Tag Archives: the Hobbit

The Desolation of Smaug extended edition – just a better movie

Movie poster for the Desolation of SmaugAt long last, I finally got my chance to watch the extended edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Having discussed the picture with some Facebook friends, I thought I’d write down a few spoilerless thoughts. If you’ve seen it, too, I’d love to know what you thought.

First things first. The Hobbit trilogy is not, I repeat not, a dramatisation of the kids book. I said a few things about this in an earlier post. In fact, I said a few things about the extended edition of the first movie, An Unexpected Journey. In the Hobbit trilogy I think Peter Jackson is trying to show the history of the One Ring from the time it was found in the Goblin tunnels leading up to the events in LOTR. He uses a great deal of material chronicled by Tolkien in the appendices to LOTR, which explains why Gandalf disappeared, leaving the dwarves to face Mirkwood alone. Even in the children’s book, allusions were made to greater things on the move.

I’ve always felt, from the first time I read it, that the book The Hobbit has two parts. Up until the moment the dwarves reach the doorstep, it’s a kids book and written in that way, skating over the violence and using language like ‘poor little hobbit’. But after that the story becomes much darker, leading into the Battle of Five Armies. It’s as if Tolkien forgot who his audience was. And the next movie, the Battle of Five Armies, is that final chapter.

I also appreciate that a book cannot always be translated into a film because film is shorter, visual and needs to be fast moving. So I understand (to an extent) Jackson’s decisions in adding characters and situations. Azog the white Orc is a case in point. According to Tolkien, he died in the battle at the gates of Moria. Using that same logic – what moves the film forward – Jackson introduced Tauriel, the female elf captain. Like many, I could have done without the ‘romance’ factor between her and Kili. However, I like the fact that Jackson has shown the woodelves as much more than Tolkien’s depiction of them in the Hobbit the book. I also like that Legolas is in it, because it shows how he changes from his father’s isolationist stance to seeing that everything in the world is interconnected, thus lending depth to his appearance as a member of the nine companions in LOTR. I also like the way he shows the One Ring working its evil, both on Bilbo and the wider world

Back to the extended version. To me, the film is more complete. Parts of the story which were over in a flash in the original film, such as the journey through Mirkwood, are expanded, and if you know the book well, you’ll recognise the scenes. Of course, there are a few short edits which have been recovered, such as a little more of Steven Fry as the Master. But the big – huge- gain for me was the additional detail of the bigger picture, the lead-in to the next book, and ultimately LOTR. There were scenes which I had expected to see in the original movie, and did not. With those scenes added back, I believe the film is more true to Tolkien’s vision.

I’m not a movie fan, but I have to tell you, I’m hangin’ out for the Battle of Five Armies. Bring it on!

Is the extended edition of The Hobbit a better movie?

Hobbit posterFinally! My very own copy of the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arrived! I spent a happy afternoon watching the movie and I’ve had some time to think about it. These things are all about editing, are they not? And we writers can learn from what the pros do. So this is my opinion on the extras. Pretty obviously there will be ‘spoilers’ if you don’t wish to know what the additions are.

Right, so they’ve left the room, we can continue.

The process of editing is all about driving the story forward, making the whole a satisfying experience. Of course, my favourites will be other people’s blerghs, and vice versa.

Jackson had actually edited back the very long prelude, where the background to the story is laid out. In this version, we see Bilbo going out to buy the fish which he never gets to eat, we see a few more pretty pictures of hobbit boys and girls doing hobbity things. Yes, I reckon I would have edited out those scenes, too. They really didn’t add anything.

However, there is a sequence in Thranduil’s visit to Thror which I felt added a lot. Thror effectively taunts Thranduil with a box of jewels and Thranduil and his people march out in a huff. Not quite the same message as came out in the original movie.

Not much changes until we reach Rivendell. There, we see more scenes of the Dwarves behaving disgracefully, a repetition of their behaviour at Bilbo’s house, complete with food fights and bathing in the fountains. Yes, I could live with that being cut. We also got to see Bilbo really enjoying Rivendell, pretty much on his own. He comes across the shards of Narcil, and the painting of Isildur facing Sauron. There is also a brief conversation between Elrond and Bilbo, where Elrond says Bilbo can stay as long as he likes. These scenes add to the gap between the Dwarves, Bilbo and the Elves, and also show the passage of time. The Dwarves don’t just stay overnight at Rivendell, an impression you’d be forgiven for in the first release. Yes, much of it didn’t add to the story. In fact, when I saw the footage of a bunch of naked Dwarves cavorting in the fountains, I wondered why Gandalf was never shown in a change of clothes, with at least clean hands. Did you notice his fingernails? However, while I thought the scenes of Bilbo really enjoying Rivendell explained a few things, it would have been hard to leave them in if the food fights etc were taken out.

One other scene added information – an overheard conversation between Elrond and Gandalf where Thorin’s parentage is discussed with references to mental instability. Bilbo and Thorin both hear what is said, and the words had this watcher’s brain ticking. I’m betting we get to meet Thrain in the next movie, and (having read the Hobbit many times) I know that strand of insanity is important.

Let’s move on to the Misty Mountains. It seems Jackson had more of the fight between the rock giants to entertain us with. Ho hum. Then down we go to Goblin Town. I’ll bet Barry Humphries had a ball playing the Goblin King. The extended version treats us to a rap rendition of the song Tolkien wrote in his book for this section, performed by the Goblin King and his band. Mistake. The Goblin King comes across already as a figure of fun without making it worse.

And that’s about it. Unlike the extended version of LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, I don’t think this extended version added a great deal. So overall, the extended edition isn’t a better movie. It’s a pity that Jackson reduced the confrontation between Thranduil and Thror to an almost king/vassal situation. The hints of other happenings in the overheard talks at Rivendell would have helped. But for the rest (most especially the Goblin King and his band) the red pen was right.

These things are always a matter of opinion, though. I’d love to know what you thought.

 

The Hobbit – how to turn a kid’s book into a block buster movie

picture of post for the movie 'the hobbit'I watched The Hobbit the other day. It’s old history, I know, but that’s how it is at my place. Anyway, having watched the movie (part 1) I re-read the book for the first time in many years. It was an interesting exercise in seeing how a children’s book was adapted to be a fitting precursor to The Lord of the Rings.

Make no mistake, The Hobbit was written for children. In fact, I can imagine Prof Tolkien reading the book to a bunch of kids. The style is narration, the narrator writes himself into the words on the page. The songs are simple verse with lots of onomatopoeic words. See the kids marching around the room, banging and thumping? The dwarves are not portrayed as particularly brave or fierce. We are given an image of little people with different coloured hoods and belts appearing at Bilbo’s door. It puts one to mind of Noddy, more than Gimli. Later in the book, Bilbo becomes something of a leader and Tolkien has some rather patronising and hardly flattering things to say about the dwarves. The elves, too, don’t come out of this book in a very auspicious light. They run away from a small group of travellers in what they know is a dangerous place, and Thranduil’s main motivation seems to have been greed. Of them all, the behaviour of the Lake people is the most convincingly drawn.

The dragon is the real villain; old and smart and dangerous and in that respect, cleverly depicted. The goblins and their wolf companions are certainly nasty but they are cartoon villains for kids. And Gollum is scary in the same way that a monster in the dark is scary.

So how DO you turn a kid’s book into a block buster movie three block buster movies?

Well, for a start you show people the odds. Jackson’s portrayal of the dwarf kingdom of Erebor and the city of Dale is truly magnificent, and its ruination by the dragon very well done. This is the purpose of the dwarves’ quest, and the enemy they must defeat.

Then you make your characters much more robust. I loved Jackson’s dwarves. Each one has character and is unique, but it’s possible to see the similarity in brothers like Kili and Fili, and Dori and Nori. Much has been said about the ‘humanness’ of Thorin. (A dwarf as a sex object??) But his nephews, Fili and Kili, are also more human in appearance. Personally, I could have done without. But I suppose Jackson had no Aragorn, or Legolas to appeal to the ladies.

The villains are much, much darker. The introduction of a vengeful Orc leader in Bolg was smart. Suddenly the odds are greater and at the same time the dwarves are lifted from selfish miners into a fighting force to be reckoned with, doughty warriors all. Here, Jackson has used LOTR and its appendices to provide backstory. This change allowed him to add more action and conflict to the plot. Instead of aiming to go to Rivendell, Jackson shows Thorin as anti-Elf. Pursuit by the Orcs and Wargs forces the party into Rivendell after much hard fighting. Here we learn a little more about Gandalf and his role in Middle Earth, as shown in LOTR. Again, this gives depth to the story.

Gollum is depicted as truly nasty. Instead of Bilbo happening across the ring in a dark passage, the ring falls from Gollum’s person as he murders an Orc (to eat). What’s nice about that is Bilbo actually sees Gollum doing the killing. (We’ll ignore the fact that he wouldn’t have been able to see a thing down there – phosphorescence in the rocks?) The ring leaves Gollum because it realises it can trap a new bearer. Nice. And Gollum is suddenly elevated from a horrid person into a killer to be reckoned with. Yes, I know the book talks about Gollum eating Bilbo – but this shows the issue so much more clearly, and emphasises the inherent courage of Bilbo’s decision not to kill Gollum to escape. I also liked the dual Gollum personality – Smeagol/Gollum.

Jackson used minor elements in the book as whole scenes in the movie. The stone giants are tossed-off words in the crossing of the mountains in the book. But in the movie, they come to life, throwing boulders at each other – and giving an opportunity for an over-the-top action scene. Then the dwarves find themselves in Goblin town. In the book, Gandalf arrives in secret, waves a magic wand and they all escape. That’s the kid’s version. In the adult version, the dwarves fight their way out in spectacular fashion, underlining their legitimate claim to be warriors.

Not all of the changes worked to improve the story, though. Maybe the encounter with the trolls was not quite as silly in the movie as it is in the book. It’s hard to imagine the dwarves being quite so stupid. But never mind. It’s early in the story and adds a bit of humour, I suppose. I should imagine the scene, as it is in the book, read out to children, would be hilarious. But this isn’t a kid’s movie. In the same vein, I felt starting the story with the first words of Tolkien’s book was a mistake. By then we knew what a hobbit hole was – we were in one. Further, the tie-in with the opening scene in LOTR (the preparations for the eleventy-first party) was an unnecessary distraction.

My biggest “say-what” was Radagast. Not so much the depiction of character, as the out of sequence events. Certainly, dealing with the Necromancer turns out to be why Gandalf is elsewhere as the dwarves make their journey into Mirkwood. I suppose Jackson aims to show the audience what has been happening in the world. But the way it is presented is as if the darkness spreading from Dol Guldur has only just started. Yet there is no doubt Gandalf knew about a growing evil when he spoke with Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond at Rivendell, and thereby justified the dwarves’ quest to defeat Smaug. That said, showing the leader of the Ringwraiths manifesting itself at the ruined fortress of Dol Guldur was pretty cool. Showing Radagast dashing through the grass drawn by a team of bunnies with Wargs in hot pursuit – not so much.

Sure, I could probably name a few inconsistencies in continuity, but I could do that for the movie and the book. So I won’t.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Just seeing New Zealand’s spectacular scenery is a joy in itself. I think Jackson had a very, very difficult task in coming up to everyone’s expectations from LOTR. I expect that was why it took him so long to commence this series of films. Because it is a kid’s book. As an aside, as a writer I think much can be learned from Jackson’s achievement. He has added conflict, action and much more character to the story, as well as giving it extra depth through back story so that the audience can see how the ring became what it was in LOTR.  It might be a different medium, but the rules are the same.

I’m looking forward to the next part of the Hobbit. How about you?