Storytelling Failures – The “Hobbit” Trilogy: Name that Dwarf!

Or, “Seriously, do the rest of you even have names?”

For the first of who knows how many parts on my critique on why the “Hobbit” movies failed to craft a good story (besides the introduction), I’m starting with the characters.  And since there were a ton of them, this will still be pretty dang long, although probably not as long as trying to get through Middle-earth one last time.

As a brief recap, I’m splitting the characters up broadly into “new” and “old,” with the old characters being the ones in the “Lord of the Rings” movies.  I’m also going to discuss if these characters were even necessary if not for plot than for someone else’s character development. For my purposes, Bilbo is considered “new.”  But that’s another entry.  This one is focused exclusively on the dwarves.

There are thirteen dwarves in the main cast and I will admit that’s a pretty daunting number of characters to provide some kind of spotlight for.  So here’s a quiz.  Look at the picture and identify them first by any means you can and then think about how many were actually given names in the movies.  I could identify seven of them, but I only learned the name of six of them, and I’m not actually sure anyone said Bofur’s name at any time.  Six of thirteen is only slightly better than my batting average for names in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.  If you read through my parody summaries, you can even see where I got some of them confused because there was nothing to clue me in otherwise (i.e., “Crazy Hat Dwarf Who is Bifur Probably” became “Crazy Hat Dwarf Who is Bofur Actually”).

However, and I will concede this is a flaw in the source book as well, Thorin Oakenshield is the only dwarf that actually matters to the plot.  But with the extra running time, the movies had an opportunity to actually bring these character to life and give them more distinction than just colored cloaks like in the book.  So, for the dwarves, I’m not just looking at whether they were necessary, but whether they were given any more character than in the book.

1) Thorin – Aside from the fact he and all the other dwarves were younger than I think they were in the book, his character was pretty good.  I’d say making him kind of young and unproven worked for this story than a jaded old man trying one last time before he died.  There was a little too much Aragorn (i.e., the exiled king trying to reclaim his throne), but once that was mostly dropped after the first movie, I liked him fine and actually teared up a bit when he died.  Of course, the problem is that he was a bigger character than the titular hobbit.
Briefly – necessary, well-developed, but too prominent in a hobbit movie.

2) Balin – I liked his character too, actually.  He was clearly the hardened veteran who knew he was nearly spent but wasn’t going to quit.  He was the voice of reason for the dwarves and served as another perspective on the downfall of Erebor.  I think his character did add something to the story, if not to serve the plot.  But it also occurred to me that in the “LotR” Balin is specifically mentioned as the king of Moria so maybe his character was built up as an effort to make his death in Moria seem more important.
Briefly – not necessary but actually given a character.

3) Kili – He and his brother were meant to be the young ones of the group in the book and here as well.  Kili had enough build-up of character that when he died I did feel bad and I felt bad for Tauriel.  But I didn’t feel there was enough between him and Thorin for Thorin to be extra upset when he died.  It seemed more than Thorin would have been that upset had any other dwarf died and not particularly his nephew.  Also, the fact Thorin was his uncle wasn’t mentioned in the first movie and only a throw-away line in the second.
Briefly – necessary (because he dies in the book) but actually given a character.

4) Fili – It was so obvious to me the only reason Fili got any screen time in the last movie was a last-ditch attempt to make his death somewhat meaningful. And for those of you who have not read the book and wonder why the choice was made to kill Fili, it’s because this is where the director decided to be faithful to the source material (Thorin, Kili, and Fili all die which is why Thorin’s cousin Dain inherits the throne).  Now that I look at some of the posters, I do see that Fili’s hair and beard are supposed to look a lot like Thorin’s to indicate their kinship.  But I didn’t notice it at the time.
Briefly – necessary (because he dies in the book) but given only 25% of a character.

5) Bofur – Whom I thought was Bifur because his name was never said properly.  He had a crazy hat.  But hey, he’s got it slightly better than the others because he had enough lines I at least remember he said them.  I also remember he was trying to encourage Bilbo and explain Thorin wasn’t really mad at him.
Briefly – not necessary but given only 25% of a character.

6) Dwalin – named at the last minute.  And apparently one of Thorin’s best warriors.  Another throwaway line that tells us nothing.  I don’t know why he was even included in the last battle scene except to keep Thorin from standing there alone, but it didn’t matter because Thorin had to fight Azog alone for some reason anyway.  There was no reason to worry about his fate since the audience just learned his name.
Briefly – not necessary but given only 10% of a character.

7 – 13) I actually had to do an image search for the dwarves because I couldn’t even guess at who the others were besides Bombur (and him only because I know from the book that he’s the fat one).  Hell, even after Gloin is pointed out (if not named) in the second movie, I didn’t remember which one he was. Come on, there were eight hours of runtime! Couldn’t the script do better than this?  I know the Fellowship only had nine members, but later we meet up with assorted Rohirrim and Gondorians and still feel sad when they die.  It’s like the writers knew which dwarves were going to die and then worked backwards to try to make sure they had enough screen time.  Obviously with Thorin it was easy, but the elfy-love triangle was there as much to make the audience care about Kili and eventually by extension his brother as it was to get a female presence in the movie. Instead, I’m left with –

7) Fat Dwarf (Bombur)
8) Crazy Hair Dwarf (Nori)
9) Really Old Dwarf with the Earhorn (Oin)
10) Other Really Old Dwarf with a Short Beard (Dori)
11) Dwarf with an Axe in his Face (Bifur [and I didn’t even notice the axe because the movie was that visually cluttered])
12) Youngish Dwarf with a Bowl Haircut (Ori)
13) Relatively Normal Looking Dwarf With Reddish Hair who Kind of Maybe Looks Like Gimli (Gloin).

Honestly, going with the colored hoods used in the book and Rankin & Bass animated movie would have been better to differentiate them.  Good grief, couldn’t Bilbo have at least named each one of them in his final goodbye as an acknowledgement they mattered too?
Briefly – No, Bilbo couldn’t say goodbye to acknowledge the other dwarves mattered, because they didn’t.  There were eight hours of runtime!  Make them matter!

14) Dain – I couldn’t forget about him.  I think he had more speaking lines than easily half the main party, and he only showed up for a few minutes in the Battle of Five Armies.  While it certainly was novel seeing a Scottish dwarf riding a battle boar, I’m not sure it added much except some comic relief and reinforcing the idea that dwarves are stubborn and crazy.  It was nice to see him and Thorin share a bit of bonding time on the battlefield, but if Dain was included why wasn’t there even a sentence to explain why he’s important?  And if you haven’t read the books, he’s important because he inherits the throne and becomes King Under the Mountain.  That’s implied by the fact he’s Thorin’s cousin, but it would have been nice to have it explicitly stated with the amount of screen time he got.
Briefly – about as necessary as Fili and given 50% of a character, which is more than Fili was actually given.

And no, I’m not taking the extended versions into consideration either.  The extras are supposed to enhance the story, not explain obvious gaps in the movie!

Conclusion – no, I’m not letting the creative team off the hook for the number of characters they had to juggle here.  The Fellowship had nine, plus elves (Elrond, Arwen, Galadriel, Haldir), plus Rohirrim (Theoden, Eomer, Eowyn, Wormtongue), plus Gondorians (Denethor, Faramir), plus Treebeard, plus Saruman.  If the cast got unwieldy, that’s their own damn fault for sticking in so many unnecessary characters.

And speaking of unnecessary characters (who are not dwarves)…


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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