Desolation of Smaug and Tolkein’s Characters

I went to see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug this past weekend. There are many things I liked about the first Hobbit film, but there’s also a part of me that wonders why we need three 3-hour films (plus extended editions!) to cover one little 300 page book and I’ve been worried about this second film (knowing that at least one extra story arch was added with the addition of Tauriel’s character).

I consider Lord of the Rings one of the best (if not the best) film adaption from a book ever done, and agree with most of the changes made to that story. For example, I don’t think Tom Bombadil’s loss is a great sacrifice for the film, and think the changes/additions to Aragorn and Arwen’s story make for better cinema than a strict adherence to the book would have done. For The Hobbit, however, Peter Jackson is not simply choosing what needs to be left out to make a good film — he is adding things that Tolkein evidently thought unnecessary.

Warning: Spoilers Follow

The fact that Tauriel was included does not bother me. There was plenty of room for fleshing-out some characters in the elf-king’s hall and I find Evangaline Lily’s character a welcome addition. What struck me as unnecessary is the direction the story took once Kili was injured. Perhaps Jackson needs four dwarves in Laketown for something he has planned in the third film, but I suspect it was just to give Tauriel and Legolas more screen-time. Seriously, why didn’t anyone in Laketown notice this party of orks marching right through the front gates and crawling over the houses? or the elves chasing them? and did we really need another elvish healing scene?

It was obvious when the screenwriters (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro) departed significantly from Tolkein’s original story. After all the trouble the dwarves had to go to being smuggled into Laketown, the orks (even less subtle than dwarves) can just march in without anyone noticing? There were people in my theater laughing when Tauriel glowed while she healed Kili (played as a touching/serious scene) and wondering aloud why no one in Laketown saw the orks.

Tolkein’s Characters

Plot concerns aside, the characters and acting were again excellent. It was nice to see more of Legolas in this film. In Lord of the Rings, he’s not an easy character to pin-down since he has few lines and relatively little screen time (see comments on typing Legolas for Myers-Briggs). I liked seeing his interactions with his father and Tauriel, his struggle with duty to his father or Middle Earth, and pre-Gimli interactions with dwarves.

On the whole, I actually like the characters better in the films than in the books. Tolkein is a world-building genius, but his characters are not developed as deeply as I like (this is a matter of personal preference, and it wasn’t necessary for his purposes in writing the story). Aragorn in the books is much less conflicted about becoming king than film-Aragorn, and I think he seems more real and relateable in his on-screen incarnation. Similarly, Richard Armitage’s performance of Thorin has made him one of my favorite film characters (it almost makes cry every time he’s on-screen because I know what’s going to happen in the next film).

Have you seen Desolation of Smaug yet? If you’ve read the book, what did you think of the changes made? If you haven’t read the book, what do you think of it as a film (I’m curious how it holds up by itself for people who aren’t familiar with Tolkein’s original)?


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