good Fili. Thank you for your input. Now hush, the grownups are talking."

Gandalf has a plan, one that involves sneaking around - thus the need for a burglar. Bilbo denies having the skills necessary, and when the dwarves start to agree, Gandalf magically darkens the room and amplifies his voice, making the case for Bilbo Baggins; hobbits are small, quiet, and their scent will not be known to Smaug. Thorin had asked for a 14th member, Gandalf said, and that member is Bilbo. Balin gives Bilbo the contract, Bofur starts talking about Smaug again, and Bilbo faints.

The Book: Bilbo offers a little light, but the dwarves (all in unison), demand that it be kept dark. Thorin is long-winded, and begins his speech with various empty pleasantries. Bilbo, at being called a "fellow conspirator" who "may never return" shrieks. Gandalf strikes a blue light on his staff so the dwarves can see Bilbo crouching and shaking, so they laid him out on a couch. After a while, he returns to the dwarves talking about him. Hearing Gloin insult him, Bilbo promises to do whatever needs to be done. Gandalf claims to have chosen Bilbo as the 14th member, but if the dwarves dislike him, they can "stop at thirteen and have all the bad luck" they like. Then he requests some light, which Bilbo supplies. Gandalf shows the dwarves the map, and points out the runes that mark the secret entrance. The party discusses how Smaug could not have found the door, it being too small for a beast of his size. Gandalf produces the key, and gives it to Thorin, who promises to keep it safe. Thorin plans the route, and mockingly suggests that Bilbo offer some advice. Bilbo asks instead what he's getting out of it, and wants some details about the dragon, which Thorin provides. He mentions the death of his grandfather Thror, by the hands of Azog the Goblin in the mines of Moria. Gandalf tells Thorin about his father, Thrain, who he'd found in the dungeons of the Necromancer. Thrain couldn't even remember his own name. Gandalf only found him by accident, on some "nasty dangerous business," and warns the dwarves to stay away from the Necromancer - a being far beyond the powers of all the dwarves in the world. Bilbo decides to put an end to the meeting, and promises to give everyone a good breakfast before they go (though he's so annoyed, he quickly decides that maybe he won't be making their breakfast at all).

Hobbits are good at hiding, finding rings, and being passive aggressive.

What does it matter? This is a conversation much heavier on exposition in the book; they learn about Smaug's attack on Erebor, Thror's death by Azog, and Thrain's captivity at the hands of the Necromancer. More important than what the movie leaves out, however, is what it decides to put in, namely the "portents" that Oin has read, and Thorin's meeting with the seven kingdoms. There are no such portents in the book. None of the dwarves claim that there is any specific signs or guides saying that now is the time to move. The meeting at Ered Luin also never happened. This is significant because Dain is specifically mentioned as having been present. Dain lives in the Iron Hills, which are far to the East - on the other side of Erebor. The entire story of The Hobbit involves, essentially, the travel from Point A to Point B. Knowing that Dain Ironfoot, Lord of the Iron Hills, was making the same journey east at around the same time as Thorin's company raises some questions that the movie fails to answer.

My Opinion: The meeting in the movie seemed far more fluid, natural, and cohesive than the book - which was honestly rather all-over-the-place. Putting bits of exposition elsewhere in the story (Smaug's attack in the prologue, for example) allowed the audience to learn the backstory of the dwarves just as well, without forcing several bits of disjointed exposition down their throats. The details that were added, though, did more harm than good, especially that bit with Dain. In addressing the potential issue of "why don't other dwarves help?", Peter Jackson just raised a host of other issues that are left unanswered.  Why didn't they travel together? What was Dain doing in the Blue Mountains? Why did he refuse to offer some assistance? I'd rather Peter Jackson had just left the matter alone. The portents that Oin saw were a nice touch, but pretty unnecessary; they, too, raise some weird questions. Are there more to these signs than birds returning to the mountain? Why do the returning birds signify that Smaug is done or dead? Who made this prophecy? Again, had Jackson not created this detail, there wouldn't be a reason to ask these questions - but he did, so there is. 

A small thing that I was sad to not see present was the mention of "luck" as a factor in Bilbo's inclusion in the group; namely, that he was chosen so Thorin's Company would number 14 instead of 13 (Gandalf not included in the count due to his propensity to come and go as he does). The movie does make mention that Gandalf was asked to "find a 14th member," but it doesn't say why - the book makes it clear that the dwarves do not want the number of their company to be an unlucky number. It comes up in the conversation between Bilbo and Smaug that he was "chosen for the lucky number," and without including that minor detail now, it's just something that won't quite have the same impact in the movie.