Sunday, December 23, 2012

HOBBIT Movie Review (Part Three)

(again, spoilers)

The More Things Change . . . 

So, one of the major factors in evaluating any Peter Jackson Tolkien movie are the things he changes. This is of particular interest to purists like me, who almost always prefers Tolkien's original to any departure therefrom, even when we can see the reasoning behind the change. So for this final part of my HOBBIT movie review I thought I'd mull over some of Jackson's additions and alterations.

The first obvious one is quite odd, and shd have considerable consequence down the road. In Jackson's film, Erebor is not only the greatest dwarven kingdom of its day but the greatest kingdom in all the world (apparently outstripping even Gondor, which seems unlikely). Furthermore, whereas in the book the dwarves were allied to the Men of Dale (and of Lake Town) and had the friendship of the lands about, and thus presumably were on good terms with the wood-elves as well, the film's voiceover makes clear that Thror is not just sovereign of the Mountain but holds suzerainty over Dale and the Wood-elf realm as well: we're explicitly shown a scene of King Thranduil bowing in homage to King Thror. That cd change things quite a lot in the final impasse of Thorin vs. Bard vs. the Elvenking. As the movie sets up the situation, both Bard (as heir of Girion of Dale) and Thranduil owe Thorin allegance; their siege of the mountain becomes an act of treachery, which it most definitely is not in the book. In short, the movie's changes to the set-up has the effect, intended or otherwise, of putting Thorin in the right in the stand-off that develops at the Mountain.  I'll be v. curious to see how Jackson resolves this, whether by embracing Thorin's position, or changing events so that the matter never arises (think Elves at Helm's Deep), or some other solution.

By the way, the Elvenking's refusal, at the time of Smaug's attack, to send his men to certain death fighting the dragon is understandable enough, but his refusal to aid the fleeing refugees (his High King among them) is not just a betrayal but callous, darkening his character quite a bit. In short, it once again puts Thorin in the right if in the next film he behaves as in the book and refuses to deal with the wood-elves. Even Gimli's outburst at the Council of Elrond ("never trust an elf!") becomes, in retrospect, less paranoia and more a very reasonable position based on past experience. It'll be interesting to see how much they embrace or back off from this position in their depiction of the wood-elves when the time comes.

The dwarves' presumed imprisonment by the wood-elves is perhaps prefigured in the Rivendell scenes;
Saruman makes it clear that he intends to stop the dwarves' quest and send them all home. Hence Gandalf's conspiring with Thorin to go behind the White Council's backs and act while the so-called Wise are debating, simply leaving without asking permission or announcing the fact, so that by the time the elves realize it the dwarves are long gone. Perhaps I'm over-reading this (traditionally, elven places are harder to get out of than in, according to folklore), but seems to me there's at least a hint that Elrond might otherwise have prevented the dwarves' departure if they refuse to renounce their mission -- which makes the Elvenking's later doing precisely that fit into the same pattern. Though perhaps with less justification.

And, so long as we're discussing those who want to stop Thorin and Company's quest, there's one question that goes unanswered in this first film: who betrayed the king-in-exile to Azog's orcs? I can think of three likely possibilities, but at this stage have no idea which might be right: (1) some member of the Seven Houses of the Dwarves -- we know that Thorin meets with them and tells them his intentions immediately before arriving at Bag-End -- or Dain, who opposes his mission. (2) someone Thorin has told that we don't know about yet, or (3) Saruman, assuming he's already gone bad. Not enough to go on here, yet, but I'm sure there'll be a Big Reveal sometime in the next two movies. Let's hope it's not Dain, one of Tolkien's more appealing minor characters.

In an example of a change that made a lot of sense, Jackson has provided an explanation for a question that'd never even occurred to me. If the Arkenstone was so all-fired important, why did Thror and Thrain leave it behind? The film's answer -- that Thror intended to take it but it got lost in a sea of gold during the disruption caused by the dragon's rampage -- is as good as any: it brings the all-important Arkenstone into the story early, accounts for it's being left behind, stresses its important to Thorin's line and claim on the kingship, and even sets up where it cd reasonably be expected to be found within the Mountain. Not bad; not bad at all.

A few miscellaneous points: is Bilbo's spending most of the 'unexpected party' in his house-robe an echo back to Martin Freeman's role as Dent Arthur Dent in the movie version of THE HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY? Is the reference to Sting as "a letter opener" an in-joke to exactly such a letter-opener being sold as part of the LotR films' merchandizing? Could we have fewer burping contests and snot jokes next time? And what is it with the moths?

Just for fun I've decided to advance the hypothesis that in the world of the films, moths are all-powerful. Whenever one tells an eagle to do something, the eagles immediately do it. That wd explain why the Fellowship doesn't take eagles to Mt Doom: (a) the Nazgul and Eye wd have fried them like bacon, and (b) no one thought to ask a moth to get the eagles to fall in line.

I'd intended to write more, about the Diaspora, and to puzzle over a scene glimpsed in a trailer that doesn't appear in the film (saved for the extended cut? displaced to the second or third film as a flash-back?), to note how Thorin and Company use good D-and-D tactics of almost always having their two toughest fighters, Dwalin and Bifur, in the front or rear of the party, to praise Jackson for having solved one major problem: how to film "Riddles in the Dark" when you can't show things that happen in total darkness on a screen. But this review is already long enough, so I'll stop with one final observation: some of the dwarves' ages are changed to match the impression we get from reading the book, not to agree with the details revealed by a close reading. For example, most readers of the book don't think of Thorin as particularly old, whereas Balin is continually referred to as "old". But at the time of their capture by the wood-elves, it is revealed that Thorin is actually the oldest among them, older even than Balin. The movie reverses that: it makes Thorin a dwarf in his prime, while Balin is a generation older (about the same age as Dwalin, who is not described as old in the book). An interesting change: doesn't do too much violence to Tolkien's story but opens up interesting possibilities for the film.

So: plenty of quibbles, much curiosity about what's to come, and great delight in getting to see this film.  Highly recommended.

--John R.

current reading: THE HOBBIT CHRONICLES: ART AND DESIGN -- Weta Workshop [Dec. 2012]


Christie said...

By your definitions, I am also a purist, so I don't have much, if all, to add to your thorough reflections.

I was equally delighted with Freeman's performance. So much happier with his casting than with Frodo's in tLotR.

The eagle-summoning moth thing was plain redundant. I get that they were trying to rouse up a sense of good-old remember-whens from tLotR, but it was just plain bad storytelling.

Still, as you said, a small complaint for such a good overall execution.

Unknown said...

I got the impression that the Arkenstone might end up being treated like The One Ring in the first trilogy, except that instead of throwing it into a volcano it might be destroyed by Bilbo in a different way instead of given for ransom. The destruction of it releasing Thorin from the gold sickness since nothing was really mentioned at all about dwarven rings or their part in the stories.