Sunday, January 19, 2014

Against the Purists: The Desolation of Smaug

     So, it's been a while since The Desolation of Smaug came out, and it seems to me that it's been a bit of a polarizing film. People I know who've seen it either loved it or hated it. Of the people I know who hated it almost all of them are die-hard book fans - Tolkien purists. So, seeing as how The Hobbit is one of my top two favorite books of all time, I thought I'd defend the new movie from the rabid purists. I really do love The Hobbit. I've read it nearly twenty times, so it's not like I'm only sort of familiar with the story. I quote this book, man. In addition to The Hobbit, I've also read The Lord of the Rings multiple times and I own nearly every work Tolkien ever wrote (and I've read most of them too). If there is a club for die-hard Tolkien fans I think I should be allowed to be a member. And yet, I still loved the movie. How on earth could I do that seeing as how Peter Jackson changed almost everything (I say almost everything, but that's not quite true. Almost every line from the book is used in the movie, and it's still amazingly different from it's source material).

    If you are a purist the first important thing to keep in mind when watching the new movies is that they will not be like the book. If it were, it would actually be a terrible movie. The book's plot structure is more episodic than it is streamlined. If this were a mini series you would probably be able to follow the events in the book pretty closely, but in a movie you have to make each installment able to stand on its own. Each installment must be able to stand on it's own as a story, but still be able to connect to the other films. This is incredibly difficult to achieve, and Jackson had to add some things in to make it work. Having Orcs chase the Dwarves literally pushes the plot forward. It also makes the threat of the Necromancer more urgent. The Necromancer is not in the book, but his being driven from Mirkwood by the White Council is concurrent with the events in The Hobbit. Purists may understand that the Necromancer needed to be taken care of, but viewers who haven't seen the books need a more obvious reason. If the Necromancer is sending orcs to chase our heroes, you bet Gandalf needs to take him down. I think once purists get over the fact that things happen in the movie that don't happen in the Tolkienverse, it's pretty easy to see that some of the changes were necessitated.

     In fact, one of the changes that Jackson made I believed actually made the story better. At the beginning of the first installment Bilbo tells the story of the fall of Erebor. The tale has a very Medieval feel to it. Sure the Dragon came and ruined everything, but he came in response to a sickness that had grown in the heart of Erebor's king - Greed. Dragons themselves are mythological symbols of Greed, so the story of The Hobbit in many ways is the tale of the destructive power of greed. This is all in the source material, but I thought that Jackson did a better job of bringing this element out. Thorin inherits his grandfather's sickness, and we see it start to poison him in The Desolation of Smaug. Some of the liberties that Jackson takes allow him to more fully develop some of the themes of the source material.

    Now, that doesn't mean that I agree with all of the changes. I didn't mind Legolas being included (and in fact I thought his presence added a lot), but Tauriel drove me insane. It might have been fine to include an OC (original character), but I didn't like the way that she was used to inject unnecessary romantic tension. Because never, ever, ever, ever, ever *spoiler* ever, ever, ever, ever EVER would there ever be a romantic relationship between an elf and a dwarf... ever. There are canon reasons for this. First of all, elves are the true children of Eru and the Dwarves are adopted. The elves hold themselves as being inherently better because of this. Tension right there. Second of all, Tauriel is a Sindar elf, and Sindar elves hated dwarves, because dwarves literally burned down their great kingdom in Doriath and murdered Thingol, one of the greatest elves ever, and the Sindar king. Sindar elves hated dwarves. The whole Legolas and Gimli friendship was a big freakin' deal. Third of all, Kili would have grown up his whole life thinking that elves were gross because they didn't help his great-grandfather Thror. So the whole Kili/Tauriel thing was a load of crap. *Spoiler* However, this was a minor aspect of the movie and shouldn't have ruined it for people.
     There were plenty of reasons to enjoy the latest Hobbit installment, and many things that Peter Jackson did a fantastic job with. Bard the Bowman was a great character. He and his family added a bit of a human element that was missing. And please, can we talk about that dragon? That was literally one of the best dragons I have ever seen in a movie. No, I take it back. That was THE best dragon that has ever graced the silver screen. Smaug was beautifully animated. Every scene that he was in was simply stunning, and his voice work was magnificent. The dragon alone is enough to atone for everything that may or may not be wrong with that movie. The barrel scene was a lot of fun. They added Beorn. How many other film makers would have included Beorn? Also Beorn was awesome. They added things from the appendices. Movie goers have the opportunity to see how the events of The Hobbit influence The Lord of the Rings aside from just the finding of the Ring. It's an important tie-in that most directors would leave out.

     Peter Jackson took on an incredibly difficult task when he decided to make The Hobbit. He was, in essence, working backwards. The Lord of the Rings trilogy are unquestionably fantastic movies. They are also epics, and they were made first. Jackson, then had to take The Hobbit, a children's book, and try and make it fit with the epic scope of the trilogy without making it not The Hobbit. It's not easy, and he does mess up sometimes. Ultimately, however, I think the purists should be thankful. At the end of the day one our favorite books is getting made into a movie by someone who loves the book as much as we do. He's careful to try and make it accessible to those who haven't read any Tolkien, while putting in content and references that should excite old fans. Are there some things I would do differently if I were making the movies? Absolutley - but that's the thing. I'm not making the movies. Purists need to understand that Peter Jackson's Hobbit is an adaptation. It's not like Tolkien himself is making the movies (if he were they would never get done), they're made by a fan. So, don't go in expecting the version of The Hobbit that you had in your head, because that's not what you're going to get. Instead, go in expecting what is essentially a big budget fan-tribute. I don't think that lessens the value of the movie, in fact I think it raises it. In the end, these movies were made by people like us, people that love these books and are doing their best to bring to a wider audience.


  1. *Applause* Excellent post, truly excellent. I agree with you on just about everything you have said. The Hobbit needed to be changed so that it fit with the darker, more serious and meaningful LOTR films. My opinion of The Desolation of Smaug as a movie is that is fantastic, and one of the best movies I have seen since the LOTR. It wasn't exactly perfect, but it was everything that I wanted and an overall magnificent story.
    Even though I have read the LOTR trilogy and they are my favorite books, I have not read the Hobbit book yet, but that is because I always watch the movie before reading the books, which I know is odd. Anyway, I have been a fan of the LOTR ever since I watched the Fellowship of the Ring in theaters over a decade ago.

    Changes to source material in general in an effort to make it more suitable for a film is inevitable because the mediums are so different, and if the chances make the story better, then it is for the best, even if hardcore purists cringe.

    In my Desolation of Smaug review tomorrow, I am going to post a link to your post so that the annoying hardcore purist haters of the film that might be reading my positive review of film will be given several excellent reasons as to why the book was changed.


    1. Thank you :) And The Hobbit really is an excellent story, so you should look forward to reading it after next December. And yeah, hardcore purists have always bothered me a bit. I do love books, so I am bothered by some changes sometimes, but I also like to think I can try to understand why important changes were made, as long as the heart of the original story is kept (which I think is really the most important part). Are the Hobbit movies as good as the book? In my opinion, no, but they are great movies in their own right, and are excellent adaptations of a masterpiece. Also, thank you for the link, I really appreciate it! :)

  2. I was a little bit like a purist at first with these films, because I had such a clear idea of what I would've considered a perfect adaptation, and Journey didn't fulfill it. But since I've realized the same thing -- by being annoyed by all the little (and not-so-little) changes, I was missing out on so much Middle-Earth enjoyment! And now I like Journey a lot better, and I loved Desolation! It's a pretty awesome movie, and has a ton of incredible moments in it. I like how they expanded Bard for the sames reasons as you, and seriously, even the most cynical of purists would have to admit the magnificence of Smaug in this movie. There is one thing though... I didn't mind Tauriel at all, and I think it's because I don't see her and Kili as being in a romantic relationship. I've simply written it off as more of an innocent infatuation, similar to Gimli and Galadriel. And they'll have to take it a lot further in the next film to convince me otherwise! Anyways, very nice post, I enjoyed it. Oh, and I don't believe I've commented here before, so, hello! :)

    1. Hello, and thanks for the comment. I really appreciate it! Yeah, it's easy to slip into a purist's mind-set, I have to check myself sometimes too! :) And yes, even if this movie had been terrible (and it wasn't) Smaug would have made it all ok. And as for Tauriel, I probably didn't make this clear, it's not so much that I minded her character. I actually liked her a lot. I just wasn't a fan of the implied love triangle thing. I don't think it hurt the movie any, it's more of a personal thing and a reaction against the way people in the fandom have taken it. :) All in all I've really enjoyed the first two films and am super excited for There and Back Again!

    2. Oh okay, I see, thanks for clarifying that for me. So in that case, I guess I agree with you completely! I definitely don't like the idea of there being romance between them. There and Back Again cannot come soon enough! :)

  3. Wonderful!

    Purists need to understand that Peter Jackson's Hobbit is an adaptation... So, don't go in expecting the version of The Hobbit that you had in your head, because that's not what you're going to get.

    This is so brilliant.

    I've been thinking about doing a blog post about why I'm not a purist in general. If I do, I might come back here and ask to quote the above, because that's exactly the issue with so many movies where purists go, "Oh my! The tea set was all wrong! How could they let that character wear red? Her hair is so wrong it made me throw up!"

    Thank you.


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