Welcome to Kate's Tolkien Posts!

My role model: see below.
The posts below are grouped by subject rather than chronologically. I often reference "earlier" posts even though those posts appear here further up the list. (All posts originally appeared on Votaries of Horror.)

Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The extended version does have
more of Beorn, which is nice.
The last movie of The Lord of the Rings trilogy--Return of the King--is lots and lots of battle scenes. The last movie of The Hobbit trilogy is the same. However, unlike the last movie of LOTR, the extended version of The Battle of the Five Armies is not alleviated by non-battle scenes, such as Faramir and Eowyn's relationship.

Five Armies' extended sequences are MORE battle scenes and explain the extended version's "R" rating. In fact, the extended sequences contain one of the most Grimm-worthy, fairy tale horrific scenes I've seen in a movie (I don't watch a lot of horror), namely Alfrid being choked on by an orc-beast-thingy.

I was quite disappointed. I had hoped that there would be at least a few extra non-battle scenes, such as an expansion of Bilbo's surreptitious departure from Erabor (this scene is longer in the book); at least one more scene between Tauriel and Fili; more LOTR references at the end . . .

Nope. Nothing. And since excessive battle scenes bore me, I spent most of the extended version doing other things while the movie was on. Naturally, I watched Bilbo's parts; I especially enjoy the "Urm, yerse," scene between Bilbo and the Elven king.

I still consider Freeman and Armitage's scenes with the acorn, at the armory, at the gate, and on the ice flow to be the best scenes in the entire trilogy.

I am not displeased that Jackson turned The Hobbit into a trilogy. I'm a huge fan of his work with Tolkien's masterpieces and since I now own The Desolation of Smaug in extended format, I'm sure the others will follow. Nevertheless, I must admit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the stronger of the two, having a more cohesive storyline--despite the multiple subplots.

This is entirely comparative. If Jackson had never made The Lord of the Rings, would The Hobbit be my new standard?

But my assessment did lead me to ponder if The Hobbit has the same resistance to a strict storyline as The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I love The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the book (though I didn't when I was younger). The BBC series with Sam West is quite good. The 2010 movie is okay but ultimately doesn't work so well. This is the type of narrative that lends itself to a series, comprised of five to six 1-hour episodes, rather than a movie.

Bilbo and Lobelia: those spoons!
The last time I watched The Hobbit (non-extended version), I watched it in 1/2 hour increments, I think there's something to be said for breaking up a journey script into digestible parts, so one gets to watch the troll sequence entirely separately from the goblin sequence.

I am looking forward The Silmarillion--one can always hope! :)

Extended Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The biggest edits in The Desolation of Smaug are all the Thrain bits.

In the original (the book), Gandalf mentions that he obtained the map and key from Thorin's father, Thrain when he visited him in the "dungeons of the Necromancer," where Thrain died. Personally, I think Jackson should have stuck with this explanation. Thorin's desire to return to Erebor could have been emphasized/encouraged by knowledge of his father's death.

Thrain dying at the end of Desolation accomplishes absolutely nothing in any particular direction. It does layer Tolkien's world--a particular skill of Jackson's that I greatly appreciate. Tolkien's world is dense, the product of generations of history, including the rise and fall of civilizations. Through the magnificent Alan Lee, John Howe, and WETA, Jackson manages to convey that same feel.

Overall, however, I think it was wise to cut the Thrain scenes--and they are cut most intelligently.

Other than Thrain's, most of the additional scenes are minor extensions--no new information. We get to see a little bit more of Monty-Python-esque Stephen Fry and Ryan Gage (Ryan Gage as Alfrid Lickspittle is an excellent example of the sarcastic bootlicker, a very English character who flatters his boss while delivering sotto voce criticisms).

What received no cuts for the theater release was Bilbo's confrontation with Smaug. I appreciate how willing Jackson was in the first two Hobbit movies to keep Bilbo's most important scenes (Gollum, Smaug) intact. The movies move quite rapidly between locations and sets of people, but the riddle scenes--Bilbo at his most courageous and most shrewd--are left uncut.

I must say again: Benedict Cumberbatch's interpretation of Smaug is exactly how I think a dragon speaks and acts! The wonderful combination of the boastful, sarcastic Smaug and the tremulous but exceedingly dry Bilbo (Freeman) wit is one of the best parts of the film.

Extended Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey

The additional scenes in The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey are fairly low-key. Rather than entire scenes of new information/action, they are mostly extensions of extant scenes. They don't alter the film overall; the cuts focus mostly on tightening the action (rather than fixing plot problems).

Rivendell and Bilbo:

The few additions that make an impact--in Rivendell, for example--underscore the dwarfs as the boisterous, low-culture boys' club that they are. I rather love this. Sure, I'd rather live in Rivendell with the elves. But I get a kick out of the anti-opera, anti-vegetarian aspect of the dwarfs.

The dwarfs in frat-boy party mode.
Overall, Rivendell contains the best of the extra scenes, including two neat thematic points: Bilbo's discussion with Elrond that emphasizes his choice between the comforts of home and commitment to Thorin & Company; the conversation between Gandalf and Elrond that hints at Thorin's grandfather's madness.

I regret the first cut more than the second. The second scene isn't paid off until the end of the trilogy; understandably, Jackson didn't want the audience to have to wait that long.

The first cut scene, however, includes a nice allusion to The Lord of the Rings. Generally speaking, I wish The Hobbit trilogy had contained more of these.

The first scene is also beautifully paid off towards the end of the movie with Bilbo's speech.

Of course, rewatching the movie served to remind me once again of Martin Freeman's impressive ability to convey emotion and humor with his utterly mobile face and easy body language. He doesn't simply recite words. He twists his mouth, ducks his head, avoids eye contact, then looks directly at his audience. Although sometimes quite subtle, the everyman humanity is there.

I can never say enough good things.

Orcs and Goblins: 

Other expanded scenes include the very funny under-the-mountain goblin additions, which are surprisingly close to the tone and plotting of the original text. One of the funniest lines comes here when the Goblin King says of a Rivendell nick-knack, “Bah – Second Age, couldn’t give it away!”

And if you think Tolkien wouldn't have approved, keep in mind that Tolkien is the one who invented Gandalf's golf line at the beginning of the book/movie: "[The goblin's head] sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit hole and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment."

Love the White Warg!
Rewatching the film did remind me of something that always puzzles me with this genre: why do bad guys (the orcs) keep following a leader who kills them when they don't get him what he wants?

I have to admit, though, that people do this in real life! Look at Henry VIII. If a wife disappointed, he didn't just divorce or end her life; he ended the careers and lives of people connected to her: supporters, family members, advisors who recommended her . . .

And yet people kept trying to curry favor with Henry VIII by suggesting new wives.

People who covet power always think that THEIR bid for power will be different from all those other people who didn't quite make it.

For the Fans: I Like Jackson’s Trilogy, Part I

The banishment of Sauron to Mordor: a scene
referenced in The Hobbit and LOTR, fully 
explored in Jackson's latest trilogy.
Considering how much money Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy has made by now, there are regrettably few people with whom I can share my love of the movies. So to any fans who might read this post, this is for you. (If you want to discourse on how awful it is, there are other websites!)

I like this movie--and Jackson's!
(I prefer "and's" to "or's.")
I recently reread the book (second time in a year; fifth or sixth time in my life so far) and was struck all over again by Tolkien’s plotting and perspective. The book is lighter in tone than the trilogy but not quite as light as criticisms of the trilogy often imply. If you are in search of that particular approach, I recommend the delightful Rankin production—it is a faithful adaptation, tightly plotted, with great songs!

Although aimed at children, the book itself is filled with dark edges. Nothing in the book reaches the sheer exhausting terror and despair of the Mordor chapters in The Lord of the Rings. However, even as a kid, I recognized the unusual anti-hero elements, not to mention the dramatic and shattering chain of events that lead up to the destruction of Laketown and the final battle. The book is remarkably political, a factor that Jackson captures well. Thorin’s fear that the mountain will be overrun by hoarders is justified. At the same time, the people of Laketown have rights to the treasure. The Elf King’s claim, though less meritorious (in the book and in the movie), still carries weight. Tolkien handles the resulting conflict with a deftness that belies its complexity—but the complexity is there.

Likewise, the lightness of Tolkien’s touch is not intended to disguise the greed, anger, fear, and self-interest of many characters. The Elf King is indeed "less wise and more dangerous [than the elves at Rivendell]."  Likewise, the Master possesses a cunning mind (as Baldrick would say). His conman-like assessment of Thorin & Company (it takes one to imagine one) permeates those chapters as they permeate the film, more than validating Jackson’s interpretation of Laketown politics. In fact (speaking of Baldrick), Jackson intelligently gives the Laketown scenes a Monty-Python/Blackadder feel and humor that is somewhat atypical for his films but perfect for the venue (and Stephen Fry). These scenes are very English.

Speaking of Laketown, Jackson is often criticized for adding to/expanding on so much of the book’s material. Since nothing is eliminated, my response here is the same as Frasier’s:

“If less is more, imagine how much more more will be!”

That’s how I feel about the trilogy: Give me The Hobbit plus all the stuff referred to in The Hobbit and LOTR plus Tolkien’s extra material plus the invented stuff Jackson decided to throw in. I’ll take it all!*

Adaptations of a book to film can take several routes: the slideshow or strict rendering (boring), the interpretation (more interesting), the other viewpoint (fascinating), the make-a-place-for-myself (problematic but often insightful), and the “all we used was the title” (pointless). For instance, Howl’s Moving Castle is an interpretation and a make-a-place-for-myself, not a strict rendering. Yet nothing is lost. Hey, it’s Miyazaki!

LOTR, which I greatly enjoy, is an interpretation. With The Hobbit trilogy, Jackson gave himself permission to combine interpretation with other viewpoint (The Hobbit inside Tolkien’s larger universe) plus make-myself-a-place.

He had fun! And I am very grateful.

*Even Legolas’s superhuman abilities don’t bother me. In fact, I enjoy the barrel scene as one of Jackson’s few “less is more” action sequences. I’d rather watch a Spiderman leaping on people’s heads for five minutes than people mashing each other with swords for twenty. (Best action scene ever made: John McClane blowing up the building in Die Hard: no muss, no fuss, and it lasts about a minute.)

For the Fans: I Like Jackson's Trilogy, Part II

The final movie captures Bilbo's inner struggles.
Ultimately, the movies are an excellent showcase for Martin Freeman. Throughout the trilogy, Jackson delivers Bilbo's scenes with surprising accuracy (adaptations do involve change!). He is in the movies as much as he is in the book.

Bilbo’s presence in the book ebbs and flows. Tolkien's prose is smooth and unselfconscious: he doesn’t call attention to his own textual strategies. Because so much of the action is delivered through Bilbo’s eyes (Bilbo saw that the dwarfs had . . . ), the reader is left with the impression that Bilbo is doing more than he does in fact do. Many of the chapters use the third person plural almost exclusively: Bilbo and the dwarfs. They . . . Thorin and company . . .

Every place in the book where Bilbo rises to the fore in action, not just voice, appears in the movies. These instances may appear less because, well, more is more. But Jackson never forgets his protagonist. Not only are Bilbo’s scenes rendered, they are often “strictly rendered”: Bilbo and Gollum 's scene is transferred practically verbatim from book to film.*

It would be interesting to see a "book" version of the trilogy, one cut to just Bilbo's scenes (or those that affect him directly). Since all of them are there, the resulting movie might hold together surprisingly well. But then, of course, all the "more" would be gone! I am personally hoping that Jackson puts out a director's cut that expands the trilogy by several hours. My one complaint about Five Armies is that it ends too abruptly--I think Jackson was responding to criticisms that Return of the King had too many endings. Me? I want three or four endings!**

Returning to Bilbo, one major difference between the book and the trilogy is that we don’t hear Bilbo’s inner voice in those scenes where he rises to the fore—which one does with the book. I wonder if Jackson considered (and obviously discarded) a voice-over by Bilbo. If so, I imagine he found no need for it once he watched Martin Freeman on film.

Freeman’s physical acting makes a voice-over unnecessary. In the scene where Bilbo rescues the dwarfs from the Elf King's prison, Freeman conveys Bilbo’s exasperation and sudden confusion (“I forgot to get a barrel for me!”) through physical movement: the tilt of a chin, the hunch of a shoulder, the rise of a foot. But then film is—and should be—about what one sees, not what one hears.

So if you are tired of reading all the negative commentary online (and believe me, there’s plenty of it out there!), rest assured: at least one person loves the book and the trilogy!

--Slight Spoiler--

*In Five Armies, Bilbo’s decision to keep the Arkenstone, then pass it on to Thorin’s enemies plays as large a part as I had hoped it would. Despite the rapid sequence of events—Jackson is tackling multiple storylines at once—the movie conveys the difficulty and pain of Bilbo's decision (in fact, more time is spent on Bilbo making the decision than on carrying it out). The confrontation between Thorin and Bilbo at the gate after Thorin discovers Bilbo's "betrayal" is powerful although I favor the final scene between Bilbo and Thorin as heartbreakingly "true": both Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman deliver their characters' lines from the end of the book with gentle pathos and, in Martin Freeman's case, a boldly different interpretation: masterful performances by both actors.

**Interestingly enough, Five Armies is far more self-consciously thematic than Return of the King. LOTR is message or platitude-oriented: it is always darkest before the dawn; never give up; despair is the worst sin; the smallest person can change the course of history. Five Armies, however, ends with an uneasy peace (as does the book)--a difficult plot to platitudize.

The Mithril coat plus a discussion of values.
In many ways, Five Armies plays the same role in its trilogy as Two Towers except that Five Armies comes at the end of the quest cycle rather than the middle (hence the need for more endings). In a way, Jackson's decision to keep to the book here may have worked against the overall trilogy. I expected a more deliberate bridge of The Hobbit to LOTR; I surmise that Jackson pulled back to satisfy those who accuse him of "marketing" the movies and trying to capitalize off his success with LOTR. (This is a truly weird criticism: of course, Jackson is trying to make money off both trilogies! That's his job. Somebody has to pay WETA--the folks there can't work for free. Most readers don't have several million dollars floating around  with which to mount their own interpretations of Tolkien. Thank goodness somebody does!).

To solve the problem of Five Armies, Jackson threads it with a classic motif: by their fruits you shall know them - or - people show what they care about by what they argue, fight, and die for. Consequently, Thorin's speech to Bilbo at the end is not only a part of the book that had to be included (how I felt going in) but the capstone of a not-too-overly-didactic theme.

LOTR--The Book This Time--The Eagles

The eagles show up in The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings as eucatastrophic figures. The term is Tolkien's, so couldn't he have used the eagles to fly Frodo into Mordor (not just out)?


Breathable airspace is breathable airspace even in Middle-Earth, and Tolkien kept his fantasy world as close to realism as possible. Magic supplements--never replaces--the plausible action of Middle-Earth.

In other words, eagles could never fly higher than Winged Nazgul. Or faster.

Eagles are also not indestructible as the Battle of the Five Armies (both book and movie versions) indicate. They can be killed by ground weaponry (i.e. arrows) and certainly other winged creatures. Plus Sauron's giant great eye has power of its own: call it an anti-missile defense system. In sum, Mordor is fairly immune to flying stuff. The eagles would be spotted immediately.

Gandalf and Elrond's entire plan rests on secrecy. Sauron must never suspect, even for an instant, that the Fellowship's goal is to destroy the ring. The moment he did, Sauron would naturally block access to the volcano, both from the ground and from the air. He would not "systematically empty Mordor," a process that allows Frodo and Sam some degree of freedom as they creep across Mordor's landscape.

Of course, this begs another question: Is it believable that Sauron would never suspect that his enemies intend to destroy the ring?

Yes, it is.

When reading about WWII, one becomes aware of how much the Nazis believed in their own untouchability. Note, I wrote, "Nazis," not the German army or, for that matter, the German submarine commanders. The German army and navy were composed of a mix of good and bad and indifferent leaders like in any nation's military. (And many of them despised Hitler.)

It was Hitler--and Hitler's paranoia--that insisted on maintaining constant wireless communication with the German military, a state of affairs that led to the British eventually breaking Enigma. It was Nazi wishful thinking that led to the bizarre and successful career of double-agent Garbo.

The Crossing by Peter Fiore, a more realistic portrayal
than Leutze's famous painting.
To back up to a group of far less fanatical--and far less degenerate--commanders, British complaisance allowed George Washington to escape New York and led to the completely unanticipated rebel attack (and victory) on Trenton on Christmas Day. A severely diminished army, the American rebels nevertheless routed the surprised Hessians, incurring for the Americans only 2 deaths (both from frostbite).

It is easy in hindsight to see the obvious (and I'm sure if Sauron had lived, heads would have literally rolled), but Sauron's weakness is his inability to believe that anyone would actually destroy the ring. Although he captures and tortures Gollum, he misses what Gandalf and Elrond have not: Gollum may be obsessed with the ring, but he lived for generations under the mountains without feeling compelled to do much more with it than catch orcs to eat. Gollum, however corrupted, has the same stamina and indifference to power that make Bilbo and Frodo good bearers.

Sauron isn't totally imperceptive: should Aragorn, Galadriel, Boromir, even Gandalf--any of his "real" rivals--don the ring, they would sooner or later be drawn into the dark. They might momentarily eclipse Sauron (hence his worries about Aragorn); in the long run, however, they would be drawn to his ways: dominion over the lives of others. A military rival is something Sauron dreads yet something he can handle.

Consequently, Sauron reads in Gollum the very thing he sees in others and himself: desire for the ring. He fails to notice the intrinsic toughness that will eventually undo him. Gollum, however ruined by the ring, is hobbit-like enough to eventually care only about wearing it, not wielding it over others. And that indifference to power is something Sauron cannot comprehend.

"The Lord of the Rings--The Book This Time" posts address the following topics: