Storytelling Failures – The “Hobbit” Trilogy: Wasn’t This Supposed to Concern a Hobbit?

Why yes, I am going on about this again.  There’s 8+ hours of movie to  dissect here, so brevity is but a pipe dream (and my Muse is pushing me to finish).  The next criterion for my Storytelling Failures is plot.  And because there is just so much to get into, I’m splitting this up into “the book’s plot” (you know, the one that’s actually in the book; pretty simple – bumbling fellow goes on a long, strange trip to kill a dragon and get treasure; hijinks ensue) and “movie only subplots.”

I’ve said before I have difficulty separating the book from its movie  adaptation.  But I am not going to judge whether or not the book was  superior or the movies were superior.  I’m looking at how well the movies were adapted from the plot of the book and subsequently how the movies held up.  I’m not saying that every single subplot from the book needed to be included; far from it.  I think sometimes there is good reason to cut out scenes and subplots and characters from source material during an adaptation.  A good adaptation should take advantage of the new medium and ideally enhance the source material.  A bad adaptation leaves a hole  in my soul.  And no, I don’t think this set of movies is that bad.  However, I saw a lot of potential for these movies to craft a better story that what was actually presented, and that is doubly frustrating  to me since I’ve seen the same creative team do much, much better.

That said, get a snack, a blanket, whatever you need, and settle in.   I’m going to go on a bit (and perhaps a bit longer than that).  And if  this list of plot points looks somewhat familiar, well, it should.

An Unexpected Journey:
1) “Concerning hobbits…” – short and to the point (no pun intended).
Briefly – Plus one point to creative team for a concise introduction to young Bilbo and the indolent life of a well-to-do hobbit (and wizards who are jerks for no reason).

2) Dwarf house party! – This scene went on way, way too long.  I didn’t even learn any of the dwarves’ names except for Thorin, and given how different he looked from everyone else I could have guessed who he was.   Sure, I liked the singing in Rankin & Bass, and I didn’t mind it here, but good grief it took over 40 minutes of running time before Bilbo ran out of the house.
Briefly – Minus three points to creative team for dragging this out. But Bilbo was entertaining.

3) Trolls and treasure.  Level up! – This part was okay, actually.  I  figured out who Kili/Fili were, kind of.  Bilbo tried to be sneaky (it  didn’t work) and clever.  But he did get a keen sword (no pun intended).
Briefly – Plus one point to the creative team for trying to capture the  spirit of the book.

4) Elrond reads a map – Still not sure why the movies made Thorin so antagonistic towards the elves in Rivendell.  They had nothing to do with the wood elves who didn’t help with the dragon.  This part was okay, but when Elrond walked to his special elfy-rune reader with Gandalf and Thorin, it made no sense in context why Bilbo was allowed to tag along and the other dwarves were not.
Briefly – Minus two points to the creative team for a touch of padding and some inconsistency.

5) Captured by goblins/Escape from goblins – This was not done well.  First of all, don’t have the Goblin King sing a song set to an old children’s song.  Second, don’t have all the goblins look like cartoons and have your characters subject to cartoon physics. That is not dramatic. Also, in the book Thorin actually slayed the Goblin King which is why the goblins were so angry at the dwarves and was a contributing factor to the Battle of Five Armies. That had  nothing to do with Azog’s vendetta. And Glamdring and Orcist didn’t  even glow!
Briefly – Minus 15 points to the creative team, but plus five points to the video game developers.  This was cartoonish and overly long in an already long movie.

6) Riddles in the Dark – Aside from the ridiculous cartoon physics, and the fact that how Bilbo found the ring was completely different than in the flashback in “Fellowship,” this was by far the best scene in the first “Hobbit” movie.  Bilbo finally got some attention, and I thought Gollum’s portrayal was spot-on.
Briefly – Plus 25 points to the creative team for getting nearly  everything right.  Seriously, this was the best scene.

7) “Fifteen birds up high in the trees/oh what shall we do/with the  funny little things” – muddled and overlong due to an added subplot.
Briefly – Minus 10 points to the creative team because ONE sentence was all it would have taken to explain the eagles. 

[[If you’re keeping track of points, I believe that’s minus three points  to the creative team overall for the adaptation of the book’s plot and that’s only the first movie.  Video game developers are up to plus five points though (this will be covered more later). First, a brief intermission.]]

The Desolation of Smaug:
8) Beorn – he had one job.  One job!  That was to lead a group of bears into combat and slay the goblin leader with his own massive claws.  That was it, and that would have been awesome.  But his character was changed to some sort of depressive were-bear who didn’t know friend from foe and ultimately contributed nothing of value to the plot since Azog usurped the goblin leader as the Big Bad of the Battle.  Leaving Beorn out would not have disrupted the movies in any way, which makes me wonder why bother to include him at all?
Briefly – Minus five points to the creative team.  Beorn wasn’t done well and his presence was just more unnecessary filler.

9) Fear and loathing in Mirkwood Forest (or, “Spiders spiders spiders  AAUUGGH!!!”) – The trip through Mirkwood is actually supposed to be slow and plodding (yes, I know that sounds hypocritical with my well-documented disdain for too much walking).  There’s supposed to be a growing sense of despair as they get lost and run out of food (and have to carry Bombur’s big butt around) and are harassed by animals and the evil in the forest.  Bilbo’s look-see was the thing that kind of drove them over the edge (that and the whole starving thing) which led them to stray from the path.  That should have been shown with a more horror-movie vibe instead of being over with literally in the time it took me to run to the restroom and back. My impression was that the creative team looked at this part of the book and said (like a seven year-old), “Boring!  I want to see them fighting giant spiders!”
Briefly – Minus five points to the creative team for rushing what should have actually taken time.

10) Escaping Mirkwood – The escape from Mirkwood was also rushed.   Again, in the book the dwarves were imprisoned for over two weeks and they didn’t even know what had happened to Thorin until Bilbo found him.  Having Bilbo come up with a way to rescue them in what, an hour, really robs that part of drama. After all, how much danger could they have  been in if Bilbo sprung them in an afternoon? Also, the barrel ride was  just ridiculous.  I’m not saying that the movie necessarily had to feature minutes of the dwarves slowly floating down the river, but turning that into an action scene was completely inappropriate and did not serve the movies in any way.  It’s a tonal problem; either the movie is heavy and epic like “LotR” or it’s light-hearted and fun like a children’s movie.  Mixing these two tones doesn’t work very well.
Briefly – Minus 15 points to the creative team for turning what should  have been a tense, miserable escape into an overly long, cartoonish action sequence.  But 10 points to the video game developers.

11) Freeloading in Dale – This was a chance to find out who Bard was before he became the dragon-slayer. I didn’t mind one bit the extra time spent on Bard to try to develop what kind of man he was (besides “grim”).  But did we really need useless side characters like Alfrid?  Did the Master have to be reduced to a bad cartoon villain?  Did there really need to be a prophecy?  And for all that, Bard still came across  as a bit bland.  Still, that’s a lot better than, “grim.”
Briefly – Plus five points to the creative team for trying to create a fully realized character instead of a plot point.

11.5) Re-taking Erebor – This is the one place I will give credit to the  movies over the original story.  In the story, it seemed the dwarves’  plan for re-taking the mountain was, “hope the dragon is dead.”  This is of course ridiculous and any adventuring party that sets out on a quest with that kind of plan deserves to be killed in nasty ways by their GM.  So the idea that the dwarves were searching for a symbol of kingship as a first step to convincing the other dwarves it was finally time to reclaim their lost kingdom actually made a lot of sense.
Briefly – Plus five well-deserved points to the creative team for making something silly into something sensible.

12) Conversations with Dragons – Did I mention I love Smaug?  Everything about him is pretty much perfect and awesome.  Now, in the book, Bilbo didn’t take off his ring because, well, duh, being invisible around a  dragon is just a good idea.  However, I understand for the visual medium of a movie having a CG dragon talking to no one isn’t very impressive, and having all of Bilbo’s lines spoken in the ring-world would be irritating. So I don’t disagree with the decision to have Bilbo fully visible in the conversation. And again, this is absolutely the best scene in the second movie.
Briefly – Plus 35 points to the creative team for just, well, getting  it.

[[By my count the creative team is up 23 points. And the video game  developers are up 15 points. But remember, this doesn’t take into account how well the additional subplots served the movies and there’s another movie to go. And another brief intermission.]]

The Battle of Five Armies:
13) Shot in the dark over Dale – And here is by far the best scene in  the third movie.  Was it over the top?  Yes.  But did it work in context?  I think so.  The destruction of Laketown was pretty thorough and again Smaug was perfect.  This allowed Bard to show the quality of his character (kind of nuts but good) and showed that a dragon’s downfall is its pride.
Briefly – Plus 20 points to the creative team.  This was the best scene in the third movie, but not as compelling as Item 6 nor as impressive as Item 12.  Also, and I can’t emphasize this enough, the best scene in a movie titled “The Hobbit” does not actually include the hobbit (although yes, I know, this scene didn’t include the hobbit in the book either).

14) The ransom of the Arkenstone – This was the second best scene (well, technically a couple of scenes) in the third movie, and the best with the hobbit.  Bilbo’s distress was believable, and his chagrin when the Wooden King accused him of being thief was a welcome and appropriate bit of comedy, and his willingness to do the deed and suffer the consequences (even if he didn’t believe Thorin would try to kill him) shows his courage.  And later on his regret that maybe he did do the wrong thing was also believable, which made Thorin’s reassurances and forgiveness at the end all the more dramatic and meaningful.
Briefly – Plus 15 points to the creative team.  This was Bilbo’s “Big  Damn Heroes” moment.

15) The Battle of Five Armies – This was just a few pages in the book but expanded to be the set piece of the third movie and it really shows. There were a few good scenes in this giant battle. I like Bard and Thrandiul’s interactions. I liked Bard trying to take sense into Thorin. I liked seeing the dwarves grow increasingly desperate and helpless as their leader descended into madness. But as entertaining as Dain was, was it necessary to introduce him and give him more speaking lines than half the main party? What was with the giant worms?  And no one noticed the orcs amassing at Ravenhill, which was essentially “right  over there?”  Even the deaths of the dwarves felt drawn out.
Briefly (I’m going to have to break this up there was so much going on)  –

a) Plus five points to the creative team for showing Bard trying to be the reasonable one.
b) Minus five points to the creative team for essentially giving Bard and the rest of the humans nothing to do in the battle.
c) Minus five points for spending any precious minutes on Alfrid.
d) Plus five points for Thorin’s descent into madness and the effect on the other dwarves (I particularly like Balin’s lines).
e) Minus five for Thorin’s un-descent into madness.  I can’t pinpoint  what’s so bad about it except that my impression of the scene was that there must have been a better way to show him breaking out of his funk  than more CGI.
f) Plus five points for the highly entertaining Dain and his battle piggy.
g) Minus 10 points for taking up valuable time with Dain and his battle piggy that could have been given to the dwarves the audience is supposed to care about.
h) Minus five points to the creative team for unnecessary CG rock-eating  worms, but plus two points to the video game developers.
i) Minus 15 points for the orcs amassing at Ravenhill and no one else  noticing it!  Damn it, the entire original trilogy established that elves have *freakishly amazing* eyesight.
j) Minus 10 points for the elven soldiers jumping over a shield wall and not using a single arrow!!
k) Minus five points for Bilbo not staying invisible.  I know I just argued I can see why that’s not cinematic, but that was a battle and it made no sense he wasn’t killed after he was knocked unconscious.
l) Minus 15 points for an extremely stretched-out final confrontations with Azog and DiscountAzog.
m) Minus five points for CG eagles flying in with a CG Beorn who turns into a CG bear and starts killing CG orcs.  But that’s another three points to the video game developers.
n) Plus five points for Thorin’s death scene.
o) Minus 10 points for no real resolution for the rest of the dwarves,  the humans, or the fate of the Lonely Mountain.  Bilbo just kind of goes home.

16) Concerning being legally dead and practically robbed – short, but  okay.  Bilbo and Gandalf leave as friends, and it actually ties into the beginning of “Fellowship” pretty well.
Briefly – Plus one point to the creative team.

That’s minus five points to the creative team overall for adapting the  actual plot from the book.  The video game develops are sitting at plus 20 points though, and therein lies a huge problem, which I’ll get to.  I guess I see “expansion” as not necessarily bad but “drawn out” certainly  is.  When the movie starts to feel long, that’s drawn out.  When the movie is still immersive, that’s expanded.  Overall, what part of this overlong set of movies contained the actual plot (I am seriously hoping for a SuperCut) showed it pretty well.  The highlights of the trilogy for me were the parts of the story that actually concerned the hobbit.  However, there were parts of the plot that were rushed for the sake of EXTREME ACTION!  And then there were parts that were drawn out for the sake of MORE ACTION!  And then there were some parts that were just drawn out.  Looking at the tone, the movies were trying to be both heavy and light-hearted and that really didn’t work.

Will the total be higher once the “movie-only subplots” are tallied?   Will I get totally burned out on this extensive critique? Will you lovely readers get as bored as the dwarves during the Council of Elrond retread from the first movie? Stay tuned to find out!


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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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