Friday, 28 November 2014

Meddling with Middle-Earth (VOR)

The release date for Peter Jackson’s final foray into Middle-Earth is fast approaching with the highly anticipated film, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, premiering this December. 

With that in mind, my personal friend (and first-time guest blogger) - Daniel Jauk - decided it was time to look back at previous instalments in The Hobbit trilogy and weigh up what worked, as well as what didn't and why.

Even though Dan's a big fan of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (particularly the extended editions), he does have something of an axe to grind when it comes to The Hobbit trilogy (we're looking at you, character development).

So, without further ado, let's delve once more into the depths of Middle-Earth. Take it away, Daniel!

Guillermo del Toro was the original director of The Hobbit films
Ah, The Hobbit trilogy. While it has a fascinating story full of strange creatures beyond count, critics have given it a mixed-positive reception. I guess you could say it was inevitable. Adapting a children’s book into a dark group of films was never going to be an easy task, especially when you consider that it was to act as a prequel to one of the most well-received film trilogies of all time. 

But add to that the change in directors (Hellboy’s Guillermo del Toro to Jackson), the decision to turn the two originally envisioned films into three, and studio interference, and it becomes clearer why it has received a mixed rep.

For the record, I am a massive fan of Jackson’s Middle-Earth films. But I don’t think The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug quite measure up to what we’ve seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s got nothing to do with the overuse of CGI (although I wish Jackson had used less), or the departure from events in Tolkien’s story (though more time with characters like Beorn would have been nice). Rather, I don’t think the films do enough to develop, or even define, some of its characters. 

In saying this, there are still many strongly developed characters. Thorin’s fall from grace and growing “sickness” is beautifully conveyed across the films and it will be interesting to see what will happen to him in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Gandalf’s arc of going from bumbling wizard to detective to counsellor is similar, though not unwelcome, to what happens to him in The Lord of the Rings. Bard is a believable working class bargeman struggling to make ends meet. King Thranduil is an emotional leader that rules with an unbending isolationist policy. And then there’s Legolas, Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman, Gollum, Sauron, and other strongly defined characters returning from The Lord of the Rings.

But there are some other characters that could be developed further.

Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The titular hobbit is the perfect example. While most critics believe, as I do, that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a stronger film than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I think Bilbo had a larger role to play in the first film. Why? Because he undergoes the perfect character arc; he is whisked away from home, journeys to faraway lands, begins to doubt himself, and then proves hismettle and becomes a member of the Company.

While a lot of fantastic scenes happen to Bilbo in the second film (the scene with Smaug being a prime example), he never really undergoes a journey. I think the film should have incorporated scenes that proved Bilbo as a valued member of the Company. He could have recognised Thorin’s gradual decline into insanity and voiced his concerns with dwarves like Balin or Bofur. He could also have played a larger role in Lake-town and developed a close friendship with Bard (which would foreshadow the various hobbits’ friendships with the people of Gondor and Rohan in The Lord of the Rings).

Maybe we would have seen this had the films remained streamlined into two parts. Or maybe Bilbo would have been more compelling if they had stuck with del Toro’s script where the character’s personality was different. In an interview with Deadline Hollywood, screenwriter Phillipa Boyens, who has worked on all films in the Middle-Earth saga, said: “[Bilbo] shifted and changed into someone who, rather than being slightly younger and more innocent in the world, once had a sense of longing for adventure and has lost it and become fussy and fusty.”

In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I want Bilbo to play a more active role, make his own decisions, and become disillusioned with Thorin’s quest, as has been hinted at in the trailers. Martin Freeman is such a fantastic actor and I think it would be a shame if he didn’t get a chance to explore more facets of the character. The trilogy is titled The Hobbit, after all.

A poster for the final film in The Hobbit trilogy - poor Bilbo is relegated to the background
The dwarves are some other characters that could be more clearly defined. The appendices for the extended editions show that del Toro and Jackson championed for each dwarf to have a unique personality, backstory, and position in the Company. However, this is somewhat ironic given that most of the characters besides Thorin, Balin, Kili, and Bofur aren’t really given any screentime, and it takes multiple viewings to understand their personalities. In comparison to the members of the Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings, I feel like I know very little about these characters.

The only dwarves you recognise - Fili (left) and Kili (right)
In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I’m hoping to see more dwarves get the screentime they deserve. And I think we might get that through Bofur, Fili, Kili, and Oin who were stuck in Lake-town at the end of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (with Smaug heading their way). In an interview with Empire, Boyens said: “We wanted some of the dwarves to understand what happened in that firestorm, that holocaust that rains down upon Lake-town. … A rift begins to open up [between them].”

While this is a significant departure from the source material, I think it’s a good move. Part of the reason why the Fellowship characters in The Lord of the Rings were so compelling was because they had to come into their own and interact with the wider world when they became separated. And this interaction allowed for more exposure of the characters’ personalities.

I think other characters in The Hobbit could benefit from more exposure too. Have Azog face off with Beorn so that he doesn’t just have a single-minded vendetta against Thorin. Have Radagast interact with more members of the White Council so that we can understand more about their characters, and have him act as the interpreter for the giant eagles so that we can learn more about them besides the fact that they’re Middle Earth’s deus ex machina.

Maybe I’m just nitpicking with The Hobbit trilogy, but that’s because I think these films have the potential to be elevated to the same height of brilliance as The Lord of the Rings if Jackson and co. just pay it bit more attention to character development. After all, it’s characters that make a movie interesting, relatable, and worth watching – in spite of the hurdles that might be faced during the development process.

Regardless of what will or won’t happen, I have a feeling that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is going to bring an epic conclusion to this epic, endearing saga. Check out the release dates here.

Do you feel as though The Hobbit could improve its character development? Are you looking forward to the The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies? Leave a comment below!


  1. For me, the biggest problem is that there are three movies where one would've sufficed. I could maybe see doing two, but at three we're stretching the source material far too thin. After that, I agree having the titular character in a supporting role is a mistake. For the entirety of the second movie, Jackson substituted any character development for him with having him repeatedly show up to save the day after having separated himself from the group for long stretches of time. As for the dwarves, yes they're just a bunch of guys with beards, for the most part. This is also a problem. All that said, I do think the second movie is much better and this gives me hope for the next installment, but I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to see it.

    1. Hi Wendell, thanks for commenting! I also think the films would've been better had they been streamlined, preferably into two parts. At the moment, I think the films have a bit of a problem with brevity. I feel like they're stretching out the action scenes (in spite of how awesome some of them are), which leaves little time for character development. Let's hope that The Battle of the Five Armies takes the character development up a notch -- in spite of its title.

    2. I'm going to weigh in here also :D Three movies does seem like a bit of stretch, I'll give you that, especially after An Unexpected Journey was so long and fairly dull in places. Desolation was a really big improvement, and I liked that Tauriel wasn't a complete unnecessary addition. If anything, she added to the film. The dwarves are a big issue though, and even though guys like Kili, Fili and James Nesbitt (don't remember which one he is) stand out, the rest just blur into the hairy background. After two films, I should be able to remember who Ori and Nori are, but can't for the life of me.

      Anyway, awesome post Dan :) Great job! (great comment too Wendell!)

  2. Yeah, I definitely agree that the characters could be very better defines. Like you said, the Fellowship from the Rings movies were all very distinct, where as the dwarves here don't really stand out from one another, outside of a select few. And it does bother me that Bilbo is such a supporting player in his own movies. Hell, I joked that the first one could've been more accurately titled "Gandalf". I did enjoy the second movie quite a bit, but I do too wonder how more streamlined these movies could've been had they kept to the 2 movie idea they originally had planned. Still though, I am looking forward to the third installment all the same, heh.

    1. I'm waiting for the day someone decides to reedit these films and make them into two (or even one really long) movie that trims away all the fat. That's something I'd like to see!



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