I finished reading The Hobbit and I have watched the second movie in the trilogy and now it is time to tell you what I thought. I think part of the issue comes out that the story is really a simple adventure, with a lot of action, but it is never as dire as the movies make it out to be. Therefore when you try and turn the book in to three movies you end up having to change a few things. In the first movie I thought they did a pretty good job sticking to the book, even though they only made it a third of the way through. They added some little things, some big things, but there were only a few moments that I felt were not true to the heart of the book.
Now the problem is that at the beginning you have to start from the same place, but the more you add and change the further away from the book you will get as you move forward. Especially when you add elements that are supposed to stick around for all the movies. In the first movie we start out adding in a group of orcs chasing the dwarves along their quest, because the quest itself was not dangerous enough. Then you also add in Gandalf having suspicions about the dark being on the move and old enemies rising. Once you introduce these, then you have to keep them up, but as in the case of the second movie it means you have to veer further away from the story the book told to focus on the other elements that you have added. Many of the great parts in the book are shortened, Beorn, Spiders, Barrels, to add time for the orcs and Gandalf hunting down the Necromancer.
The other part is that they seemed to want to focus on the epic parts of the story and make them bigger. Someone decided that the scenes with Beorn, the spiders, and others were not interesting enough so we had to either make them shorter or add elements to make them bigger. Then with Smaug they got such a good actor, they decided to make it a much bigger scene. The problem is that the book really does a good job of telling the story that needs to be told and not adding superfluous elements. (Spoilers for The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug after the jump)
This scene in the books plays out so well. The dwarves are traveling with Gandalf and have just been dropped off by the eagles. They have no supplies and have a long way to go and have no idea how they are going to get there without supplies. They are also a bit worried about goblins coming down from the mountain after they killed the Goblin King. This is when Gandalf suggests going to Beorn. They are not rushed there, and Gandalf sets up a whole elaborate trick to get Beorn to take them in, when usually he wouldn’t. He shows up to Beorn’s house first then starts telling a story as the dwarves show up two by two. Gandalf gets Beorn so interested in the story that he doesn’t notice that suddenly he has 14 people staying in his house. It plays out so well and could have been such a fun visual, but they chose to play it a different way.
Due to the fact that the dwarves are being chased by the band of orcs they are frantically on the run. They end up seeing this giant bear and the dwarves and Gandalf just run into Beorn’s house and then stay there. They mention that Beorn is unpredictable in bear form and they essentially lock themselves in the house. Then Beorn appears, feeds them breakfast, and then basically because Beorn hates orcs more than dwarves he is willing to help them. Then they get the ponies and move on to Mirkwood. The whole scene feels more like an item to be checked off a list then a fully developed scene.
Mirkwood and Spiders
So Gandalf leaves the dwarves at Mirkwood, just like he does in the book, but then Mirkwood ends up very different and so does the spider. In the book they are trudging through Mirkwood for days, if not weeks watching as their supplies are slowly running out and they getting more and more disheartened. The trees are so thick they cannot even see the sky and the air feels thick. The reason they get lost is they run out of food and will settling down see fires and hear voices. The run towards them, but whenever they reach the fires they get snuffed out and move on. After they get lost, is when the dwarves get taken by the spiders. This is when Bilbo gets to be brilliant. He uses the ring to lead the spiders away from the hanging dwarves. In the book this is a long and elaborate scene, showing Bilbo’s bravery and smarts.
The movie turns this scene in to a blip on the screen. Mirkwood becomes an enchanted forest that misleads the dwarves, which is why they end up getting lost. When Bilbo is checking above the trees is when the dwarves get taken by the spiders. Bilbo follows them, throws one rock to distract the spiders and then just cuts the dwarves down. They all end up running, but then immediately get captured by the wood elves. So instead of highlighting the brilliance of Bilbo we use this time to show off the awesomeness of elves, which looked really cool, but does take away a bit from what the story is supposed to be about.
Wood Elves and Barrels
The part with the wood elves was basically the same. The dwarves got captured, end up insulting the wood elf king and basically are destined to be in the wood elf jail for the rest of their lives. Bilbo ends up sneaking around and gets the dwarves out in the same way he did in the book, by using the empty barrels that get sent back down the river. Now here is where things switch directions. The orcs have tracked them to the wood elves and follow the dwarves down the river. The orcs are on the shore, the dwarves in the barrels creates a fun and epic adventure.
In the movie the dwarves are not sealed in to the barrels, so they get to fight back during the adventure. This is an example of something that is a great addition to the story. The wood elves in the book is over months and in the movie it is just a couple of days. It is okay they shortened the time, but this really is supposed to be an adventure that takes a very long time and this movie makes it feel compacted.
Laketown and Smaug
With the change in the way the barrel escape happened they had to change how the dwarves entered Laketown and even changed how the entry in to the Misty Mountain happened. Some parts were okay because they flesh out the characters of Bard and the Master a lot more. Bard becomes critical in the third movie and later in the book, so it is nice to learn more about him. The Master is also an important character, so expanding on these two helps to flesh out the story more. The part that bothers me about Laketown is that they leave some of the dwarves behind because apparently Kili got hit with a morgul arrow, which apparently is a thing. I am really curious how the third movie is going to work now that the dwarves have split up.
So already we have the movie, veering further and further from the book. So instead of a full company of dwarves and Bilbo heading to the mountain we have 9 dwarves and Bilbo heading to the mountain. In the book it takes days to get to the mountain, then find the door, in the movie it took hours. Then instead of having the Smaug action happen over a couple of days they make it bigger and make it happen over an extended period of time. Now do not get me wrong Smaug is gorgeous and amazing, but I really like the story in the book and this is not it. The one thing that the movie does do in my opinion is that it redeems the dwarves a little bit. In the book it is kind of like the dwarves are putting everyone else in danger and do not seem to care that others might be put in danger by their actions. At least in the movie the dwarves attempt to fight against Smaug, which is what ultimately sends him on his rampage.
Same Story Different Focus
Part of what I am seeing is that they are trying to tell the same basic story, but maintaining a different focus. They shift a lot of the elements to focus on the dire or epic circumstances. The other part is that they seem to be trying to make it more of a Lord of the Rings prequel instead of having it be its own story. Yes, this is the story where the one ring is discovered, but that is not the point of the story. It is meant to be about dwarves reclaiming their home, but we have to turn it in to the initial battle against evil. I think some of my problem is that the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit actually does a pretty decent job of telling the story. It is a great adventure story and focuses on what is important and that is the journey. This trilogy version seems to be trying to overcomplicate things.