Sunday, December 29, 2013

Another Foray into Middle Earth!

We'll pretend this is Middle Earth.
We finally saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on Saturday!

Much criticism has been leveled at The Hobbit series thus far, but I have relished the movies. One of my favorite college English professors explained to me that even if a film is radically different from the novel on which it was based, a book lover can still appreciate a film for its own merits, because film is a completely different media than books. Sometimes a fan must suspend what they loved about a book to find a new reason to love a movie. That is exactly how I felt about The Lord of the Rings movie series.

Besides leaving out rich cultural treasures such as Ghân-Buri-Ghân and Tom Bombadil, The Lord of the Rings series often kept the main plot line (Frodo on a quest to destroy the Ring) but changed details along the journey. One example of this is the Battle of Helm’s Deep. There were no Elvish saviors in the books. In fact, the idea that the Elves came from Lothlórien to assist Aragorn would not fit the ethos of the Elves of Lothlórien in the books, who were primarily concerned with defending their homeland from orcs. I doubt that they would have been willing to travel all the way to Helm’s Deep, leaving their forest open to orc skirmishes, to aid a battle of men.

This change irked me at first, but as I reviewed the film on its own merits, I saw how the change built up the growing relationship between Men and Elves, and also revealed Aragorn’s deep brotherhood with the Elves. As Jackson did not have as much time as Tolkien to provide the audience with insights into the intricate relationship between Men and Elves, the change made sense. These detail differences are found throughout the entire series.

The Hobbit does not deviate any more than The Lord of the Rings, in my opinion. Like the original series, the overarching plot is the same (a hobbit thrust into adventure), and while Jackson did add in the White Council and intrigues at Dol Guldur, these additions were drawn from the larger Tolkien universe. The changes are in the details. Sorry if you didn’t like Tauriel because she wasn’t in the books, but in my quest to appreciate a film for its own merits, I thought she kicked some major booty, and as a powerful female character, was a welcome addition to the traditionally male-dominated Hobbit.

Some are upset not because The Hobbit varies from the original book, but because it differs from The Lord of the Rings movies. Changes in tone, characters, and plot between the two movie series can be explained by referring to the books: The Hobbit book was originally written as a children’s tale, and while it takes place in the same rich universe, it often reads more simply than The Lord of the Rings books. So one would expect the movie to differ in tone and humor as well.

Remember how Gimli was the comedic relief in The Lord of the Rings? Now imagine a movie where the main characters are thirteen Gimlis! (Well, maybe not Thorin...) Of course it will be more humorous, and there will be songs about forks and knives (which is straight from the books, by the way). So by its essence, The Hobbit should be different from The Lord of the Rings. In fact, if it had the same tone as The Lord of the Rings, everyone would be complaining for different reasons.

Why not add material from the greater Tolkien universe and make a trilogy? My argument for this is simple: I’d rather have three Middle Earth theater experiences than two. I’m not bothered that they will make more money. The more Hobbit the better, I say. I’m eagerly awaiting the third installment…and scheming about how I can see the second film again!

1 comment:

  1. I posted this article on Reddit, and received an engaging reply from wandererinthesky. You can read their comments here:, but I'd like to post my response right here on the blog, to expand the conversation:

    I think you've made some excellent points. But of course I disagree, and here's why.

    I think that Peter Jackson absolutely gives credit to Tolkien, and if you are implying that I am praising Jackson without giving credit to Tolkien, that's not what I meant either. Jackson would never have been able to make his movies without the genius of Tolkien, something that I believe both he and I can appreciate. I don't need to write a lengthy explanation stating how much I love Tolkien, I'll just say I love him, and leave it at that.

    I am referring to Gimli's comedic relief role in the movies, sorry that was not clearer. Comedy does not seem to be the point of Tolkien's books, although any comedy in the books usually seems to come from Merry and Pippin, at least in the beginning of the trilogy.

    I do think your second point is very well reasoned, and definitely true at many points throughout all of Jackson's films (my favorite example being when Frodo tells Sam to go home in the third Lord of the Rings).

    I am not saying that a viewer should “wholly divorce an adaptation from its native text”. Whenever I watch a movie, I am usually constantly comparing it to the books. My point is that instead of getting upset by the results of those changes, it can be helpful to distance oneself and examine why the movie made a change due to movie-making limitations (I think books in general are almost always better than the movies, and that's mainly because they have more space to create scenes and characters). If you can't get over the change, oh well. That's personal for everyone. But I have found it helpful to examine why changes were made to aid my appreciation of the movies. My point was that if I did not attempt to do this, and rigidly stuck to the books, there would be no point in my watching either Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit, because both deviate heavily from the books. When I want to explore the depths of Tolkien's world, I'll turn to the books. Yet when I want to view a compelling performance inspired by Tolkien's genius, I'll watch the movies.