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Re-evaluating Peter Jackson's The Hobbit
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Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 20, 4:07pm

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Re-evaluating Peter Jackson's The Hobbit Can't Post

I tried to cover this subject from multiple angles: First, I engaged in discussion with you about certain issues that affect the trilogy as a whole; I also thought about discussing elements of filmmaking and showing examples of their application in the trilogy, but ultimately, as the discussion unfolded, I decided on doing a 3,000-word essay analysing what I like and don’t like about The Hobbit trilogy, and why.

Now, this isn’t supposed to convince anyone to change their opinion on the trilogy: it’s supposed to offer an alternative viewpoint that encourages people who enjoy The Hobbit not to feel like their enjoyment is something to be shy about, and to move the debate from the trivial, faint praises that the trilogy has merited (“Martin Freeman turns a great performance” and so on) into a more nuanced and balanced discussion.

In starting this discussion, I want to preface that while I am a huge fan of Tolkien’s literary work, I am approaching this subject from a cinematic standpoint: i.e. that the adaptation should serve the film, and not the source material. As such, I see no issue, inherently, with either the splitting of the source material – thin though it may be – into multiple installments, nor with changing up certain narrative elements: If the end product is an engaging film, than those issues are immaterial. So, rather than passing a verdict on those issues from the outset, I will discuss them within the context of each individual film and whether or not they aided that film or not.

An Unexpected Journey
The trilogy has been accused of pacing issues, and I think this film is the culprit: I don’t reallly have an issue with the pacing of the other two films, but I feel like the bad taste of the film first stayed with many viewers into the other two.

Nevertheless, it should be said that this film still has more than enough setpieces and characters to justify a standalone film. It just needed another pass for the edit, to make the theatrical presentation more concise. Among the things that should have been cut for the theatrical release is the framework story after the prologue, and the entire troll sequence: Even though the filmmakers did their best to use this sequence to set-up a lot of narrative elements, it – by itself – does little to push the story forward. This could have made for a very engaging two-hour film that would serve as an accessible point of entry into the series for new audiences, while keeping the extended cut of the film (which is tailor-made for the pacing requirements of the small screen) as it is.

I don’t have issues with the sequence in Bag End: It is used very effectively to differentiate many of the Dwarves and give the audience a quick sense of the personalities of many of them: the old wise-man (Balin), the grumpy, rugged warrior (Dwalin), the sage (Oin), the funny, down-to-earth one (Bofur), the fat one (Bombur), the young, enthusiastic ones (Fili and Kili), the well-manner older Dwarf (Dori) who is mothering his younger, impressionable brother (Ori) and the one with the head injury (Bifur). It even sets up the coordination of the group through their little sing-song routine.

It also helps that this is one of the most beautifully photographed parts of the series: The scene is bursting with reddish, warm lights; seamless long takes (the longest of the series, at 1:20 minutes, is found here), and some very inventive framing: By the time the Dwarves have all sat down at Bilbo’s dinner table, he himself is framed in perfect symmetry in his pantry, shot through the now empty shelfs. As he stands in the morning before his living room, he is framed within a rounded corridor, with the door out of his house in the focus. The Dwarves "Misty Mountains" song (later reworked into Shore's magnificent score) also benefits from the use of atmospherics such as low-key lighting, the fire in the heath and the smoke from the candles and pipes.

Part of what helps this long first act work is the opening: Howard Shore’s score over the opening credit is very evocative, the opening shots are very strong, and the prologue effectively sets up the plot of the film and serves as a strong hook into the movie. The character of Thorin is set-up beautifully: The extended cut shows a wordless standoff between the Dwarves and the Elvenking (Lee Pace), cutting twice to Thorin to show that he wasn’t in on his grandfather’s scheme, and that he doesn’t approve of it.

The real problem is with the first leg of the second act: The quest stalls for two pieces of backstory involving the Battle of Moria and Radagast’s discovery of something awry in Greenwood, but unlike the troll sequence, these pieces prove to be central to the plot of the trilogy going forward. In essence, they are indeed from the source material: in this case, from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, which expand on events that occurred concurrently to the events described in The Hobbit.

The movie starts upping its game once Radagast finds Gandalf and tells him of a Necromancer. The film does slow down for a “short stop” in Rivendell, but the filmmakers manage to infuse this section of the film with enough tension by sewing suspicion between the Dwarves and Elves, and by showing (at the midpoint) that Azog has in fact survived. From this point on, the film benefits from suspense, as defined by Alfred Hitchcock: the audience now knows information that is withheld from the characters. While it is a deviation from the source material, its leads to a more personal showdown in the end of this film and again in the end of the trilogy, and gives the film (and the follow-up) a sense of drive by having our heroes being chased throughout.

The movie only improves from this point on: pieces of physical comedy that some audience members might find vulgar in the first half of the film are nowhere to be found here, and the action really picks up. It does mean that some of the seams of the CG work are visible, but the story and characters are strong enough to outweigh that: Bilbo has two emotionally resonant scenes, book-ending the Goblin-town sequence, driving home the development of his character.

The Desolation of Smaug
Like The Lord of the Rings, this trilogy is effectively one script and one film being told in three parts. As such, it’s much more homogenous than most film trilogies, and trying to pick out the best and worst of each trilogy – an easy task in most Hollywood trilogies - becomes an exercise in splitting hairs. Nevertheless, if I were to point to my personal favorite, it would be this film. In fact, it’s the only film out of the series that I can watch at will, and not as part of a six-film marathon. The reason why that is has to do with this film’s sense of propulsion: by the time An Unexpected Journey only sees our heroes set to their road, this film already finds them in the middle of the second of two exhilarating action sequences.

Besides action, this film’s drive hangs on its tone: As with many second-chapters, this film is much darker than the previous film, literally. Just from the opening credits, the color palette and musical texture let you know you are in for a very different kind of adventure: As the title fades away, we stay in black for a moment, only hearing distant rumbling thunder effects. As we cut to the dark, rainy and seedy setting of Bree, it takes a moment to realize what exactly is taking place, and the low-key lighting combined again with long takes gives the scene a lot of atmosphere.

Besides the atmospheric elements, the later parts of this film start to question the nobility of our characters’ motivations: Thorin’s conviction is presented as so dogged, that he is willing to leave behind Fili and a sick Kili, whom we now learn are his nephews and heirs; and later, he is – for a moment – even willing to leave Bilbo to the mercy of the dragon.

This leads us to another fantastic aspect of the structure of this film: its focused point of view. Unlike the first film, this film’s main character is Thorin, not Bilbo. This change informs this film’s tone, and is pulled much more from the aforementioned appendices (especially one called “Durin’s Folk”) than the book, The Hobbit. In a wise change from the source material, this film gives Thorin the chance which he so deserves, of confronting (and trying to kill) Smaug.

For a film so Thorin-centric, it does feature a lot of subplots: The role of Bard (and his older son, Bain) is expanded greatly, so that his appearance in the later parts of The Hobbit don’t come across as a Deus-ex-Machina, as it does in the novel; his presence also helps invest the audience in Laketown, which is important to the stakes of the third film, and for the theme of tempering with Thorin’s determination: When Bard accuses Thorin’s ambitions as being vein, it’s not a strawman argument on the part of the film, because we understand what is at stake for him.

Another subplot involves the return of Legolas and the introduction of Tauriel. While Legolas’ presence and especially some of his stunts smacks a bit of fan-service, it still serves several narrative functions: He keeps the character of his father, Thranduil, “in the loop” of the story in a way that is much more organic than in the book, and he serves to infuse this film with a lot of action which it would otherwise lack almost completely: He has a very good sparring match with Bolg. Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) ties into that, but also serves two purposes on her own: injecting this film with a touch of femininity, and add a romantic subplot. Sadly, while Tauriel herself makes for a very compelling female character, the romantic angle doesn’t play nearly as well: It would have fared better had it been maintained as an air of romantic tension, as indeed it is the earlier part of the film, rather than as a more straight-forward love story.

The last subplot involves Gandalf’s exploration of Dol Guldur, taken, again, from the appendices. This subplot serves as a visual explanation as to why Gandalf is removed from the company throughout this part of the story. In another change from the source material, this subplot is made to tie back into the main story (as all good subplots should), and propels us into the next film. While it isn’t what Tolkien wrote, it effectively underlines an idea that he stressed in the appendices: that had the Orcs won the Battle of the Five Armies, it would serve the goals of Sauron all the same as it does in the film.

What keeps this film focused is the way in which these subplots are structured. Whereas a less-confident filmmaker would pile those subplots ontop of one another throughout the film until the climax, this film wisely limits their screen-time by allowing them to play out in the second half of the second act, and not a moment prior or after that. Each subplot plays out in full before the next is introduced and concluded, so that by the third act, we are again left just with the Dwarves.

The way in which the film is cut together also helps in maintaining its momentum: Some the best dynamic cuts of the entire series are found here. There is a cut to black on-action when Bilbo is attacked by a (terrifying!) giant spider; As Gandalf explores Dol Guldur, no sooner than we see him being ambushed by a figure wielding a sword, do we segue (via match cut) to Thorin thrusting his blade into the ground, a transition made all the more apt when we learn that the previous figure is in fact his father, Thrain (Sir Anthony Sher). As Bilbo proceeds into the bowels of Erebor, we cut back to Thrain telling Gandalf that the dragon is “waiting for them”, and as that sequence concludes with Gandalf being confronted Sauron, we cut from the blaring sounds and visuals of the flaming eye, to the stillness of the halls of Erebor, Thrain’s words still echoing in our mind.

Also to the benefit of this film is its distinctive nature within the series: This trilogy was always doomed to exist in the shadow of The Lord of the Rings, but this film does explore completely new (and memorable) parts of Middle Earth such as Mirkwood and Laketown and new setpieces like the Barrels out of Bond sequence. Even elements that recall The Lord of the Rings in the book, such as the illustration of Beorn’s house resembling Edoras, or the parallels between Bard and Aragorn, are deliberately delineated from their Lord of the Rings counterparts via design and plotting.

Perhaps the most novel to this film is the dragon Smaug. Jackson has pointed to Hannibal Lecter as an inspiration for Smaug’s character, and that’s a very apt comparison: Like Lecter, Smaug’s screen-presence benefits from being preceded by him being frequently talked about by other characters, with a palpable sense of awe and dread. Even as Bilbo creeps into his den, his reveal is done very gradually: from the moment his eye is first revealed, it takes two minutes before we clearly see his face, getting first a sense of his size, and it takes another two minutes before his entire body is shown in a wide-shot.

The Battle of the Five Armies
This movie starts with the best “James Bond opening” of the entire series. It’s the best because it isn’t a flashback, but a sequence set in the linear course of the narrative. But it’s also the best because it ends with the dragon being killed by Bard. This brings to mind the way in which the Joker is captured as early as the midpoint of The Dark Knight, and especially the way in which the killer Je Yeong-min is captured in the first twenty minutes of the Korean film, The Chaser.

In effect, this is a statement of theme: Just like the book, this film is going to take the adventure-story tropes that the story has been trafficking in thus far, and subvert them. Instead of the story coming to a close with the literal and proverbial dragon being slain, and ending with “and they lived happily ever after”, this film presents us with the real aftermath of the dragon’s attack: The people of Laketown become the victims of a refugee crisis, and require compensations from Thorin, who is unwilling to comply. While this film has been derided as an extended action sequence, the entirety of its first half is actually dedicated to this political thriller storyline. If this film’s content will have been relegated to the third act of the second of two movies, the theme of turning the adventure tropes on their head, would have probably been less effectively driven home to the audience, I feel. Rather, by making this a feature-film, the filmmakers are underlining this for us.

Besides the action sequences (including the conclusion of the Dol Guldur subplot), it is the intensity of Richard Armitage as Thorin that really drives this section of the film. Unlike the book, but very much like the appendix “Durin’s Folk”, this trilogy is Thorin’s story much more so than Bilbo’s. I, for one, found it exhilarating for it, because Thorin is one of the most nuanced and complex characters of the entire series.

This period of the film also helps us in becoming further invested in some of the characters, namely Bard, so that during the extended battle, we have emotional stakes. The filmmakers don’t allow the battle to go more than two shots without a main character being directly in harm’s way. They also don’t shy away from portraying the horrors of this war: showing the bodies of the lakemen being trampled upon in the battlefield. Wisely, the final confrontation is staged not in the midst of the battlefield as it is in the book, but on the more secluded Ravenhill; the ruinous, icy towers really informing the grim nature of this film’s third act.

The filmmakers try to leverage the somber nature of this movie with some comic relief, to varying degrees of success. While there some exuberance in some of the fighting such as the chariot ride, or the involvement of Billy Connolly’s Dain Ironfoot, the proper comic-relief of the film is Alfrid (Ryan Gage), serving effectively as this series equivalent of Jar Jar Binks from The Phantom Menace. Thankfully, his screen-time isn’t all that long (about seven minutes), and unlike his Star Wars counterpart, it ends with him meeting the business-end of a troll. Similarly to Alfrid, the love story in this film doesn’t work, either. Where in the majority of the previous film (actually, until the very last scene) it was more ephemeral, here it’s too on the nose and cheesy at times, but thankfully, it too doesn’t take much in the way of screen-time.

Sadly, this film is also the most CG-heavy of the three. For as short a period of pre-production as Peter Jackson was allowed, he and his art department did manage to fabricate a lot of impressive practical effects and sets: Laketown, Dale, Gollum’s cave, Hobbiton, Trollshaws, the walkways of Goblin-town, Mirkwood. Even in the environments the clearly required a lot of CG, Jackson insisted on forming them using composite shots rather than rendering them digitally: When Bilbo is in Smaug’s chamber, Martin Freeman is on an actual set with columns and a mound of gold coins, which is extended via CG into the background; When the Dwarves are rafting down the river, they are for the most part in a studio-bound river, with inserts of CG and shots taken on an actual outdoors river. Not so much with this film, unfortunately.

Besides the egregious use of CG, this film is also the most digitally graded. The filmmakers clearly wanted to move from the vibrant look of the first film into the film-stock look of The Fellowship of the Ring, by gradually muting the color palette with each film, and while it works in The Desolation of Smaug, here it lends some excessive softness and a certain "glow" to a lot of the shots, but it does inform this film’s grim nature, and makes a nice transition into Fellowship.

Nevertheless, this film ends in a truly poignant manner that more than effectively wraps up the trilogy. Even many of the anchiliary Dwarves recieve a fitting developent: Dwalin completes an actual character arc in learning to stand up to Thorin. But as we approach the final confrontation of Azog and Thorin, all those other plot-lines are slowly stripped away. The (wordless!) duel makes inventive use of the props and the environment, and ends in a truly sobering fashion, concluding The Hobbit trilogy and very organically making way for The Lord of the Rings trilogy to commence.

The Trilogy
So, where does this all leave us? With another Lord of the Rings-worth trilogy? Obviously, no. This trilogy has issues with pacing (in the first film), humor (and the first and third film) and with special effects. Most of those issues seem to stem from Jackson's last-minute stepping-in to the director's seat, not having enough time to rework the screenplay and to fabricate a lot of the practical effects required for principal photography. However, like The Lord of the Rings and in fact with any great film series – the characters and drama remain at the heart of The Hobbit trilogy, and I would say that they do not disappoint. And knowing how the two films were going to be structured, I can’t help but feel that were there only two films, some of these characters and themes would be short-changed.

This trilogy also serves as a great series of prequels: The plot bleeds into The Lord of the Rings very well, so the whole six-film ordeal kind of works like a single, huge three-act screenplay, with the reveal of the ring’s true nature in the prologue of Fellowship of the Ring serving as the narrative midpoint. The Hobbit informs multiple character moments in The Lord of the Rings, without spoiling them to a new audience watching the films in the narrative order. In general, I must profess that I find it praiseworthy that a single, auteur writer-director-producer, along with a single production crew, has managed to complete not just one, but two trilogies spanning over 21 hours of cinema, that are entirely and undeniably his own. For better or for worst, it is a truly unique achievement in the history of western cinema.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Feb 20, 4:16pm)


Legomir
Rivendell

Feb 20, 7:57pm

Post #2 of 31 (4260 views)
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Excellent evaluation! [In reply to] Can't Post

I really enjoyed reading this. There's been like 2 book-to-film changes that have ever bothered me in the history of film, so I've always approached The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings completely separately from the book. So it's neat seeing someone evaluate these solely on filmic terms. That's what my problem has been when people have referred to things as "Filler" in these movies. It's not filler. They are subplots that feed into the characters and plot of the film (as you say about Desolation of Smaug). They just aren't from the book, which does not automatically make them filler. They're movies, not books. That's not to say I don't understand why people don't see it this way though (and I'd never argue anyone was wrong because all of this is subjective).

As far as what you actually wrote, I agree with much of what you say, though not necessarily all of it. All responses to movies are purely subjective to me. Personally, I have no problems at all with An Unexpected Journey. I know it's long, and it can be slow, but for me every time I watch I just get absorbed into what I'm seeing. The time breezes by for me, and it never felt like there was anything unnecessary, or too much going on. In contrast, I found Desolation to be too fast in theatrical form (the extended cut drastically cut down on that problem for me though).

Battle of the Five Armies seems to be the least favorite of people on here (and other online areas). It's strange, then, that almost all of the people I know view it as their favorite in the trilogy. They aren't fans of the books or movie buffs, which may or may not be important. There's no way that's a universal opinion obviously, but it's something I've noticed in my social circle.

I never understand why people say the third film is just one big boring action scene. In the theatrical cut the battle lasts from about the 70 minute mark to about the 113 minute mark. As you say, much of the film is spent in "political thriller" mode.

Richard Armitage's performance is probably in the top five best things about these three movies (same with Martin Freeman, in my opinion). I'd probably agree that Thorin is, more or less, the main character in the second and third films, but I also don't think it's quite that simple. People get angry about that, because the trilogy is called The Hobbit and it's supposed to be about Bilbo. To me, though, even when Thorin is dominating and driving much of the plot, it's still Bilbo's film. We're seeing three quarters (or more) of this from his eyes. We normally see his reactions first. He has a fantastic character arc through the three films. It's just that the plot is about Thorin; Bilbo is the audience surrogate going along with it and learning from it.

Those are just some of the things that came to mind when I read this post. I hope more people come here to talk about it, because you've got some good stuff here!


Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 20, 8:16pm

Post #3 of 31 (4260 views)
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Yes [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think An Unexpected Journey is too long for the small-screen; but for the theatrical presentation to wider audiences, it is. If they made the theatrical cut more concise and kept the extended cut as it is - I think people will have liked it better.

It also would have been good for exposing new, young audiences to it: If it were a two-hour, fun, action-packed film, you could show it you new audiences so they become "hooked" and than show them the extended cut.

As for Battle of The Five Armies: Its my second-best; I like it just a bit less than The Desolation of Smaug. I like that it is so grim and elegiac, which is so wonderful for a genre film. And like I said, the battle only starts at the midpoint. Its the "twist" in the middle of the film, so to speak, so I'd hardly refer to the film as one "extended action sequence" like some do.

I do like Thorin, and the Dwarves in general, much more than Bilbo. I find their story to be much more emotionally compelling. Its just really sad: They've lost their home to this brute, they want revenge, and nobody else is too sympathetic to them and their cause. I think that's very relatable. Even their silhouettes with those long beards and those cloaks make them look like homeless people.

I tried to stay relatively concise in the essay, but I should state that a film like The Desolation of Smaug which has a long second act and a lot of plot mechanics, is running the danger of being devoid of emotional heft.

And yet, there's that wonderful moment when the Dwarves silently stand up, one by one, their attention diverted off-screen before we cut to a shot of the Lonely Mountain through the mists of the long lake; or moments like Thorin and Balin stepping back into Erebor. All those things are really quite moving. That's the ultimate test for a movie.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Feb 20, 8:18pm)


Legomir
Rivendell

Feb 21, 1:19am

Post #4 of 31 (4224 views)
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Those Scenes [In reply to] Can't Post

It's moving scenes like that of the Dwarves seeing the Lonely Mountain through the fog that, to me, set these movies apart from others. I've always felt this way about Peter Jackson's movies.

I guess I could be blinded by my love of the films, but scenes like Bilbo and Bofur (in both AUJ and BOTFA EE), Feast of Starlight, Thorin and Bard talking through the gate, Gandalf and Bilbo after the party, Bilbo saying goodbye to the Dwarves at the gate (and many, many, many more); they almost always feel moving to me. I don't feel things like that with Marvel movies. I only rarely feel that we get scenes like them with Star Wars movies. It's good filmmaking. The acting and characterization is almost always firing on all cylinders in all 6 films, whether or not it's book accurate. (Again, to me.)


lurtz2010
Rohan

Feb 21, 7:39am

Post #5 of 31 (4192 views)
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I agree with a lot of this [In reply to] Can't Post

But I don't see how removing the troll sequence would improve anything. The company's first stop after leaving Bag End would be Rivendell with nothing in between except the Moria flashback and the Radagast scene. Besides it wouldn't be right to cut the troll sequence since there are so many references to it in FOTR.

I definitely agree that the Frodo bookend sequence was unnecessary and it didn't even match up with what happens at the beginning of the FOTR extended edition. Perhaps a similar sequence involving Frodo would've worked better at the end of the third film?
I personally would've preferred there to be no prologue at all and have AUJ begin like in the book and have the Erebor story be told by Thorin later at Bilbo's table.

I’ll also add that I think Gandalf going to the High Fells and seeing the empty ringwraith tombs would've worked better being in AUJ instead of DOS like it was originally planned. As it is the Dol Guldur subplot just stops after the White Council scene with a lot of unanswered questions and is just left forgotten for the last third of the movie.


Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 21, 12:22pm

Post #6 of 31 (4175 views)
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Hmm [In reply to] Can't Post

When it comes to the pacing of An Unexpected Journy, I'm talking specifically about the theatrical cut. So you can cut it from the theatrical cut, and keep it in the extended cut.

And, without that sequence, you could present the Radagast scenes more concisely, because Gandalf encounters him straight away; and you could get to the Warg Chase which, unlike the Trollshaws sequence, actually pushes the Dwarves to the next station along the course of their quest.

As for the Gandalf sideplot, I find that it works well enough in The Desolation of Smaug. I think his discovery that "the enemy has returned" works very organically as the midpoint twist of that film. It also makes the narrative leading up to that more of a breath of fresh air, because up until that point, Sauron is not the menace looming over the film.

I think the prologue is essential. Most of these films have a prologue because they usually have long first acts, and you need something to keep the audience engaged throughout. The obvious choice is the "James Bond opening", here in the form of the sack of Erebor. This kind of opening achieves several goals:
1. It "hooks" the audience into the film through its spectacle.
2. It sets up the conflict and the stakes from the very beginning, rather than at the end of the first act. Right from after Smaug conquers the mountain, audiences understand that this trilogy is going to be about reclaiming that place, and they know the stake because they see just how powerful the dragon is.
3. It functions like a standalone, short film, so you already get a certain sense of fulfilment from watching just that.


In Reply To
scenes like Bilbo and Bofur (in both AUJ and BOTFA EE), Feast of Starlight, Thorin and Bard talking through the gate, Gandalf and Bilbo after the party, Bilbo saying goodbye to the Dwarves at the gate (and many, many, many more); they almost always feel moving to me. I don't feel things like that with Marvel movies. I only rarely feel that we get scenes like them with Star Wars movies. It's good filmmaking.


What sets these films apart from your two other examples, is that unlike Marvel, Peter Jackson's films are earnest. They don't water down their own pathos, as Marvel films do in a tongue-in-cheeck way.

Star Wars IS more serious than Marvel, but since it started out as kids films, they have an issue with going all-out in depicting the horrors of the conflict that they portray, so the stakes don't feel as high. One of my favorite shots in The Desolation of Smaug is the charred remains of the Dwarves (including a toddler!) in the western guard-room.

When the stakes are bigger, the emotional beats ring more true.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Feb 21, 3:27pm

Post #7 of 31 (4153 views)
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Troll-hoards and Ringwraiths [In reply to] Can't Post

If William, Bert and Tom are cut out of The Unexpected Journey then how would you introduce Glamdring, Orcrist and Sting? It is only because of the encounter with the Trolls that the company discovers the Troll-cave. And it wouldn't make any narrative sense for Elrond to just dole out relics of Gondolin to passing strangers (maybe to Gandalf; but a Dwarf-prince and a random Hobbit?).

One of the narrative purposes of having Gandalf visit the High Fells in the first film was to explain why it took the wizard so long to catch up to the company after they left Rivendell. Without it, we are left scratching our heads as to why he is not yet with them by the time they reached the High Pass, much less not until after they are captured by goblins. In the book, of course, Gandalf simply avoided being captured and followed the group unseen--possibly after having cast a glamour upon himself so he could follow unnoticed.

Personally, I don't think that the tombs were needed at all. The Ringwraiths never appear or are mentioned at all in Tolkien's The Hobbit, nor are they ever placed at Dol Guldur in The Lord of the Rings until several years after the Battle of Five Armies. The Wraiths can be included in the films without such a convoluted backstory (that plays holy hob with the histories of Eriador and Gondor), there were lands in the East and South that had to be managed in Sauron's absence, and Mordor had to be readied for his eventual return.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Feb 21, 3:28pm)


Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 21, 6:49pm

Post #8 of 31 (4125 views)
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Well... [In reply to] Can't Post

They needed to find a way, like how they changed the way The Hobbits got their blades in Fellowship of the Ring, and than give us the version that we ended up having - in the extended cut.

I'm not saying Trollshaws is irrelevant. It serves as several planting-and-payoff purposes:
1. It establishes that Bilbo is sneaky, but he hasn't quite mastered his burglary skills yet.
2. It establishes Bilbo's wit.
3. It has Thorin, Gandalf and Bilbo acquire their swords.
4. It sees the company in action.
5. It establishes that something is not right in Middle Earth, as Gandalf says "Not since a darker power ruled these lands." He even brings it up in the council.

So I'm definitly not saying that it was an un-needed sequence. I just say that the filmmakers should have found a way to edit around it for the theatrical cut, or at least present it in a much more abberviated form.

As for the Ringwraiths, they serve two narrative purposes:
1. Giving Gandalf's quest weight: You can't have a subplot be simply: "He goes to Dol Guldur". By having him pass first through some other location, you create a bigger mystery.
2. Giving the White Council something to fight.

Another thing I like about this side-quest is that it gives both Sauron and the Nazgul the Hannibal Lecter effect: They are talked about, a lot, before they ever show up on screen.

And I think the filmmakers worked around the issue of Gandalf's whereabouts well enough: Its clear that he stayed for the White Council, keeping Elrond from minding the Dwarves and allowing them to go on their way.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Feb 21, 7:25pm

Post #9 of 31 (4115 views)
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I largely agree [In reply to] Can't Post

Where I differ with you most is in Jackson's treatment of the Nazgűl.


In Reply To
As for the Ringwraiths, they serve two narrative purposes:
1. Giving Gandalf's quest weight: You can't have a subplot be simply: "He goes to Dol Guldur". By having him pass first through some other location, you create a bigger mystery.


It was good enough for the book. However, in the films we still have Gandalf and Radagast scouting out Dol Guldur and Gandalf's encounter with Thráin in the dungeons. And the scene was already present in the original film-treatment, it just came earlier (in AUJ).


In Reply To
2. Giving the White Council something to fight.


1. Some or all of the Ringwraiths could have been summoned to Dol Guldur without the nonsense of the tombs at the High Fells (entirely invented for the films).

2. Even with the Orcs being sent north, Dol Guldur could have been defended by creatures other than Nazgűl. We never got to see the Barrow-wights in the LotR movies; Wights could have been present in the Necromancer's dungeons. Sauron (a.k.a. 'Lord of Werewolves' in the First Age) could have also had some of his Werewolves and Vampire-like servants (example: Thuringwethil) guarding his stronghold. He would have probably also had Woodmen that he had corrupted into his service.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Feb 21, 7:28pm)


Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 21, 7:57pm

Post #10 of 31 (4090 views)
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It really is a minor issue [In reply to] Can't Post

The Ringwraiths simply have a greater narrative utility than any other concievable adversary.

Its very clear to my mind that the writers wanted to shape Gandalf's subplot into a mystery: a detective story, if you will. So you could have him just arrive at Dol Guldur. You had to milk it a bit, which is fine.

The High Fells sequence is also beautifully executed: its a practical set, with very dynamic lighting. There's an excellent point-of-view photography as Gandalf is approaching the Witch King's tomb, and its all just very eerie. And it fits into the structure of the Desolation of Smaug, serving as our midpoint.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Feb 21, 7:58pm)


lurtz2010
Rohan

Feb 22, 7:32am

Post #11 of 31 (3998 views)
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The High Fells does work as it is in DOS [In reply to] Can't Post

But imo it would’ve worked alot better in AUJ. The subplot just feels very incomplete without it and if it had been included then there would’ve been some payoff to all the setup before it. Also Gandalf’s sudden appearance in goblin town would have a bigger impact because he has come to the aid of the company instead of going straight to Dol Guldur as Radagast advises. Obviously some of the dialogue outside the Highfells such as the mentioning of Azog would have to be changed and some scenes in DOS would have to be reworked but yeah...


lurtz2010
Rohan

Feb 22, 7:43am

Post #12 of 31 (3994 views)
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Can we talk about the third act of DOS? [In reply to] Can't Post

I really wasn't a fan of the orc attack on Laketown or the whole healing of Kili business, to me those scenes just didn't fit well next to the dwarves battle with Smaug. We have this big epic battle with a dragon and the film cuts between that and a sick dwarf in bed... the stakes are completely outweighed and it didn't work for me.

PJ actually says in the DOS commentary that it was difficult to make the two climaxes have the same "rhythm" but he did the best he could.
I think he should've just had the battle with Smaug as the only climax and not left any of the dwarves in Laketown at all and no orc attack either.

Perhaps Bolg could have gone straight to Gundabad after the barrel sequence and we actually see the second army unleashed in DOS instead of BOFA? I dunno.

What do you think about it?


Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 22, 8:48am

Post #13 of 31 (3985 views)
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I talked about it [In reply to] Can't Post

Lets look at the structure of the film:

ACT I: Prologue to entering Mirkwood
ACT II, part I: Mirkwood to the High Fells (midpoint twist: "The enemy is preparing for war. It will begin in the east. his mind is set upon that mountain")
ACT II, part II: Meeting Bard to "If this is to end in Fire..."
ACT III (false): The Dwarves try to kill Smaug.

Now we can see that the multiple subplots of the film don't present themselves until the midpoint. The first half of the film focuses entirely on the company's journey. But in terms of how those subplots are constructed, it goes this way:

1. Gandalf explores Dol Guldur, finds Thrain, is incarcerated by Sauron - told in three scenes inserted between the Dwarves looking for the hidden door and ending before Bilbo enters the treasure hoard.
2. Bard reveals the Black Arrow, attempts to place it on the windlance, but is captured by the Master, Bain hides the Arrow - happens in two scenes between "that, my lad, was a dragon" and "what about Bilbo?"
4. Bolg's pack attacks Bard's house, Legolas and Tauriel show up, a battle ensues - happens in one scene between "the darkness is coming" and "you're alive". This splits into: Tauriel heals Kili - happens in two scenes between "you will burn!" and "the last of our kin"; and Legolas pursuing Bolg, which happens in one scene after the Dwarves start enacting their plan.

So, we can see that the subplots are woven through the film so that each of them concludes within no more than two cutaways from the main story, and only once one subplot concludes can the other unravel, so they are gradualy stripped away before the third act begins. The only subplot that bleeds into the third act is Legolas' brawl with Bolg.

I think that's very clever editing, because most filmmakers lack confidence in any one subplot and end up piling them one ontop of the other come the climax, which can't help but feel overwrought. This film, wisely, avoids that. And its true of The Battle of the Five Armies, too.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Feb 22, 8:51am)


lurtz2010
Rohan

Feb 22, 10:01am

Post #14 of 31 (3969 views)
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You’re right it is good editing [In reply to] Can't Post

I guess it's just a matter of personal taste. To me the wounded Kili storyline just wasn't engaging enough to hold my interest during that part of the film. We've been introduced to Smaug now do we really care about anything else at this point apart from Gandalf and Sauron?

Obviously since Kili was shot by a poisonous arrow it had to be followed through with but I'd rather he had not even been shot at all, removing that entire subplot completely but again that's just personal taste.


Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 22, 10:12am

Post #15 of 31 (3965 views)
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I certainly would have trimmed it down more [In reply to] Can't Post

I would have removed the last scene where the romantic tension between Kili and Tauriel is spelled out. That's really where the romance starts to get cheesy. Up until that point, its more of an air of romantic tension than an outright romance, which I would argue works better for this trilogy. Once you remove that, you can push the Legolas-Bolg fight into that, and have the third act be all about the Dwarves.

Other than that, I think there is a narrative significance to a lot of the other storylines: Subplots are not side-plots, they should all weave back into the main story, otherwise there's no point to them.

Well, Gandalf's story ties back by having Smaug and Sauron allied and having Sauron mastermind the Battle of the Five Armies. Its not in the source material, but it underlines what is expressed very straight-forward in "Durin's Folk" - that, had the dragon not been killed and/or had the Battle of the Five Armies been won by the Orcs, it would have benefited Sauron all the same.

Some of the Dwarves staying in Laketown is actually very significant:
1. By having Kili wounded, you're giving the action sequence in the Forest River some consequences.
2. Just as the last leg of the journey is about to commence, the split lets the audience know that Fili and Kili are Thorin's nephews and heirs, which we wouldn't know otherwise. It raises the stakes at this crucial point in the story.
3. By having some of the Dwarves separated, it helps define their character. We learn that Oin is a healer; And inside the Mountain, more of the Dwarves get something meaningful to contribute: Nori saves Thorin, Bombur operates the bellows, Balin mixes flash-flame, Ori and Dori throw them, Gloin drops buckets on Smaug. If all thirteen of them were there, it'd be harder to work-out, and also the fact that Smaug doesn't manage to hurt them would be less palatable.
4. By having an excuse to keep some of our main characters in Laketown, we have an excuse to stay in Laketown, which adds to the stakes, because we know the fate of this whole town is at stake. In the Battle of the Five Armies, it also gives Kili a reason to stand up to Thorin as he neglects the Lakemen's claim.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Feb 22, 10:12am)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Feb 22, 4:41pm

Post #16 of 31 (3902 views)
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Events in 'DoS' are too rushed from Lake-town onward. [In reply to] Can't Post

Once the company reaches Esgaroth, Peter Jackson hurries things along so much that he looses track of his own timeline (though there is at least one exception with the protracted chase scene between Smaug and the company). When Bilbo and the Dwarves first reach Bard's home we learn that Durin's Day is only two days away. Somehow, seemingly the next morning when most of the company departs is the morning of Durin's Day. Then, after Smaug awakes we have the chase, the Orc-attack on Lake-town and the healing of Kili happening all at the same time. Assuming the conceit that the Dwarves do know the date of Durin's Day (which makes more sense than the situation in the book), things could have played out more sensibly:

1. The company arrives in Lake-town to find that it is almost Durin's Day (I might have doubled the time frame to give them four days, not just two; but even remembering there were two days would have been an improvement).

2. The company departs, leaving Kili, Fili, Oin and Bofur behind.

3. As the remaining company journeys to Lonely Mountain, Tauriel attempts to heal Kili and Lake-town is attacked by Orcs led by Bolg. The attack is repelled by Legolas and Tauriel.

4. The company reaches the Mountain. Bilbo enters Erebor and encounters Smaug. The Dwarves intervene and the chase proceeds. Smaug departs to attack Lake-town.

END OF TH:DOS

By allowing the company to take a more realistic time to reach Erebor and find the Secret Door, we provide the basis for Bilbo's statement to the newly arrived four in BotFA that Thorin has been searching for the Arkenstone for days. We also don't have too many things happening all at once. We maintain a sense of urgency--in the book the company had weeks in which to reach Erebor and locate the Secret Door (though they were not sure of the date of Durin's Day). I wish Jackson had not felt the need to rush events to such a degree.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Feb 22, 4:48pm)


Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 22, 5:11pm

Post #17 of 31 (3877 views)
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I wasn't thinking too much about the in-universe chronology [In reply to] Can't Post

When I think of "rushed" I don't think about it from a story perspective; I think about it from a storytelling perspective.

I find that while Jackson is certainly running the end of the second act and the third act through their paces, he doesn't rush past the emotional moments: be they the finding of Thrain, Thorin and Balin setting foot inside the mountain for the first time (high point), the company finding the charred remains the refugees from the western guard-room (low point), etcetra.

Yes, it might not make complete sense in terms of the in-universe chronology but, just like the snow in Laketown, it works from a dramatic standpoint, and that's what really matters.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Feb 22, 5:12pm)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Feb 22, 5:51pm

Post #18 of 31 (3863 views)
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I was thinking of both. [In reply to] Can't Post

I understand your point. I just feel that events moved too fast both in terms of realism and narratively. It's okay if your mileage varies. Wink

You are right, though, that he does manage to hit several emotional beats.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


lurtz2010
Rohan

Feb 23, 9:23am

Post #19 of 31 (3782 views)
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What are your thoughts on the first act of DOS? [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm just nitpicking now but I don't think we needed to see Azog again until the film cuts to him talking to the Necromancer in Dol Guldur. The orcs chasing the company to Beorn's and them hanging around the house was abit messy imo.

How did they catch up to them so fast? Why are they gathering only 20 meters away from Beorn himself? How come Beorn doesn't sniff them out and kill them all? How did Bolg know where to find them to bring the message?
Azog really wants Thorin dead and he's so close but he chooses to give up and ride all the way to Dol Guldur just because Bolg says he is summoned? He could've waited a bit longer and killed Thorin as he was leaving if he was too scared to do it with Beorn around. Then there's the fact that they arrive at Dol Guldur only one short scene later.

I think it would've been better if after the prologue the company only gets chased by Beorn and when we see Azog in Dol Guldur later on we assume he went straight there after failing to kill Thorin at the end of AUJ, which would've been more logical imo.


(This post was edited by lurtz2010 on Feb 23, 9:24am)


Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 23, 9:32am

Post #20 of 31 (3777 views)
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Its a short first act [In reply to] Can't Post

The Desolation of Smaug's running time is predominantly devoted to the second act, because there is a lot of plot to traverse. The first act is really very brisk which is very refreshing!

I think the first act sets up the tone of the work very well: the sound over black after the title card, the muddy, seedy Bree, and yes - the reintroduction of Azog. Its making it clear that he (and Bolg) are going to chase the company throughout.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Feb 23, 9:44am)


lurtz2010
Rohan

Feb 23, 9:46am

Post #21 of 31 (3774 views)
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But it just seems so illogical [In reply to] Can't Post

To the point it feels like lazy writing. I hate it when people use that term but I think I need to in this case. We would’ve been reintroduced to the Azog revenge story just as well if we didn’t see him until the first Dol Guldur scene, plus that could’ve been Bolg’s first introduction.


Legomir
Rivendell

Feb 23, 2:09pm

Post #22 of 31 (3730 views)
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Azog in the First Act [In reply to] Can't Post

I have my problems with the first act of DOS, but Azog's presence isn't one of them. I think when it seems messy, it's just because it's rushed. The pace of the first act is faster, I think, than any other time in the six movies. That said, I think it works to have Azog chasing them right from the start. It establishes the villain right from the start and makes it clear that the Orcs are the enemy that will be chasing them throughout the movie. To me, this is no different from showing Merry and Pippin with the Uruk-Hai right at the start of that plotline in The Two Towers. That's just my opinion, though. It didn't seem lazy to me.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Feb 23, 2:48pm

Post #23 of 31 (3725 views)
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Wrong goblins? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I have my problems with the first act of DOS, but Azog's presence isn't one of them. I think when it seems messy, it's just because it's rushed. The pace of the first act is faster, I think, than any other time in the six movies. That said, I think it works to have Azog chasing them right from the start. It establishes the villain right from the start and makes it clear that the Orcs are the enemy that will be chasing them throughout the movie. To me, this is no different from showing Merry and Pippin with the Uruk-Hai right at the start of that plotline in The Two Towers. That's just my opinion, though. It didn't seem lazy to me.


Does it seem sensible, though, that the first Orcs the company encounters after escaping Goblin Town are Azog and his riders? Gandalf had just killed the Great Goblin; we should expect that it is his folk (as in the book) that are pursuing the company at this point. Although we could argue that the clamor raised by the goblins is what puts Azog back onto the trail of Thorin.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


Chen G.
Lorien

Feb 23, 7:58pm

Post #24 of 31 (3692 views)
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Yes [In reply to] Can't Post

The film essentially swaps the Goblins for Azog and his riders, which is apt because Azog has a much more personal conflict with Thorin. Its just better conflict - across all three films.

Also, Azog catching up to the company is planted previously: After they survive the Stone Giant encounter, we cut to Azog. On first viewing, when Bilbo's sword glows blue, I thought it was because of Azog for a moment. And we are reminded of him again when the Great Goblin mentions him.

Like I said previously, these moments generate suspense, the Hitchcock way: Its giving us information (that Azog is alive and on the trail of the company) that the characters do not have. Works very well!

And while he is obviously completly corrupt, Azog still is one of the more motivated villains of the series: We the audience understand why he is chasing Thorin, and we spend time with him.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Feb 23, 8:00pm)


Legomir
Rivendell

Feb 23, 9:13pm

Post #25 of 31 (3669 views)
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That's how I took it as well [In reply to] Can't Post

We know Azog is in the area, then the Great Goblin sends a message for him.

Azog works much better (for this film, with this version of the character) to chase them because of his personal connection to Thorin. I can understand the thought process that the Dol Guldur Orcs are better recurring villains than the Misty Mountains Goblins anyway. Not that it's improving Tolkien or anything, just different, a bit more cinematic.

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