THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS DISCUSSION, OBVIOUSLY.
Opening weekend on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has come and gone. Many of us at CT saw it and had different opinions. But, Mike Mierendorf and Andy North set out to have a discussion on the book versus film comparisons including a look at the goblins/orcs, the Necromancer, character motivations of Thorin and Bilbo and more. Enjoy and let us know if you think we’ve missed something in the comments!
Initial thoughts on the film:
Mike Mierendorf: As I said in my review, overall I loved it. I enjoyed the slower pace as it felt like it could really expand the characters and take the time with the story. Parts of LOTR felt rushed and I enjoyed not feeling that way during The Hobbit.
Andy North: I enjoyed it as well, but wouldn’t say I loved it. Mostly it wasn’t disappointing. The pacing was a big problem for me and I felt myself drained by the end in a way that I never was during the LOTR movies. This is partly because the narrative has less of an arc than the LOTR films did – The Hobbit movies are going to feel more like road trip films, where disconnected events happen to these characters as they travel in this dangerous world.
The one thing I thought was unforgivable was having Bilbo be such a badass in the last fight. Bilbo really shouldn’t be able to take out an orc by himself, even with the element of surprise. Not just because of the physical mismatch, but because of how completely it screws up his character. His final speech about “I’m just a little guy, I like my books,” is completely ridiculous in light of the fact that he just chopped up a guy four times his size.
MM: That wasn’t something that bothered me while watching it, but I can understand your beef with it. It was merely the film’s way to gain Thorin’s trust for Bilbo. But you’re right that it could have been handled better.
AN: I understand what its purpose was in the film, but when you think about the physics involved, it’s the equivalent of a preschooler tackling a linebacker and stabbing him to death. Even with the element of surprise, that ain’t happening. Plus, Bilbo isn’t supposed to be good at fighting! That’s the whole point of his character! He’s supposed to be weak and useless in a fight, that’s what makes him so heroic for going along on this quest with these big burly guys. The part where he chooses Sting in the book is part of his character development, and he names it Sting SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE he knows he’s not going to beat anybody in a fight, but he might be able to act as a temporary distraction to help someone else. He could easily have saved Thorin’s life by running in and jabbing the Orc and then RUNNING THE HECK AWAY like a hobbit should, but instead he tackles the giant Orc and aaaargh I don’t even need to finish that sentence because it’s already so dumb.
MM: Good point about Sting. I would guess that Bilbo will be more of a hero during the Battle of the Five Armies now – which goes against what he does in the book (put on his ring and run away). Ultimately, it seems like The Hobbit trilogy will be viewed in retrospect as one story whereas LOTR feels much more like three. But then again, I could be totally wrong.
AN: Speculation: Bilbo puts on the ring and hides, Azog mortally wounds Thorin, Bilbo kills Azog but nobody knows it because he was invisible. Then he reappears and Thorin sees him, but Thorin says he’ll keep Bilbo’s secret and then dies.
Translation from book to film that Jackson totally nailed:
1. Goblins/ Orcs:
AN: I loved the goblins and the Goblin King. The goblins look similar enough to the orcs/ogres that they seem to be genuinely part of the same…taxonomy? But all sorts of little things make them distinct – the way they move, speak, and hunt, their structures and little devices. The King is just the right combination of menacing, grotesque, and buffoonish.
MM: Agreed. I thought that his death was a little silly, but that’s also ok for me because it fits the more light-hearted nature of the book.
Also, I loved the hell out of the little orc messenger in a basket zip-line. That’s fantastic.
MM: The songs! One of Tolkien’s most beloved aspects for fans are the songs. I think the songs in this film in particular were perfect. The dwarves Lonely Mountain song was shortened, but they did an excellent job with their version. It felt sad and menacing at the same time.
AN: Yes! And from the number of times the Lonely Mountain theme reappeared in later scenes, it seems like that will be the new “Concerning Hobbits”.
3. Riddles In The Dark
AN: Are we agreed that the “Riddles in the Dark” scene was the best Gollum scene from any of the movies? That was amazing.
MM: Absolutely. Andy Serkis managed to give even more depth to Gollum. He’s such a conflicted character. The end of the scene when Bilbo almost kills him is a wonderful moment. I felt bad for Gollum at that moment. His eyes really said it all.
AN: Completely agree. It feels like a genuinely difficult decision, which is crazy because Gollum is a terrifying homicidal cannibal monster. But Andy Serkis makes him so charming!
Minor and major changes from book to film:
AN: The dwarves’ quest was made a little more noble for the movie. In the book they were just going to the Lonely Mountain to steal back some gold and jewels from Smaug, but in the movie they’re going to win back their ancestral homeland. Which is fine, except that… how are they planning on doing that? I mean, twelve dwarves planning to sneak into a cave through the back door and steal some treasure, yes, fine, good plan. Twelve dwarves planning to sneak into a cave and kill a dragon? The dragon that kicked their asses once before, when they had an army and a fortress? Can we all sit down and discuss our game plan here…
MM: It’s hard to imagine what the ultimate plan is. When Thorin and Co. are at Bag End, Thorin mentions that they’re on their own and their dwarf cousins won’t join in their quest. As we know from the book, eventually other dwarves will join for the Battle of the Five Armies, but maybe Jackson has something else up his sleeves. Then again, the idea that Thorin would be arrogant enough to assume that he and 13 others can kill the dragon by stealth would fit with his character.
MM:The introduction of the dwarves was a bit more drawn out, including Thorin arriving late. In the book, he arrives with the group that falls on the floor when Bilbo opens the door. It really serves to give him a more dramatic entrance for a very important character.
AN: True. Even Gandalf seems nervous around Thorin, which is odd, because I’m pretty sure Gandalf could blow Thorin up. By like, blinking.
MM: The expansion of Radagast was enjoyable for me. It was nice to see another wizard given their importance and power in Middle-Earth. Building up the explanation for Gandalf’s future disappearance when fighting the Necromancer makes a lot of sense. Its all part of the grand plan to tie the films together.
AN: Yep, I thought Radagast was interesting. He gets a similar treatment to Gandalf in the early parts of Fellowship, where it’s unclear how much of his bumbling/madness is genuine and how much is an act to hide his power.
That said, I hope he gets some badass moments in the coming films, because they REALLY played up the bumbling in this one.
MM: Rivendell. I also really liked this scene. It is certainly longer and more detailed than in the book, but I enjoyed it. The conversation between Gandalf, Saruman, Galadrial and Elrond was interesting. I haven’t read the Silmarillion so I dont know if this was based on anything or written for the film. Do you know?
AN: Gandalf disappears for a while during the novel to meet up with the White Council and battle the Necromancer. Also in the book, 90 years before the events of the story begin, he finds Thorin’s father chained up in the Necromancer’s dungeon at Dol Guldur, which is when he gets the map and key to give to Thorin. So all this stuff was mentioned as backstory, just not expanded upon. The White Council in the book is the same as the group that meets in this movie plus Radagast and a few other powerful elves.
MM: So it was all moved around a bit in the timeline and condensed for the film. Makes sense.
Things written just for the film:
AN: Azog the Defiler (the White Orc) is new. He was written about in Tolkien’s appendices, but his duel with Thorin and his subsequent vendetta against the dwarf was invented for the movie. In the book, Thorin and company encounter orcs at roughly the same times in the story, but they’re just orc raiding parties not specifically hunting the dwarves. I guess normal bloodthirsty orcs aren’t scary enough for Peter Jackson? I mean, just regular Orcs are pretty big on killing everybody, but apparently this one is even more scary because Thorin chopped off his hand and NOW HE’S MAD.
MM: It seems like this was made to give an overall menace to their journey. The events that transpire during this first portion of the story are really only their introduction and being captured by the orcs/ goblins in the cave. It also put a name to the threat for the orcs that chase them “out the frying pan and into the fire” if you will. But you’re totally right, the one-handed giant orc is totally pissed.
AN: Yep, I get that, but this is almost exactly the same as the Black Riders chasing Frodo and Co. in LOTR. It would have been interesting to see Jackson use some other plot device to add urgency to these films.
MM: Whoa – moment of clarity here. On page 25 of my book, Azog is mentioned. “Your grandfather Thror was killed, you remember in the mines of Moria by Azog the Goblin. – ‘Curse his name, yes,’ said Thorin.”
AN: Yep, he’s mentioned, but then he never appears again in the book. Again, I’m not sure what he adds. When all the orcs in the world already want to kill all the dwarves in the world, what does it add to have another orc who really wants to kill this one specific dwarf?
MM: I’m guessing this will likely come down to the Battle of the Five Armies. $10 says Azog will lead the orcs in that battle and very possibly be the one to slay Thorin in battle.
AN: Oh snap, good thinking
Missing entirely in the film:
AN: Where. The FUCK. Is Tom Bombadil.
MM: He’s not in the Hobbit. Perhaps you mean Beorn?
AN: No, I know. I was just… I guess I was just hoping.
MM: Cameo to assuage all the sad fans that missed him in Fellowship?
AN: He just dances by in the background in Mirkwood, waves a little bit at the camera. Maybe a little wink too, IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK MISTER JACKSON?!
MM: Naturally he would be holding hands with Legolas as he danced in the background.
AN: Both of them wearing one long scarf.
MM: And then Bombadil threads his arrow onto Legolas’ bow…
AN: And that’s where I wake up. Every time.