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2.4.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 6, “Flies and Spiders,” Part 2)

The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug

2.4.14  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 6, “Flies and Spiders,” Part 2)

Hello, Friends!

As we continue through Mirkwood and depart Tolkien’s “Chapter VIII, Flies and Spiders,” to look at Jackson’s adaptation, we enter into some major changes from the original text in The Hobbit:

Tolkien, "Wilderland" (& Mirkwood Forest)

Tolkien, “Wilderland” (& Mirkwood Forest)

Departure 1 – The long days/weeks (?) in Mirkwood collapsed into minutes, and omissions of Enchanted River (&  Bombur’s memory loss), and company’s multiple sightings of Wood-elves.

Jackson efficiently collapses (1) the time that Bilbo & the dwarves spent in the forest, (2) the exhaustion and disorientation that the company experiences, and (3) repeated sightings of the Wood-elves at banquet. To the first, Karen Wynn Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle-Earth estimates the forest as 600 miles (north to south) by 250 miles (west to east), with Tolkien’s rather vague timeline making it clear that the journey was a very long one; at some points he writes that the dwarves are wandering for “days and days,” & once they leave the elf path, their route takes them even further afield.  There are pages in Tokien’s text devoted to this aspect of the journey, with descriptions of the fell creatures (moths, flies, bats, etc.) and also the steady descent into starvation experienced by the dwarves.

Bombur (Stephen John Hunter)

Bombur (Stephen John Hunter)

The film also bypasses the crossing of the Enchanted River (including Bombur’s fall into the dark water & loss of memory) and multiple sightings of Wood-elves dining and partying in the forest.   Here, Jackson keeps an action-film pacing by making it clear that the company gets exhausted and disoriented by the spell of Mirkwood, that they leave the forest path, culminating in the attack of giant spiders after Bilbo ascends the tree to get a lay of the land.

Bilbo & Butterflies (Martin Freeman)

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) & Black Emperor Butterflies

Departure 2 – Bilbo sees Lake-town and the Lonely Mountain from the treetop elevation In the original, Bilbo’s attempt to see where the company lies in relation to the forest is a vain and disheartening one; Tolkien describes their location as very “close” to the edge of Mirkwood, but because Bilbo’s tree is in bowl-shaped depression, the hobbit can’t see their proximity to the end of the woods.  In The Desolation of Smaug, the audience gets a breath of fresh air, the “Black Imperial” butterflies, and also a clear view of Erebor (the Lonely Mountain).  When combined with the vast panoramas of the Misty Mountains in An Unexpected Journey and Wilderland here, the viewer is getting treated to scenes of Middle Earth that are different (yet in keeping) with the LotR trilogy and first Hobbit film!

Bilbo in battle with the Spiders

Bilbo in battle with the Spiders

Departure 3 – The battle with the spiders This scene is another one of the biggest departures from the source material.  In the original, Bilbo lucks out by awakening before a spider can finish binding his body, slices himself free with the dagger, and single-handedly kills many of the enemy spiders, while singing songs (!) and infuriating the creatures by using invisibility and his dagger to wreak havoc (also names the blade “Sting” in both versions). 

Bilbo vs the Spiders of Mirkwood

Bilbo vs the Spiders of Mirkwood

The film version allows a much more active role for the dwarves, in that once Bilbo frees them they join the hobbit in a melee.  Why?  It’s in this moment that the director brings the sinister effects of the One Ring in line with what we’ve seen previously in Jackson’s films.  That is, Bilbo slays the spider that’s near his ring in a manner reminiscent of Smeagol’s killing of Deagol (in opening scene of RotK), even to point of grunting “mine,” and being revolted at the violence he sees in himself.

Bilbo & the One Ring

Bilbo & the One Ring

Departure 4 –  The revelation to the company that Bilbo found a magic ring In Tolkien’s novel, after the battle with the spiders, the company learns from Bilbo that he found a magic ring under the Misty Mountains. The action stops completely as the dwarves make Bilbo recount his adventure with (and escape from) Gollum, and then they begin marching again to chase elf-lights/banquets, until finally getting caught by the Wood-elves.  I found Jackson’s omission here to be more believable and in keeping with how the One Ring would work on others if its presence were known.  (Did we really want to see multiple temptations – a la Boromir’s corruption in The Fellowship of the Ring – with thirteen dwarves?)

Bilbo & One Ring (after slaying spider)

Bilbo & One Ring (after slaying spider)

Departure 5 – The manner of the Wood-elves capture of the company, change of the Elven-King’s halls, and introduction of Tauriel and Legolas to the story…the most dramatic and complex additions to the film adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit!  And, accordingly, deserves its own blog entry…

Next time:  The development (and enhancement) of the Wood-elves appearance at the end of Chapter VIII, “Flies and Spiders.”

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