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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Lord of the Rings:
Peter Jackson vs Tolkien: Five Things the Films Did Better Than the Books
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Jun 28 2019, 4:44pm

Post #1 of 56 (4120 views)
Peter Jackson vs Tolkien: Five Things the Films Did Better Than the Books Can't Post

You can read my thoughts here.
I would certainly welcome some feedback. I know there are many who disagree that Jackson and company improved upon anything the good professor wrote.

Thor 'n' Oakenshield

Jun 28 2019, 5:26pm

Post #2 of 56 (4020 views)
Really interesting [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree completely about Boromir and Thorin's portrayals: while re-reading LOTR recently, I was struck by how, as you put it, Boromir is treated as the bad guy even when's not being bad. He's treated pretty unfairly - there are glimpses of his heroism, but they're mostly provided by Pippin after the fact: in fact, the relationship between Boromir and Pippin is one that I think should have been expanded upon in both the books and the movies.
Thorin, too, becomes a multi-faceted, compelling character in Peter Jackson's hands. It is true that The Hobbit trilogy tends to get called "The Dwarf" trilogy, rather disparagingly, by critics of the films - but let's face it, Thorin in the movies is simply more interesting than Bilbo! His arc is masterfully crafted. Which is not to say that The Hobbit (the book) suffers from focusing on Bilbo, but the story that Peter Jackson is telling is about Thorin, as seen through Bilbo's eyes. His version of Thorin, thus, simply could not be the somewhat two-dimensional figure from Tolkien's work.
I get the general gist of what you're saying about Bard vs Smaug, and I agree with that - but I felt that the actual execution of the scene made it one of my least-favorite parts of the trilogy.

"We are Kree"


Jun 28 2019, 5:31pm

Post #3 of 56 (4016 views)
Thanks for the response [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm glad we agree about a few of the items I chose to write about.
I'm going to have to stick with my assessment of Bard vs Smaug. I love that scene completely. I love the way it builds. How it's staged - Smaug raining down fire and death. I love how fearless Bard is. And I love how Smaug, once he spots Bard, decides to do what he does best - talk and brag about himself. It gives Bard a chance to spot his weakness. And as a father, I love the interaction between Bard and his son.


Jun 28 2019, 6:30pm

Post #4 of 56 (4020 views)
On Helm's Deep, you've set up a bit of a self-fulfilling criticism [In reply to] Can't Post

OK, you make some very arguable points. I agree that Sean Bean's Boromir is more sympathetic and warmer than Tolkien's version; I'm not sure a faster-thinking and less insecure Sam was an improvement.

But for Helm's Deep, as I read your piece, you conclude that despite Tolkien's excellent writing Jackson's version is the best filmed battle ever. Huh? So did Tolkien film the battle less skillfully? How can a filmed battle be "done better" than a written battle? I do agree with you, by the way, that the Helm's Deep battle in the films is one of the highlights of the entire series, and is far superior to the Siege and Pellenor battle sequences in the third film. And that's actually a flaw in the adaptation, come to think of it. Tolkien's battle for Minas Tirith is even better than Helm's Deep, as one would expect for the climactic role it plays in the larger story; it's really too bad that Jackson was not able to pull the same trick off in his adaptation.

I think comparisons between the original book and Jackson's (and his team's) adaptations are well worth discussing, but they have to be in comparable terms even allowing for the difference of medium. Plot, character, setting, dialogue, narrative rhythm, and theme are all areas where, I think, we can talk about a film adaptation's choices compared to the original property. But in the areas of sound recording, lighting, camera work, and editing (re the film), not really; ditto for vocabulary, literary style, tone, and references, and authorial voice (re the book).

Thanks for the link!

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Jun 28 2019, 6:44pm

Post #5 of 56 (4015 views)
Good points [In reply to] Can't Post

As far as Helm's Deep is concerned, I will only add this:

I believe Tolkien created a great blueprint for Jackson. He provided the setting, the geography, and the materials to work with. I think Tolkien's version is solid. It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to. Yet, I have read other battle sequences in literature - both fantasy and historical fiction - that either challenge it or surpass it. Jackson took the material and he created something that to me, is the best ever for the medium. Does that make sense? And I agree, I believe Tolkien's Pellenor battle is even better than his Helm's Deep battle and Jackson was unable to top that, though he did create some spectacular and emotionally poignant moments.


Jun 28 2019, 8:56pm

Post #6 of 56 (3956 views)
To be brief... [In reply to] Can't Post

…I will agree that Boromir and Thorin are, arguably, both portrayed better in the films than in Tolkien's legendarium, especially Thorin, who is a somewhat less complex character in The Hobbit. Boromir is shown with more humanity during the journey to Moria. Thorin is more well-rounded and less pompous.

I can't be quite as generous, though, with my praise for Samwise or of Bard in the films. I like Sam in the books, including his role in the conspiracy (alongside Merry, Pippin, and Fatty Bolger) to root out Frodo's secrets in order to aid him as much as possible. As much as I liked Sean Astin's Samwise, nearly all of that was lost in the films.

Bard is introduced earlier, making him less of a deus ex machina. I don't even mind that he's given a family, though in my head-canon he doesn't wed and sire Bain until after the events of The Hobbit. I still like book-Bard better, grimness and all. Granted, the decision to make Smaug (huge as he was in the book) even more gigantic did necessitate some changes in how Bard takes on the dragon, starting with upgrading the size of the Black Arrow. I'm still not comfortable with Bard's improvised ballista; it just never worked for me. Dramatically, the scene with the bowman and his son versus Smaug is quite good; it's the mechanics involved that takes me out of the movie; and moving the action into the present was a wise choice.

As for the Battle of the Hornburg, I think I can say that I like both versions more-or-less equally, if not for exactly the same reasons.

"I reject your reality and substitute my own." - Adam Savage

Superuser / Moderator

Jun 28 2019, 9:05pm

Post #7 of 56 (3954 views)
As soon as I saw your subject line [In reply to] Can't Post

I thought, "Boromir". Even just the added scene of him on the slopes of Caradhras, picking up the dropped ring and speaking dreamily to himself, already under the Ring's influence, revealed a great deal about how his heroism is also his weakness.

I'm of two minds about Helm's Deep. It's a masterful battle on screen but I still can't get my head around the wisdom of riding out to certain death "for your people".

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded beggar with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.

Ataahua's stories

Chen G.

Jun 29 2019, 8:47am

Post #8 of 56 (3882 views)
Thorin [In reply to] Can't Post

The characterization of Thorin may be the greatest single achievement thus far in Sir Peter Jackson's career. These tentpoles get so often derided for their simple stories and characters, and looking at The Lord of the Rings, you could see some truth in that: Even characters who deliberate between good and evil like Boromir or Gollum, are only given so much time for that internal conflict to develop. Thorin, however, has three movies at his disposal.

While oft-compared to Aragorn, Thorin is much more in the vein of those aforementioned characters, as well as Braveheart's William Wallace, Jackson's Kong and O'Toole's T. E. Lawrence.

We don't see many of those tragic characters in contemporary blockbusters: characters who are one rewrite away from becoming the villains of the piece. Indeed, when we do see complex characters of this sort (I'm thinking Kylo Ren) the script does just that - label them as the villains - and in doing so robbs their story of much of the potency that it could have had.

All of which isn't to say that Thorin hasn't good, sympathetic attributes: he's heroic, honourable. In certain portions of the narrative, he's even allowed to through his own stoicism and crack a smile (I counted four in An Unexpected Journey), show fear (when Smaug rattles the mountain), hesitance and anguish. All of these things help keep the audience engaged in the character even as he becomes antagonistic.

All in all, superb.


Jun 29 2019, 4:31pm

Post #9 of 56 (3836 views)
Um [In reply to] Can't Post

I would disqualify Helm's Deep simply because of the (utterly impossible) presence of the Elves.

To that I would add the absence of the Huorns(!), Theoden's stupidly suicidal charge (NOT as in the book), and Eomer's both impossible AND suicidal charge down an Olympic downhill into pikemen.


Jun 29 2019, 8:31pm

Post #10 of 56 (3800 views)
Good points... [In reply to] Can't Post

...and an interesting read.
Movie Boromir is amazing, though they don't include my favorite book moment of his where he stops the Balrog in his tracks with his horn. Only Boromir would pull a stunt like that.
Movie Thorin was also well played and compelling. The book Thorin wasn't as dynamic, but better served the story that was being told. All his pomp and arrogance was nothing in the critical moments. It was the simple courage and acts of kindness (of a hobbit no less) that won the day.
Agree on Helm's Deep being my favorite movie battle. The only caveat being Gimli's "comedy", particularly the not being able to see over the wall. He should have easily been able to pull himself up onto the parapet to see what was going on. Otherwise brilliant.
I can't go with you on Movie Bard and the confrontation with Smaug. Why is he taunting a random villager? How can the improvised ballista launch a metal bolt with enough force to kill a dragon? It just didn't work for me.


Jul 2 2019, 9:37am

Post #11 of 56 (3649 views)
Disagree on all but Boromir [In reply to] Can't Post

I wouldn’t “kick you out of the Tolkien fan club” for your essay but the only point I agree with is Boromir’s portrayal. I didn’t much care for the deleted scene because it changes the flavor of Boromir’s attendance at the Council of Elrond and the surprise of Isildur’s Bane. Instead of reacting to new news, his speech is now part of a carefully prepared plan and Denethor’s corruption.
I do love Sean Astin’s Portrayal of Samwise but I don’t think it was better than the books’. Sam as written was your basic Edwardian era Batman and had a stolidness about him that the script lacked.
I agree with Otaku-sempai; my head canon also has Bard establishing his family after Smaug’s death and the rebuilding of Dale. Bard in the films was your typical Hollywood anti-establishment proletarian hero and I’m tired of that agenda being shoved down my throat. Bard in the book is a guardsman; the scion of a once-noble line and your basic paladin or protector type.
Thorin in the films ... just ick. He’s not a dwarf, particularly not a Longbeard, and his actions are thoroughly inconsistent while Thorin in the book is your basic proud gruff patriarch who has been wrongfully dispossessed and is consumed by it. I didn’t like them turning Aragorn into an indecisive hesitant princeling and I loathe them doing it to Thorin.
As far as the Battle of Helms Deep goes, the films did a great job expanding on it and I enjoy the moment but it gives an odd climactic feel while the larger story has a ways to go. I didn’t care for the dwarf-tossing joke nor surfing Legolas. I believe John Rhys-Davies was having a lot of fun with the role and I enjoyed his additions on first viewing but they grate on me during subsequent viewings.

Chen G.

Jul 2 2019, 12:04pm

Post #12 of 56 (3631 views)
As for Bard... [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
I agree with Otaku-sempai; my head canon also has Bard establishing his family after Smaug’s death and the rebuilding of Dale. Bard in the films was your typical Hollywood anti-establishment proletarian hero and I’m tired of that agenda being shoved down my throat.

Well, I think it was important - outside of his ambigious early scenes - to turn Bard into a stereotypically sympathetic hero, because there comes a point in the story where the audience's sympathy has to migrate from Thorin (whom we had by this stage been with through quite a lot of screentime and ordeals) to Bard.

The Bard of the book is very much the aggressor in the negotiations with Thorin. I don't think it would have worked for the screen.

In Reply To
Thorin in the films ... just ick. He’s not a dwarf, particularly not a Longbeard[..] I didn’t like them turning Aragorn into an indecisive hesitant princeling and I loathe them doing it to Thorin.

I enjoyed the traejectory of the character so much that I couldn't care less that his beard was a couple of inches too short. I saw an early makeup test they did for a more "Dwarvish" Thorin, and I don't think it would've worked.

Aragorn's character journey as a reluctant hero (in terms of ascending the throne) is enjoyable enough: I think its a rather straightforward choice, and its certainly not the most interesting of the character arcs in the overall scheme of things.

Thorin is absolutely nothing like that. He only gets the play the hesitant card in the Bree flasbhack. There's also the Goblin King's taunt: "And you're not a king. Which makes you...nobody, really." Otherwise, his traejectory is the inverse of Aragorn: Whereas the latter needs to find the will to ascend the throne, Thorin's failing is his all-consuming desire to do just that: to the point that he's willing to risk the well-being of the people of Laketown, of Kili, and of Bilbo, to do so.

(This post was edited by Chen G. on Jul 2 2019, 12:07pm)


Jul 2 2019, 12:29pm

Post #13 of 56 (3629 views)
Something has been lost in the reading of my "essay." [In reply to] Can't Post

I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that I was very clear about my points. I never said I like Bard or Sam better in the movies. I said I like how very specific moments with their characters were handled in the movies: Sam choosing to follow and go with Frodo, and Bard's killing of Smaug. Outside of those two events, I made no comment or judgment on the film versions vs the book version. (If you really want my take - book Sam is one of my favorite characters in literature.)
I'm okay with people disagreeing with my takes. Everyone has their opinion and that is great. I stand by my take on Thorin, though. I've never cared for the book Thorin as anything other than a mostly personality-less plot device. His "quest" propels the book but he adds no color or life to the story. He is a blank slate for the most part - as are most of the dwarves. I understand book purists taking issue with the film version, but I believe that even though film Thorin is not at all a Tolkien character, he is a much more interesting character than the book version.

Chen G.

Jul 2 2019, 2:00pm

Post #14 of 56 (3619 views)
I don't know about personality-less [In reply to] Can't Post

In terms of members of the company that have character in the book, I would say those would be Thorin, Balin, Fili/Kili (who really function as one character) and Bombur. In the films its Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili and Bofur.

I also wouldn't call the films' Thorin non-Tolkien. There's a lot in "Durin's Folk" that gives the reader an understanding of Thorin's frame of mind, and of course his realization reminds me of Tolkien's other tragic figures, such as Boromir, Isildur, Denethor and even Turin.

(This post was edited by Chen G. on Jul 2 2019, 2:04pm)


Jul 3 2019, 1:53am

Post #15 of 56 (3539 views)
Tolkien [In reply to] Can't Post

would have cringed at Bilbo's "home" speech at the end of AUJ. Homes? The Dwarves had homes, in the Blue Mountains. They weren't going to Erebor because they wanted new cribs, they went (in a song PJ liked enough to put in the movie, but not enough to follow)

"To seek the pale enchanted gold"
"To claim our long-forgotten gold"
"To win our harps and gold from him!"

Paulo Gabriel

Jul 3 2019, 6:23am

Post #16 of 56 (3533 views)
Solicitr [In reply to] Can't Post

Have you ever read Joan Barger's essays on the LOTR movies?

Chen G.

Jul 3 2019, 8:43am

Post #17 of 56 (3519 views)
Patriotism [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
would have cringed at Bilbo's "home" speech at the end of AUJ. Homes? The Dwarves had homes, in the Blue Mountains. They weren't going to Erebor because they wanted new cribs, they went (in a song PJ liked enough to put in the movie, but not enough to follow)

"To seek the pale enchanted gold"
"To claim our long-forgotten gold"
"To win our harps and gold from him!"

The films are infused with a patriotic sensibility. The Dwarves want to reclaim their homeland. Frodo sets out "to save the Shire", his own homeland. Boromir wants to defend "the land of my people". Faramir is willing to give his life to defend his city's "memory".

In the case of the song, the lyrics do suggest the gold as being the motivation, but the sentiment conveyed in the tone of the song and the way the scene plays out speaks more to a yearning for their homeland. Its also said within the previous scene: "They dreamt of a day when the Dwarves of Erebor would reclaim their homeland."

To some degree, you could call the film version ambigious. A lot of this ambiguity is played through characters like Balin or Bard, who seem to be reading Thorin's motivations as more related to the gold. Jackson himself says in the commentary: "That's what always confused me about The Hobbit[..]is it about the Dwarves wanting to reclaim their homeland, or is it really about them wanting the gold; and in a way its both of course."

You could of course say that notions of patriotism in general are an anachronism in Middle Earth, but:
a) its a complex enough of an question for someone like Professor Shippey to write a whole book deliberating about it, so even if its true, anyone who's not a Tolkien scholar could be excused for reading patriotism in the Dwarves' motivations
b) it works for the filmmakers' film, namely because it ties to the commentary on isolationism contained within the films.

(This post was edited by Chen G. on Jul 3 2019, 8:56am)


Jul 3 2019, 2:21pm

Post #18 of 56 (3496 views)
In essence the quest in the book is motivated by greed. [In reply to] Can't Post

With maybe a little spite too, as revenge. That’s fine in the book, especially for the comical, helpless, greedy and selfish Dwarves whom we follow through most of the story.

But the Dwarves of LotR, book and movies, are different – nobler and braver if not less greedy and still somewhat selfish. These are also the Dwarves of the Hobbit movies, as they had to be given that TH movies follow the LotR trilogy. It’s one of several problems created by that filming order.

Since greed is not a very appealing attribute or motivation, the film makers went in a different direction. I remember PJ and/or Boyens talking about this problem in some commentary, interview or documentary and explicitly asserting that greed as a motivator was problematical. So their Dwarves are primarily driven by a longing to return to their old home and they are willing to risk the dragon to regain the Arkenstone as the first step in that process. Greed is still a strong theme in these movies but doesn’t really rear its ugly head until DOS and BOTFA, especially after the Dwarves actually see the gold.

In AUJ Balin mentions the home Thorin had made for his people in the Blue Mountains, but for Thorin that’s not enough. It is his duty, his sacred obligation, to try to regain the lost homeland of Erebor.

So Bilbo’s speech, while not entirely accurate, is thematically and generally appropriate for the movies. Love for one’s people and homeland is not exclusively a modern concept.


Jul 3 2019, 3:37pm

Post #19 of 56 (3486 views)
Durin's Folk [In reply to] Can't Post

Downplays the treasure-hunt angle of the quest and casts it primarily as a mix of personal vengeance and reclaiming their rightful homeland.

Tolkien reimagined the bumbling buffoonish dwarves of The Hobbit (and the villainous backstabbing dwarves of the early legendarium) in a more competent and heroic mold with LotR. Any version of The Hobbit made after LotR was not going to be able to ignore this.

(This post was edited by kzer_za on Jul 3 2019, 3:44pm)

Chen G.

Jul 3 2019, 4:01pm

Post #20 of 56 (3474 views)
There's a wonderfully evocative moment in Durin's Folk [In reply to] Can't Post

He thought of weapons and armies and alliances, as his great hammer rang in his forge; but the armies were dispersed and the alliances broken and the axes of his people were few; and a great anger without hope burned him as he smote the red iron on the anvil.

This moment is adapted into the prologue of An Unexpected Journey. Once I saw it, I knew exactly what kind of movie (or rather, three movies) I was going to see.

In Reply To
they had to be given that TH movies follow the LotR trilogy. It’s one of several problems created by that filming order.

It isn't just the filming order. Even if the filmmakers started with The Hobbit, the prospect of making The Lord of the Rings and making a unified series out of the two pieces was there from the beginning.\

If you had a filmmaker who was going to do just The Hobbit (a-la Rankin/Bass), or rather if The Hobbit was being adapted before The Lord of the Rings books ever came out - that could have made for an adaptation that was more "faithful" to the tone of The Hobbit book.

(This post was edited by Chen G. on Jul 3 2019, 4:11pm)


Jul 3 2019, 10:45pm

Post #21 of 56 (3434 views)
Disagree — motivation was revenge more than greed [In reply to] Can't Post

I felt it was pretty clear in the book that the Dwarves had a near-genetic lust for gold but their central motivation was to revenge themselves on Smaug for his predations and to reclaim their homes. Greed and pride were the reasons Thorin kept his mission secret from Thranduil and the men of Laketown but reason for the mission was to revenge themselves on Smaug (which was also Gandalf’s reason for helping them).

(This post was edited by Omnigeek on Jul 3 2019, 10:46pm)


Jul 4 2019, 12:05pm

Post #22 of 56 (3373 views)
Really? [In reply to] Can't Post

Though Book Thorin’s heart may have burned and the Dwarves obviously would have wanted revenge against Smaug, what they actually did was hire a burglar simply to steal some of the treasure back. There seems to have been no plan beyond regaining some of the gold. Was annoying the dragon their idea of revenge?

The quest in the book does not actually make any sense because of that lack of a coherent plan either to deal with the dragon or remove the treasure. That doesn’t hurt the children’s book but wouldn’t work in a larger movie.

Chen, we don’t know what Jackson and Walsh intended for The Hobbit. Their one-film adaptation might have been more literally faithful to the book - small, sweet and funny - or maybe they would have created something closer to LotR with all its gravitas. I’d love to know. But at least they would have been free of the constraints imposed by having their Hobbit following their wildly successful LotR.


Jul 4 2019, 1:20pm

Post #23 of 56 (3368 views)
Yes, really [In reply to] Can't Post

IIRC, hiring the burglar was Gandalf’s idea:

“You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let any one say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at thirteen and”

“warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply lot to be found. Swords in these parts are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary). That is why I settled on burglary-especially when I remembered the existence of a Side-door”

As it stands, it was a good idea because with their limited numbers, the only way they could have done something was to find a way to sneak in and do it stealthily.

The dwarves’ descriptions of the Great Hall and the Mountain before Smaug told me what they really wanted was to reclaim their home. Even when Thorin recites the tale of Smaug’s predations to Bilbo and says they have not forgotten their stolen treasure, he says

“And even now, when I will allow we have a good bit laid by and are not so badly off"-here Thorin stroked the gold chain round his neck-"we still mean to get it back, and to bring our curses home to Smaug-if we can.”

To me, the gold was always the kind of excuse or rationalization that guys give themselves when they don’t want to admit they are motivated by sentiment.

“They debated long on what was to be done, but they could think of no way of getting rid of Smaug -- which had always been a weak point in their plans, as Bilbo felt inclined to point out.

When the dwarves are perplexed about what to do, they grumble and Bilbo responds,

“Did you expect me to trot back with the whole hoard of Thror on my back?”

Indeed, that very point is probably why I have always felt their real objective was revenge and to somehow deal with Smaug. There was just no way they could cart away Thror’s treasure with just 13 or 14 bodies.

Indeed, Smaug’s discussion with Bilbo brings up this point and Bilbo responds,

“I tell you," he said, in an effort to remain loyal to his friends and to keep his end up, "that gold was only an afterthought with us. We came over hill and under hill, by wave and wind, for Revenge.”


Jul 4 2019, 8:40pm

Post #24 of 56 (3328 views)
OK [In reply to] Can't Post

I remain unconvinced so we'll have to agree to disagree.

How were 13 Dwarves and a Hobbit going to exact revenge on Smaug exactly? By stealing a bit of his treasure? Unless it was their plan to make him so mad that he'd leave the mountain and attack Laketown, where someone there might do the job for them. That's what happened so maybe the Dwarves were smarter than they seemed.

Really the entire thing makes very little sense which doesn't matter in the context of the book.

Certainly PJ and Co. thought there was an issue to be resolved for their movies.

Chen G.

Jul 4 2019, 8:51pm

Post #25 of 56 (3324 views)
You need to keep in mind [In reply to] Can't Post

That when Tolkien started writing The Hobbit he certainly had in mind that the company would slay the dragon. So revenge was certainly on his mind as a motive for the Dwarves.

Smaug’s dream of a small warrior prefigures the original ending in which Bilbo gets to carry out the deed.

(This post was edited by Chen G. on Jul 4 2019, 8:53pm)

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