2.25.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 26, “Inside Information,” Part 5)
2.25.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 26, “Inside Information,” Part 5)
Things I Liked about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Gandalf & Necromancer (Part 2: The Necromancer):
Good Afternoon, Everyone!
Let’s clear some brush. Here are a few excerpts of problems some critics have had with the depiction of Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and, more generally, Peter Jackson’s 2013 film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 book, The Hobbit:
“[Gandalf is]...no more than a video game version of himself from the LOTR films…becomes a blundering moron who jumps into the enemy’s lair and waits to be rescued by the White Council instead of leading their attack (Emir Pasanovic, Bleeding Cool, http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/12/22/)
- “…Gandalf squares off with Saur…er, the Necromancer, despite the former’s explicit statement (at the Council of Elrond) that he only “secretly explored” Dol Guldur and the editorial edict (in Appendix B, “The Third Age,” The Return of the King) that the Istari “were forbidden to match his [Sauron’s] power with power.” (Also: why does the still-recoalescing Sauron wear armor?)” (Timothy R. Furnish, PhD., theonering.net, http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2014/01/11/)
Gandalf taking on a reincarnated Sauron and several thousand orcs by himself. … knowing that the entire Dol Guldur complex is a booby-trap, rushes in headlong and finds there exactly what he should have and indeed did expect. What was his plan? What was his purpose? Did the being who’d days earlier run from a platoon of Warg riders suddenly think he could take on and defeat Sauron and an entire army of orcs and Wargs? The more likely explanation is that the asking price for more than two seconds of screen-time from Cate Blanchett, and any screen-time whatsoever from Christopher Lee, was just high enough that this fanciful Gandalf-Sauron tilt — which, needless to say, appears nowhere in Tolkien’s The Hobbit — seemed like a good investment of Jackson’s CGI monies. Of course, in Tolkien’s original material the attack on Dol Guldur was a massive enterprise planned for months and involving a reasonable number of combatants for the forces of good. (Thomas Monteath, theonering.net, http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2014/01/30/)
Rather than mustering a full defense on these various criticisms, here’s a link to a full list of positive, so-so, and negative views of the film https://ajcarlisle.wordpress.com/2014/01/30 (Note: the relevant links are on bottom of page, after the blog entry.)
For me, in contrast to the above assessments, I was very pleased to see the kind of thought (and respect) that went into this presentation of both Gandalf and the Necromancer/Sauron. First, let’s deal with the Necromancer and Gandalf issue. The Necromancer? Enough already with people upset that Sauron’s making an appearance here, when Tolkien only allowed him a few mysterious lines in the novel. Jackson’s the only creator in 70+ years to bring both of Tolkien’s works to the big screen, and you’d think from some screams in certain quarters that his approach blasphemed against an organized religion. There’s also some criticism of Jackson’s depicting Sauron as he appeared in the LotR films. I think, given that movie-goers are familiar with that depiction of the Dark Lord, Jackson was spot-on in keeping that form for the Necromancer-is-Sauron reveal. I mean, come on Tolkien purists, did you really hope for a version of Sauron that cast back his days of fighting Huan in the Silmarillion? If that were the case, look to the left, and see how Tolkien described him (courtesy of Ted Nasmith art), and then look to the right and see how he appears in the LotR films…of course, Jackson’s going to remain consistent in telling his story! I just suppose there simply isn’t pleasing some folks!
For all the supposed “Tolkien lovers” who think that desecration’s occurred, read Seth Abramson’s very helpful assessment over at The Huffington Post which concisely gives a timeline that segues perfectly with how Jackson’s approaching Middle Earth history: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/
Back? Good. I’d only add that, in terms of storyline, the first 2 films in this Hobbit trilogy are internally consistent in regard to the depiction of the Necromancer, and nothing really departs from Tolkien’s story. Is there a Necromancer in the 1937 novel, The Hobbit? Yes. Did Tolkien later retroactively make Sauron that Necromancer? Yes. Did Gandalf go to Dol Guldur alone to discover or confront that fact? Yes. (No, I don’t care if 90 years passed between Gandalf’s 1st and 2nd visit, I’m just talking about respecting essentials of an author’s literary story, and adapting them cinematically!)
Did the entire White Council eventually have to assault Dol Guldur to drive Sauron from Mirkwood, & thence to Mordor where he appears by the time of The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Yes. So, in my mind, if all of these essential plot-points are intact, why not just enjoy the film as a great adventure story? Anything else is just quibbling, and rather ungrateful to Jackson for daring to adapt a book and make it align with movies he’s already filmed, let alone a LotR trilogy that features the same characters (Bilbo, Gandalf, Sauron) over a span of time! Don’t know if there will ever be a Silmarillion film made, but here at least Jackson’s given us glimpses of the larger, more textured world that Tolkien created, and the presentation of Gandalf here is crucial to see that underlying story.
As for criticism’s that the first two films are poorly written (one reviewer thought that the dialogue was akin to a first-year screenwriter’s efforts), I’d only say, don’t go back and read some lines in Tolkien, or you might be in for some disappointment. Any author can’t get every line right, and I thought that both dialogue and pacing were great in both films. (And one critical reviewer even tried to offer a suggestion that perhaps the over-numerous dwarves situation could’ve been resolved by killing them off one at a time, so that by the time we reach Erebor, there’s a more manageable seven…really?) In looking at the narrative line that’s being drawn with respect to the presentation of the Necromancer, Jackson & Co. have been very consistent in their storytelling, and they still have one film left to complete their tale.
First, in An Unexpected Journey, we saw the Witch-King’s appearance (ghost rising from a rock in front of Radagast), then Gandalf’s presentation of that Nazgûl’s blade & the attempt by Saruman to redirect the White Council’s attention (also needful, because Tolkien readers know that he’s already on the lookout for the One Ring, too), and we’re also treated to a shadowy outline of the Necromancer in a doorway.
Secondly, in Desolation of Smaug, the plot thickened, with Azog the Pale Orc shown to be leading the Necromancer’s forces gathering around Dol Guldur, the revelation that the tombs of the Nazgûl have ruptured at the High Fells, and, finally Gandalf sending off a message to the White Council (via Radagast) before going solo to confront the Necromancer, who’s revealed finally to be Sauron himself. Yes, this Part 2 ends with Gandalf captured, but now I imagine that the White Council will be called to action in Part 3, and I, for one, remain hopeful that we’ll see a fully engaged & fighting Elrond and Galadriel in There and Back Again! So, I don’t know what screenwriting classes (or storytelling lessons) the critics have been going to, but for those movie-goers who’ve not read Tolkien, these films are tending to an “internal consistency” that rings truly with me!
And what about these critiques of Gandalf being a “video-game version” of himself? Or, of being recklessly foolhardy to enter Dol Guldur alone? Come on. It seems as if we’re going to have to do here what Jackson and his co-writers have already obviously done many times: dip into the lore of Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and let the newbies know that Gandalf was a wizard known among the elves as Mithrandir, but, long before that, in Valinor he was known as Olórin. He was a being so powerful & respected that when he arrived in Middle Earth, he was given the Narya, the Ring of Fire, from Cirdan the Shipwright. (Tolkien, “The Istari,” in Unfinished Tales). As such, he’s in a select company of the most ancient of beings that we’ve seen in both of Jackson’s film trilogies (besides Sauron himself, Elrond, & Galadriel, et al). Also, as one of the Maiar of Valinor (angelic beings made into human form), his lifespan stretches back to the First Age — and perhaps to Creation itself — making him certainly a peer of Sauron, who was an apprentice of the Dark Lord Melkor/Morgoth. In this, Gandalf rightly stood alongside Elrond and Galadriel in the defense of Middle Earth, and Tolkien himself made it very clear in “The Quest for Erebor” that Gandalf’s machinations and alliance with Elrond & Galadriel made him one of the few people in Middle Earth who could’ve dared to take on Sauron while the Dark Lord was still weak.
So, rather than rashly going into Dol Guldur, Gandalf had no choice. Even if he only suspected that it was Sauron, Gandalf certainly wouldn’t have shied from confronting him. That’s because part of his entire reason for coming to Middle Earth was because his master, Manwë told him that he needed to get over his fear of Sauron! (Seriously, critics: go read up, because Jackson certainly has. There’s a personal beef between Gandalf and Sauron, with most of the fear coming from his younger days when he lived in Valinor as Olórin in the gardens of Irmo.) And, when you think about managing an entire continent, take this into consideration: Gandalf only had Saruman and Radagast to help him. (Originally, Tolkien mentions that there were “two Blue Wizards” who disappeared into the East, never to be heard from again.)
So, critics of “Gandalf going solo,” here’s a math problem that’s not too easy to reconcile with the cheap shots at Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the character vis-a-vis entering Dol Guldur by himself: if you’ve got five wizards assigned by the Valar to “win the trust of Elves and Men,” and two blue wizards “disappear,” a “white” one is already corrupted by the desire for the One Ring (yes, in Tolkien canon, at this point Saruman’s already begun his machinations), and you’re left with just Radagast the Brown and Gandalf the Grey, what do you do? Well, if you’re one of the Maiar like Gandalf is (remember, power of a “fallen angel”) you don’t run from a confrontation, you send Radagast for reinforcements and then you stride into the dark and fight the good fight. Oh, wait, that’s exactly how Jackson/Walsh/Boyens/del Toro interpreted it! Personally, I loved that Gandalf didn’t run back to the White Council and recruit Elrond, Galadriel, & Saruman to help him and Radagast, and I don’t think that the current storyline really suffers he chose to take on Sauron alone.
I also thought that it was brilliant for Jackson & Co. to implicitly refer to Gandalf/Olorin’s ancient fear of Sauron, and proverbially “beard the lion in the den” of Dol Guldur! Remember, in Tolkien’s mythology, these entities are running around Middle Earth over thousands of years; the typical movie-goer doesn’t need to know that, but I would certainly expect that so-called Tolkien “purists” might give a nod to Jackson for addressing these ancient relationships in his films! Moreover, I was glad for the CGI because it really allowed us to see the kind of ancient kind of wizard battle that Tolkien really reserved for readers of The Silmarillion. As character arcs go, this development of Gandalf really gives us insight into the man, and will make his transformation into Gandalf the White in The Return of the King (after the Balrog battle) something very meaningful.
Next time: Smaug and Sauron