Skip to content

2.2.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 4, “Queer Lodgings, Part 3”)

2.2.14  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 4, “Queer Lodgings, Part 3”)

Dol Guldur (The Hobbit, 2012-2014)

Dol Guldur (The Hobbit, 2012-2014)

Good Evening, Everyone!

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Some concluding thoughts on the things I enjoyed about the adaptation of Tolkien’s “Chapter VII: Queer Lodgings” in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  You probably realize by now that I’ve been a bit irritated by the current “novel-purist” vs “film-critique” debate that’s been running through the blog-sphere about the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 book, The Hobbit. 

Fran Walsh

Fran Walsh

Even those film reviewers who try to remain within the context of assessing the movies on the merits of a pure action-adventure film can’t seem to help but mention how the collective vision of screenwriters’ Jackson/Walsh/Boyens/del Toro isn’t jibing with memories of a favorite childhood book.  I’m taking the approach of trying to put myself in the screenwriters’ shoes, and completely keeping in mind that (except for del Toro), they did make a trilogy of films called The Lord of the Rings to which they could/should refer when completing their story of Middle Earth.

Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro

Phillipa Boyens

Phillipa Boyens

Forty years from now, these six films will provide any viewer with a complete, almost self-contained, highly entertaining action-adventure fantasy that has managed to do great honor to Tolkien’s vision (at least as much as possible in a film format that can’t replicate completely the literary experience).

Yesterday, I’d gotten to the shift in scene from Beorn’s cottage to Dol Goldur and Azog receiving new instructions from the Necromancer (which doesn’t occur in the novel, The Hobbit). 

Warg

Warg

I really enjoyed the respective developments of the Necromancer, Azog, the orcs’ & wargs pursuit of the dwarves. In the original version, Thorin & Co. learn from Beorn that there are goblins and wargs searching for them, but there’s no action (just reported events), and certainly no cutaway to Dol Guldur as we in this first part of the film.  
In the context of the “history of Middle Earth,” revealing that Azog is working for the Necromancer stars to add depth to both characters, and lays all the groundwork for the massive resurgence of Sauron’s forces in Mordor that we see in the LotR trilogy.  Thanks to this new retro-fitting of the Necromancer’s rise into the storyline (mentioned only briefly in Tolkien’s original children’s story), the audience gets context for the rising menace of the Dark Lord. 

Thorin & Co.

Thorin & Co.

Azog the Defiler (New Line Cinema, 2012-2014)

Azog the Defiler (New Line Cinema, 2012-2014)

On screen, we’re glimpsing part of the wars that led to the dissolution of the dwarf kingdoms (in An Unexpected Adventure, we actually saw the Battle of Azanulbizar, where Thorin’s grandfather, Thrain, is beheaded by Azog [LotR, Appendix A, “Durin’s Folk.”).  In short, without this new dynamic of Azog and the pursuing orcs, the reader would be completely bewildered by the upcoming “Battle of Five Armies” (expect to see that in next December’s There and Back Again), a war with which all versions of The Hobbit have to conclude!  

So, “Critics of This New Azog Dynamic,” think about that for a moment: if you really wanted a chapter-by-chapter adaptation of Tolkien’s work for a mass audience how would you write a screenplay that includes Tolkien’s climactic scene wherein five armies (Goblins & Wargs, Dwarves, Eagles, Elves, and Humans) descend on the Lonely Mountain after Smaug dies?  Yes, these new plot aspects may raise your eyebrows, but as storytelling goes in a different medium than the original novel, how would you explain to your typical movie-goer the presence of all of those armies?

Tolkien, "The Battle of Five Armies" (art by Matt Stewart)

Tolkien, “The Battle of Five Armies” (art by Matt Stewart)

Yes, you could, as Tolkien did, have the goblins & wargs serve as the main villains, but that would have taken a different narrative line, requiring the filmmakers to spend a lot of backstory on the goblin kingdom under the Misty Mountains.  I think this approach works better & keeps the audience completely engaged — and connects Jackson’s version to his other film trilogy —  to lay the seeds early of the Necromancer and the orcs so that, when the Battle of Five Armies comes next year,  everyone goes “Ah, of course, there’s Dain and his kinfolk.  Ah, there are Azog and his orcs! Here come the Wargs, oh, look the eagles,” etc.)  

On this point — and getting back to Azog — the scene at Dol Guldur where the White Orc’s vengeance on Thorin is postponed.  Just seeing both Azog getting new orders from the Necromancer and the introduction of his son, Bolg, makes it clear how comprehensive Sauron is in his plan to return to power; he allows his lieutenant’s son to keep pursuing the dwarves, but also wants to make sure that Azog is tending to preparing the orc-army for war.  

Richard Armitage, Thorin

Richard Armitage, Thorin

Most especially, Jackson & Co.’s narrative tack allows us to see on-screen how much not only Azog, but also Sauron hated the Dwarves.  I don’t believe that this is a matter — as some critics have suggested —of Jackson wanting to elevate Richard Armitage’s Thorin to the level of Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn. In the book itself, Thorin’s company represents the ragtag survivors of one of the seven great dwarf kingdoms of the Third Age.  Remember?

Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men to die, 
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

The Elves defied Sauron and hid them.  The Dwarves took theirs, hid them, and resisted, with the fate of those rings being lost or “burned by dragon fire.”  Only “Men” fell to Sauron’s power, becoming nine Ring-Wraiths, or the Nazgûl.  We saw in Jackson’s LotR trilogy how Saruman, Théoden, and Denethor all proved too weak-willed against Sauron’s devices and agents (think of the Palantír and Gríma Wormtongue), and in these first two installments of The Hobbit we’re getting to see how the Elves and Dwarves are doing:  not well.  Mirkwood is a subject for next chapter’s assessment, but suffice it to say that because of Sauron’s return, both Radagast and the Wood-elves are noticing a creeping disease in the beautiful forest east of the Anduin, formerly known as Rhovanion.  

Ken Stott, Balin

Ken Stott, Balin

If the LotR trilogy was Aragorn’s story as a successful “returning” king, this is the obverse of Jackson’s (and Tolkien’s) vision:  the ultimate failure of Thorin to live to see his kingdom regained, and later, the failure of another dwarf, Balin (played here magnificently by Ken Stott) to retake Dwarrowdelf/Moria.  To me, this is one of the most significant surprises of this adaptation:  charting how the dwarves under Thorin simply won’t be able to find the same redemption as human-kind does under Aragon in The Return of the King.

And, now, the last couple of things that I loved about this chapter’s adaptation:

Gandalf & Beorn

Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt)

(1) A beautifully rendered scene with Beorn and momentary respite at his cottage (retro-criticism here:  Jackson really should have done the same kind of thing with Tom Bombadil in The Fellowship of the Ring).  My family got a wonderful sense of the character in this scene, both in the blend of nature and civilization in his home — as a medievalist, this scene particularly ran true in the sense of how rural households were designed a thousand years ago — and the changeling’s attitude toward Azog’s orcs deepened the plot from the previous installment of The Hobbit that something very, very wrong is happening in Middle Earth (i.e., the return of Sauron is corrupting everything…).

"Gandalf & Beorn," from Peter Jackson's Adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's work, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (New Line, Warner Bros., 2013)

“Gandalf & Beorn,” from Peter Jackson’s Adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (New Line, Warner Bros., 2013)

(2) Beorn and Mirkwood:  The depiction of Beorn’s cottage, his character and shape-changing portrayed so well by Mikael Persbrandt, and the interaction with the Company was fantastic, and the edge of Mirkwood Forest was enhanced by the elvish gate, and the successful “wrench” of both the Company and audience being left without Gandalf.  Loved the scenery, and will always remember the creatures, mice, and oversized bumblebees in Beorn’s cottage!

So, finally, I want to know what the critics of this version are waiting for?  A chapter-by-chapter adaptation of The Silmarillion that explains all of this mythology Tolkien created?  Good luck with that…  No, in viewing this work as a film that should be judged on its own terms for people who might never read a word of Professor Tolkien’s novels, we need to look at it on action-adventure terms, and I think Jackson’s accomplishing that and being remarkably respectful to the entire source-material of Middle Earth history.

What do think?  It’s feedback time!

Next time:  Chapter VIII, Flies & Spiders!

No comments yet

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: