Storytelling Failures – The “Hobbit” Trilogy: Those Who are not Dwarves

or, “More Ranting

Still splitting this up into “new” and “old.”

A) The Hobbit – obviously I should start with the hobbit, but when I first starting writing this I actually started with the dwarves.  Why?  Well, because the hobbit was sort of pushed to the side in his own movie and he is, I could argue, the only necessary character.  And honestly I really did like the portrayal of Bilbo.  Bilbo was in over his head, and eventually got a level or two in rogue (the magic ring didn’t hurt) and grew into a brave, reliable fellow with a good heart.  He showed he cared for the dwarves and that he wanted to help them even at great risk to himself.  He stayed true to what he thought was right and cried when he realized the pain he caused trying to do the right thing.  He went there and came back again a rather different hobbit.  And that was the idea.  Too bad there was so much pointless filler to distract from his journey.
Briefly – necessary, well-developed, but not the focus.  I also felt his character arc was consistent from this trilogy to the proper “LotR” movies.

B) Elves –
1) Thrandiul – his character actually grew on me once I realized why he was kind of insane.  Insane isn’t exactly the character direction I would have taken with the Wooden King, but his moodiness made some of the other implausible plot points seem more plausible.  I’m not sure I buy his sudden change of heart at the end of the movie, but I think he showed why Grey Elves are not High Elves (i.e., he was there to make Elrond and Galadriel look better) and why Legolas joined the Fellowship to begin with.  However, if the direction of his character was supposed to show why elves and dwarves are hostile towards each other, this was not adequately explained.  Granted, the dwarves were trespassing and being deceitful, but this seemed like a holdover, not a motivation.  And the presence of his army during the destruction of Erebor is never explained, but sort of implies he never liked the dwarves.
Briefly – necessary, and given a character.  I think his arc was inconsistent, but at least he made an impression.

2) Tauriel – an elf-maiden invited whole-cloth to get a woman in a male-dominated story.  That aspect doesn’t actually bother me that much, although if the filmmakers could make time to give her a whole character arc I really wish they could have at least given a memorable line of dialogue to every one of the dwarves.  She was tough, but tender, and clearly aloof in that elfy way.  Why she fell in love with Kili isn’t to me adequately explained or shown in the movies, but she served her function as the obligatory romantic subplot and to build up Kili’s character and to a lesser degree Legolas’ character.  Although it would have been nice if she wasn’t there strictly to further the character arcs of the male heroes.
Briefly – quasi-necessary in order to build up Kili.  I liked her well enough, but she was more of a plot point than a character. 

C) Humans
1) Bard – considering Bard came into the book within the last fifty pages or so and his entire character was summed up as “grim,” I’m not disappointed he got more screen time.  He is the dragon slayer, after all, and eventually the ruler of the rebuilt Dale.  I want to know more about this guy.  Dude slayed a dragon!  That’s a pretty damn big deal.  And we find out Bard is a dedicated family man with a disgraced ancestor (a bit of Aragorn again) and the only one with enough sense to wonder what the dwarves were really up to.  Still, he came across as a bit bland, and it didn’t help matters than the actor looked kind of like Legolas.
Briefly – necessary and actually given some character development.  Ok, Jackson, I grant you this one minor success.

2) The Master – you know, I like Stephen Fry.  He’s very funny, but he can also be very serious.  The Master in the book was a shrewd, if somewhat cowardly and amoral, fellow.  He wasn’t a cartoon villain.  Look, if these movies are serious, don’t portray the Master as some buffoon.  Damn, his presence actually robbed Smaug of some of the dignity of his death.
Briefly – quasi-necessary but given more caricature than character (I’ll say 50% of a character).  Lame.

3) Alfrid – why was this cut-rate Wormtongue wannabe even in this movie?  The Master was badly cartoonish enough without having a weaselly, cartoony minion.  I guess this guy was supposed to be some kind of comedic foil to Bard and some general comic relief as the dwarves could no longer serve that purpose what with them poised to die and all.
Briefly – unnecessary, given 50% of a character that served no purpose, and basically a waste of valuable screen time.  

E) Other –
a) Radagast – why?  Just, why?  He wasn’t even in this story!  But besides that, he’s portrayed as a weed-smoking, ‘shroom eating, crunchy hippie tree-hugger.  Jackson wisely avoided including Tom Bombadil in the “LotR” movies because the character didn’t fit with the epic and heavy tone of the rest of the story.  While I could argue that this view of Radagast may not have been entirely out of place in a children’s movie, most of the movie is trying to be as epic and heavy as any entry of “LotR,” so Radagast as portrayed just doesn’t fit.  While only Gandalf and Saruman have been seen, they portray wizards as having a certain dignity.  Radagast the Brown, while clearly looked down upon by Saruman, wasn’t some ridiculous parody of a wizard.  He couldn’t even wipe the bird crap off his face?  Why did he even have that?  Did these movies really need any more comic relief?  He had buck teeth and a rabbit sled.  A rabbit sled!
Briefly – Not necessary and while a fully realized character, I feel this was not the kind of character needed in this movie.

b) Beorn – Beorn is a shapeshifter who turns into a giant bear and can command bears.  How can his character not be awesome?  Well, get his attitude completely wrong (he was actually pretty jovial and not grim), give him one scene that adds nothing to the story, deprive him of the one action in the Battle of Five Armies that made a damn bit of difference, and replace him with CGI besides.  Why is he even in this if he doesn’t take out the leader of the goblin/orc army?  That would be cool!  But no.
Briefly – Not necessary and only 10% of a character.

c) Smaug – I loved Smaug.  I loved his look, his voice, his attitude, I loved it all.  Except for him not using his fire at times when it would have been fatal to the other characters, but that’s a plot issue not a character one.  The dragon was really the ultimate villain in this story and I wasn’t disappointed.  Even him taunting Bard was something I could see a dragon doing.  Dragons horde, and dragons are egomaniacs.  The best part of movies two and three were the parts with Smaug.
Briefly – completely necessary and totally awesome!  That’s another grudging success for Jackson.

d) Azog – when I was writing this and going through the list of characters in my head, I got to the eagles before I remembered the secondary villains.  That right there should say everything there is to say about them, but since when has a concise explanation ever stopped me from providing a long-winded one anyway?  So, Azog.  An albino orc who is supposed to be Thorin’s main rival even though there’s a dragon.  Azog is a plot point and is supposed to serve the three-act arc.  I’ll get into that more later.  As a character, he is utterly generic and inconsistent (after saying he wanted to fight Thorin, he ordered another minion to deliver the fatal blow).
Briefly – not necessary and a generic waste of screen time.

e) Bolg – to quote CinemaSins, “Discount Azog.”  So he was Legolas’s designated nemesis for the movies, I guess, but I can’t figure out why.  He killed Kili, but that’s merely a plot point.  He had even less character than Azog, and that’s saying something.
Briefly – not necessary and an even bigger waste of screen time.  

“Old” Characters:
1) Gandalf – He’s a jerk.  What can I say?  The actor can play this part in his sleep and kind of did.  I thought Gandalf was really stupid about deciding to confront the necromancer himself, but maybe that was supposed to humble him and make it seem more plausible he’d go to Saruman for help in the “LotR” instead of suspecting his old friend of turning evil.  Maybe.  And for all his suspicions about the necromancer, this installment makes his surprise at finding out Sauron is still around after all sixty years later seem a bit out of place.  After all, there had been hints and allegations about an evil returning to Mordor.  You know, the place they drove the necromancer/Sauron back to?  And what the hell was going on between him and Galadriel?
Briefly – necessary, but this portrayal somewhat undermines the character in the original set because the lack of follow-up on Sauron is just a huge, illogical oversight.

2) Legolas – even in my nerd rage at the many changes from the book to the movie, I actually did not mind the addition of Legolas to this story.  He was a prince of Mirkwood, as had already been established in “LotR.”  I think the idea was to show Legolas as headstrong and reckless to contrast with his much more calm demeanor in “LotR.”  On the other hand, if you know he’s over 600 years old, even for an elf that seems a bit old to still have some growing up to do.  However, those not familiar with the source material won’t know this, so I’ll let it go.  He came across as an angsty, love-struck teenager with daddy issues, but the characterization worked for me.
Briefly – not necessary, but consistent and not a bad addition.

3) Galadriel – she came across exactly the same as in the original trilogy, which is a good thing.  She also got a chance to show off exactly why she’s a Ringbearer and what a ring can do.  But what the hell was going on between her and Gandalf?  It’s clear in “LotR” she’s married to Celeborn.  Sure, I know marriage isn’t an iron bond that prevents interest in other people, but nothing about her and Gandalf’s interactions made any sense.
Briefly – not necessary, but consistent (except for checking up on Saruman) but scary, but what the hell was the deal with Gandalf again?

4) Elrond – A little more action-oriented (eventually), so I didn’t mind that too much.  However, I wonder why he was so surprised when Gandalf told him Saruman betrayed them since Saruman went to imprison Sauron again.  Didn’t he check up on the white wizard or just assume everything went as he was told?
Briefly – not necessary but consistent (except for checking up on Saruman).

5) Saruman – Yeah, so he’s a jerk from beginning to end.  No surprises there.  And he can kick ass, so that’s cool.  But why didn’t anyone check up on him after he went after Sauron?
Briefly – not necessary but consistent.

6) Gollum – The best scene in the first movie was the riddles in the dark.  Gollum was portrayed with a kind of manic energy that makes sense to me as at that point Bilbo would have been the only creature that had actually talked to him in decades, if not centuries.  Of course he’d be excited to have someone else to talk to.
Briefly – necessary and consistent.

7) The eagles – One sentence.  That’s all it would have taken to explain everything about the eagles and Gandalf’s relationship with them and why they help out sometimes but not others.
Briefly – necessary but with zero explanation.

Conclusion – “new” characters weren’t given enough to do, “old” characters were consistent with the original set but those that weren’t technically necessary to advance the plot didn’t add much interest.  Ooo, Galadriel’s doing the spiral dress thing again.  Oh, that Saruman, what a jerk.  The villains except for Smaug were generic and forgettable, leaving me to wonder why they were even included.

More later…


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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.

3 thoughts on “Storytelling Failures – The “Hobbit” Trilogy: Those Who are not Dwarves”

  1. When I watch the movies, I throw the books out the window (figuratively!) and try to just enjoy them for what they are. They’re kind of a mindflip if you are successful … A lot about the movies are honestly just plain bizarre! Like the stuff with the brown wizard for example.
    Anyway, good post and nice blog!

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