Thursday, 21 March 2013

Film vs Book: The Hobbit (Part 1)


Since The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey only covers about a third of Tolkien's The Hobbit, it would make sense that is the bit in the book that I will be focusing on. Of course, the film also encompasses things that are only mentioned later in the book (IE The Necromancer) and some features that only come into play in The Lord of the Rings appendices (IE the meeting of the White Council). Now, I only reread to a certain point in the book so a few details may end up escaping my recollection. Although it has been a while since my last full rereading (around 2000 or 2001), it has also been reread fairly often throughout my childhood to the point that I was able to easily compare the book to the movie even before the reread. Finally, before I start this film vs book review officially, yes, I did read the appendices that were associated with the movie so that I could so a better compare and contrast of the two mediums. Now, onto the review.

To start, I seemed to be one of the few that did not find The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be awesome and oh so thrilling. That isn't to say that I disliked the film. I actually enjoyed it well enough, but there were too many changes that I found displeasing. Now, I am aware that just because something works in a book does not mean it will work in a movie. One example of this would be the wizard duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort in Order of the Phoenix. In the book, it is, more or less, your typical wizard duel -- wands pointed at each other, a few words, and stuff happens. This would have been boring to watch on screen.  In the movie, we get this epic duel where Voldemort  and Dumbledore use the elements. Not only is it visually pleasing, but it has the audience on the edge of their seats. Waving around wooden sticks just wouldn't have the same effect. A lot of times, movies will create more major changes as well, and this is where I end up taking more issue. However, there are times when these changes not only work better for the film, but they also manage to hold the emotional feel that the book had. A great example if this is in The Hunger Games. (WARNING: HUNGER GAMES SPOILERS) In both versions, Peta and Katniss end up forcing Seneca Crane to declare them both winners when they both start to eat some poisoned berries. In the book, Seneca simply disappears, and we never hear much of him again. In the movie however, President Snow locks him in a room with a bowl of the poisoned berries, basically forcing Seneca into suicide. This change not only adds a great visual punch on how evil Snow is, but you could easily place this scene in the book, and it would fit perfectly. Hell, even the author admitted that she had wished she had thought of that (End Spoilers). But what was the point of me making note of these types of changes? Let me tell you, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is full of them, some of them for the better and some that may make the book lover feel a little off.

The movie actually starts off with an addition that was not in the book. However, I can easily see why Jackson added it; it works wonders for the film and ties it in with The Lord of the Rings. For those who haven't seen the film, the scene is an older Bilbo and Frodo talking, which then leads into Bilbo writing about his past adventure. Again, it is an excellent scene for the movie, but it's not needed for the book. This is one of those additions that even book purists could enjoy. We are then quickly brought into The Hobbit narrative with those famous words, "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit," and then we are brought to a scene where Bilbo and Gandalf end up talking. Jackson actually ends up using some dialogue straight from the book here, and it works wonderfully. What's more is the scene gives off the same atmosphere that the book does. Of course, the scene is still fairly close to the one in the book. It's not much later that we meet the dwarves in a scene that has been embellished upon -- for the better. In the book, we hardly get to know the dwarves. For the most part, they are little more than names (save for Thorin and Bombur). However, in the movie, we get to see more of their personality come through, which I found to be quite excellent (though I had an issue with Thorin but more on that later). What's more is the film kept in the singing, which made it both fun and lighthearted, like the book. Speaking of singing, the Misty Mountains song that Thorin and Co. sing is hauntingly beautiful that you cannot help but be moved. 

Now, I mentioned taking issue with Thorin (though I seem to be in the minority). The thing is that I found film Thorin to be much too kingly (and even a bit bland). Jackson seemed to have turned him into a dwarven Aragorn. In the book, Thorin is much more egotistical. Seriously, he ends up starting a war, because he didn't want to give up any of his gold to the men who killed Smaug. Perhaps Jackson will make Thorin worse once they get the gold, but earlier when you see him with with Thrain, Thorin seems a bit disgusted with Thrain's obsession with wealth. Needless to say, so far Thorin is irritating to me (and not in a good way). Some people did feel that Jackson probably toned down Thorin's ego so that the audience wouldn't hate him so much, but by doing so, Jackson is tossing out a pretty powerful lesson since Thorin does eventually learn from the error of his ways. I guess we get it to a point in the film when he accepts Bilbo as a good and noncowardly person, but it's not quite the same. The impact isn't as large. Perhaps my mind will change when the other films come out.

Although I didn't care for Thorin's personality change, I really liked how Jackson showed how Thorin Oakenshield ended up earning his name. This is where the appendices come in. Here, again, Jackson added/changed a lot. Some worked well for the film and had little impact on the book to movie plot. Others, well ... let's look at the scene. We are shown a bit of Thorin's past where he is fighting orcs in Moria. This is where Thorin uses an oak branch as a shield (actually written in the appendices) and thus earns his name. That's where the shared traits end. Well, both the appendices and the film has Azgog though the appendices  have Azgog killed by Dain. Granted, it makes sense why they use Thorin in place of Dain. Using Dain in the film would only create a one time character that no one would care about. Replacing him with Thorin hardly changes the plot. Jackson not having Azgog killed does, which ends up causing my biggest problem with the film. Because Azgog is not killed in the film, he ends up chasing Thorin and Company through the entire movie. This did not happen in the book! Personally, I felt that Jackson only put this pursuit in so that he could extend The Hobbit to three films and to add more fight scenes. That is fine in The Lord of the Rings films, but The Lord of the Rings books were an epic adventure. The Hobbit is of much lighter note, and guess what? People still highly enjoy it! What's more is people still enjoy many films that aren't on that epic scale level as well so Jackson could have kept the atmosphere more Hobbit like.

Another major change Jackson had was the relationship between the elves and the dwarves. It is fairly common knowledge that the dwarves and the elves don't have the best relationship. Plus, anyone who has read The Hobbit knows that the elves of Mirkwood and Thorin's company end up on poor terms. However, this film only deals with the Rivendell elves (excluding the King of Mirkwood in the beginning. He is the one on the deer, by the way). In the book, there is not grudge, and Thorin and Co. simply walk into Elrond's house to get their map read. In the movie, the dwarves hold a HUGE grudge against the elves due to the fact that the elves did not help them when Smaug attacked (note that I could find nothing of this sort happening in the books). This leads to Gandalf pressing the dwarves to visit Rivendell and the dwarves refusing every step. When I originally saw the film, this put me off. However, after looking back on it, I have to say that I am a little happier that Jackson added this change. It didn't change the story drastically, and it also added some tension. As much as I loved the book, the pacing would have lagged if all they did was walk from the troll cave to Rivendell. Granted, it wouldn't have been needed if Jackson didn't insist on turning The Hobbit into a bloody trilogy.

 Those were probably the more severe book to film changes (and Radagast, but more on him later). Still there were plenty of large changes that took place in the transition. One of these had to do with the troll scene (again, more on that later). The scene that I would really like to focus on right now is "Riddles in the Dark," the finding of the ring and the meeting of Gollum. First off, this is my favourite chapter in the book so I was incredibly excited to get to see this. Yes, there are several changes that take place in this scene. First, Bilbo ends up down there by fighting off a goblin versus simply falling (not a fan of fighter Bilbo, by the way). At first, I was quite put off by this, because we don't really see Bilbo come into his own until they reach Mirkwood. However, this squabble also brings the goblin into Gollum's lair where we get to see Gollum be quite brutal as he kills the goblin for food, reminding us that he is not something to take lightly. In the film, we get to see more of Gollum's split personality. This could have fallen flat since we have seen it before in The Two Towers and The Return of the King. However, as much as I loved the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter, I loved the film version even more. It was so well portrayed. We get creepy Gollum, fun Gollum, and even singing Gollum. Plus, Jackson gives a nod to the book lovers during Bilbo's escape (brass buttons).

The final thing that I would like to talk about has to do with the atmosphere. I have nodded to it several times already, but there are a few scenes in the film that bring this up a bit more. Most people are aware that The Hobbit is a children's book so it makes sense that it has a much lighter tone than The Lord of the Rings (again more folklore than epic adventure). The Hobbit movie didn't seem to know what tone to use. Parts had more of that Lord of the Rings feel (Thorin's attitude and the orcs chasing the dwarves cross country), but there were also many childish bits throughout. Some of these would include the troll snotting all over Bilbo and Radagast's rabbit pulled sled. Yes, you read that correctly: a rabbit pulled sled. It is beyond silly, which I often enjoy, but it does not work in Tolkien's world. Actually, the entire Radagast character seemed a little too quirky for Tolkien. I am not saying that he wasn't a likeable character, but his traits did not sit well in Middle Earth, even a lighter toned one. Even though Radagast is supposed to be a little odd and ver involved in nature, the ultra adorable creatures would have seemed more at home in a Narnia film. Now, that isn't to say that Radagast didn't have his use. It helped show what the shadow of the Necromancer (aka Sauron) was doing to the world, but this could have been shown without so much over the top cuteness. The other example I had brought up involved the trolls. In the film, the trolls steal some ponies for eating, and Bilbo goes to get them back while in the book, he is told to steal some meat. Whatever. It's not a major point of how he gets there, but the scene strays into the too childish territory once the dwarves are captured. In the book, Gandalf, tricks the trolls into arguing with themselves until sunrise. Maybe it's just me, but I think that still could have been quite interesting and could have easily turned into something physical so that it would still be visually appealing. The movie ended up having Bilbo hold off the trolls by telling them that the dwarves had parasites. Interesting but this led to the dwarves getting offended and arguing with Bilbo before realising why he said what he said. I don't know. I just didn't like Bilbo being this competent this early on. I longed for more of the bumbling hobbit.

I can't really say one way or the other which medium was better. I know which one I certainly preferred though. There was many changes and additions, some for the better, some for the worse. Personally, I think it could have done with less changes and add-ons, and then cut the films down to two instead of three. It felt a bit too dragged out to me, and I didn't feel that the films needed that much extra. Having bits that weren't in the book but related to it was quite interesting though. I also think the movie gets many pluses for giving the dwarves their own personality, but I still, very much, prefer the book. That's not to say the movie is bad. In fact, you may end up enjoying it to the book. Needless to say, it is definitely different.

(P.S. Yes, I realise there are many scenes and changes that I didn't talk about in the review, but let's face it, if I had, it would have ended up as a novelette. However, I am certainly open to discussing other features of the movie.)

1 comment:

  1. The Worgs rock in the movie. They look like prehistoric hyena/wolf hybrids. More chase scenes = more fun for me. Love the book and the movie can't choose which one is better they both have good qualities. Do like the dwarves having personalities.

    Karen Mitchell