Dec 10 2010, 12:58am
I'm afraid, for the moment, it feels like "Arwen will replace Glorfindel", or even "Arwen will fight at Helm's Deep" time again - egregious changes appear to be afoot that have nothing to do with the Hobbit at all. I'd like to address some of the arguments that are croping up in defense of these needless flights of fancy, because 1. I think they are misguided, and 2. They have not been addressed fully yet.
My two cents
1. The Hobbit films are just that: films. They are a different medium to the books and should therefore be treated differently (OK, I'm kind of with you so far). Ergo, characters like Legolas can be transplanted full scale into the movie to add coherence, or allow for the audience to better engage with the films, or something vague like that. This is related to the second argument which says that:
2. The Hobbit films form a part of the continuum with the already produced LOTR films. Audiences will be expecting some kind of visual/spatial/character continuity. Ergo, characters like Legolas and Galadriel who are not mentioned in the book should be included in the films to aid this sense of continuity with audiences who have only ever seen the films.
These seem to be the main arguments in favour of treating the Hobbit films like an excuse to revel in gimmicky play, so allow me to address them both. To begin with, I can't believe I'm hearing the first argument again. It was (and is) used to somehow condone the "character shifts" and other silly "shifts" indulged in by the LOTR crew. Needless to say, it has well and truly been discredited, if you go read boards like Minas Tirith forums, and the great defenders of the book who artuculately take down the "philes'" arguments. There is simply no good reason to think that because films and books are different, you much make egregious and out-of-context changes that serve to distort the plot and the message. Take, as one salient example, the "radioactive Galadriel scene in the book". Archer commented on this in the Minas Tirith forums:
"The "radioactive Galadriel" scene (as it was put so well by another MT citizen ) is one of the scenes where a film elf departs most markedly from the mirthful elves of the books. This terrifying banshee scene really destroys the beautiful-interwoven with-the-terrible image that Galadriel conveys in the books. I always envision her like a terrifying but strikingly awesome thunderstorm. What the film turns her into is just terrifying, more Green Goblin than Goldenwood elf. And the film fails (doesn't even try really) to convey that very haunting "mirthful yet sad" quality that the elves of Lorien possess. Even though there is a deep sadness in them, they retain the ability to laugh. Galadriel often does so, even when she is tempted beyond all desire.
'You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel,' said Frodo. 'I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.'
Galadriel laughed with a sudden clear laugh [emphasis mine]. 'Wise the lady Galadriel may be,' she said, 'yet here she has met her match her match in courtesy.""
It is this kind of attention to detail that lacks in the films, regardless of all the embosed emblems that-we-can't-see-on-screen in the world. There is no reason, however, for it not being included - instead we are left with two dimensional elves who possess little of the ethereal quality found in Tolkien's book. Often, when I go back to read the book, I have to disabuse myself of the images and associations the film conjures for me in order to emerse myself back into Middle-earth as it was originally written. Granted, this is not a particularly inspiring example, but there are myriad others, from the changing of characters' sensibilities, to the central metaphysical/ideological ideas that give the ring its metaphorical power. In short, characters, landscapes, the plot, every element of the book is shifted in some way that detracts from its original grandeur, power, or scope. There are rarely good excuses for these changes, and the general "but its a film, it can't be the same" is certainly disqualified as a good excuse. No-one, I repeat, no-one, has ever argued that you either have PJ's version OR a kind of ultra-purist word-for-word redaction (OMG, that would be sooo long, they say). If you think that's what I want, you would be wrong and stupid. But PJ's version is no where near optimal. It distorts, shifts, and changes egregiously, without basis, without reason. Legolas appearing in the Hobbit is just the latest example of that team's mad envisionings, which brings us to the second argument.
But the Hobbit is a prequel, whether you like it or not! People with think of it that way! It has to have some characters in it from LOTR otherwise people will...what? Go mad? collapse in their seats? Have a seizure? If you haven't noticed, Bilbo and Gandalf, two central characters in the LOTR, also appear in the Hobbit, as does Elrond, and Gollum. No one with half a brain will be in any doubt about the universe we're in, we're just in a more fairy tale like, less historical version of it, which brings me to my next point. Legolas would have been AT Mirkwook at the time, surely! OMG, he should be there, its LOGICAL! Well, no, and for one simple reason. Middle-earth is not real history, it is a fantasy land fleshed out in some books. These books are discrete and each stands alone, despite the "historical" connections that link them. Others have pointed out that Tolkien tried revising to the Hobbit to make it more like LOTR. Essentially what this means is that he tried to historicise the work, to "make it fit" into the scheme of history he had developed for LOTR. Thankfully, he gave up, and saw the wisdom of allowing the Hobbit to stand on its own literary merits. The filmmakers should take a leaf from Tolkien's book and learn from some of his mistakes: The moment you try to historicise something that is fundementally amourphous in terms of time and space, which the Hobbit is (it is interesting that many natural features are merely named generically: The Water, The River Running etc, pointing toward a world-view that is fundementally more fairy-tale like, less historically/politically bounded than the world in the Lord of the Rings) you lose a great deal of its poignancy, its power to move.
LOTR works for other reasons, and readers have often noted its creation of a sense of historical verissimilitude. The Hobbit is a different beast - it features talking animals (which, by God, should be included) Beorn, a shape shifter, talking eagles, mysterious and not-all-together friendly elves, Men from myth, and for god's sake, a Talking Dragon. These are all elements of fairy tale. Its geography is never centred or bounded, instead, we are to imagine "Wilderland" as a part of some ill defined greater landscape of which we, and the characters, have no knowledge (I know, I know, in LOTR we see it in its "true" context - as a part of Middle-earth. Well yes, okay, it is, but as readers of the Hobbit, we're no quite sure about that. Naturally, many film goers will have already seen the LOTR films, but that is no good reason to mention "Gondor" or "Rohan" egregiously - we should feel like we in some myseterious, far more faery like place). It is the tension between the fairy-tale and the historical sensibilities that seem to me to motivate many of the responses on this board. Many wish to include it as a kind of series linking to LOTR, and therefore make it a kind of historical romance. Others argue for its different, more fairy like atmosphere. This brings us to the crux of the issue: Should the Hobbit be treated as a prequel, or as a stand alone work? Firstly, I think we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that audiences will be in any doubt about the world wherein the film takes place, something I've addressed above. Secondly, it is necessary to change our mindset. There is no cosmic law that dictates we include characters in the Hobbit merely because they occur in the historical timeline in the Appendices. Once again, we return to the notion of the Historical vs. the Literary. The Hobbit is a novel in its own right, there is no a priori reason to historicise it. It should be adapted as a literary, not as a historical, piece of fiction. Rest assured, audiences will not balk at talking animals, or feel drousy at the absense of Galadriel. Galadriel, and Legolas, and Saruman - these characters should not be in the Hobbit at all, because they do not occur in the literary work that is the Hobbit which the filmmakers say they are adapting for screen. Notice I am not arguing that they should make no changes. Don't make that silly argument. I'm merely advocating adherence to the text insofar as is possible given the differences between film and novel, differences that are widely known, obvious and unsurprising even to the most ardent purist, of which I am one.
Alas, it is not to be. We shall not see the Hobbit. Instead, we shall see The Hobbit: and Gandalf's Adventures with Galadriel, and Legolas Falls In Love. But that's okay, because a film these days must have a romance, you say. Why? Plenty of films don't. Plenty of those films work. The success of a film does not depend, or should not depend, on its adherence to certain codes or models; it depends on the skill of the filmmakers. The Hobbit can work on film. There is absolutely no good reason why it should not, in the general form the story takes in the book. But what about Gandalf's adventures!!! Surely we need to SEE them, you say, to keep the audience interested!!. No, why not just do what the book does: keep the focus on Bilbo, and keep Gandalf in the background. This is not his story. It's not called "The Wizard", but perhaps the films should be. The vague little mention of Gandalf taking out someone called "the Necromancer" at the end of the book should also suffice in the film. Once again, why assume that audiences will keel over in dismay if we don't know, down to the precise detail, what Gandalf is doing? Sure, it might build some suspence, but once again - the FOCUS should always be on Bilbo as it is in the novel. If the film is made well, audiences shouldn't be too concerned about what Gandalf has been up to. Like readers of the book, they will be curious, but like readers of the book they will also see that Bilbo's adventure is far more central and forms the moral heart of the tale. That curiosity can be sated at the end with a few words, not a whole pointless subplot, the details of which are pretty fuzzy even in Tolkien's writings. Perhaps they will do it well. Perhaps. Even if they do, it still constitutes nothing more than fan fiction, and a dangerous fan fiction at that. Sure, the films may inspire more readers to take up Tolkien, but when they do they shall be confused, and once again the yawning and ever widening gap between the films and the books will rear its ugly head.