Storytelling Failures – The “Hobbit” Trilogy: So…Many…Subplots…

Nope, I wasn’t finished with these movies yet; I just took a little break, and now I’m back on my soapbox, and I’m going to be at it for a while, so settle in.

So now, an analysis of the “movie-only subplots.”  One of the issues with adding these subplots is that the book didn’t really have subplots.  The story is pretty linear and one event moves to the next to the next.  This isn’t to say the party’s actions don’t have consequences, but more to say that there’s not a lot of intrigue (it is a children’s book).  I suppose there are implied subplots, but were the movies expanded by adding the subplots, or merely drawn out?  That’s the question I’m going to try to answer.

[[Remember, the tally for the handling of the actual book’s plot was minus 10 for the creative team]]

0.5) “Concerning Dwarves” – I’m not even sure this qualifies as a subplot but instead an overly long flashback sequence.  I’m still including it here.  Anyway, I don’t understand what was added to the movie by showing the fall of Erebor.  Maybe a few ten second flashbacks to the devastation as the dwarves explain what happened (like how many action/thriller movies flashback to a few critical scenes of the main character’s life to explain why they are cynical/jaded/psychotic/etc.).  But 20 minutes?  These movies are already long enough.  Also, the presence of the wood elves is never explained.
Briefly – minus 10 points to the creative team; five for drawing out already long movies with information that could have been delivered more efficiently and dramatically, and five for creating a gaping plot hole.

1.5) Thorin vs Azog –

a) I will sum up (and it will still probably take too long) – This was obviously one of the longest running subplots in the trilogy.  This was not in the book as far as I recall, although how Thorin got his nickname of “Oakenshield” may have been mentioned.  From what I gathered from the movie, at some point Thorin’s dad got the bright idea to reclaim Moria since the Lonely Mountain was now 1 Smaug Lane.  However, orcs had already taken over/were still there and Azog was the leader, who killed Thorin’s dad so Thorin tried to kill him and only maimed him.  Azog swore revenge, which Thorin didn’t know because he thought Azog was dead.

b) What does this subplot add to the trilogy – A lot of warg chases for no reason.  There’s a brief confrontation between Azog and Thorin at the end of the first movie that ends with Bilbo saving Thorin before the Eagles ex Machina show up.  Azog is so determined to track Thorin down and kill him that he sends a band of orcs to attack the back door of the kingdom of Mirkwood which resulted in zero dwarves killed (although one was injured) and a whole bunch of dead orcs.  Hell, Azog takes Thorin down in like two shots and can’t even be bothered to finish him off.  Then Azog is pulled off the chase for… reasons, I guess, leaving DiscountAzog (Bolg) to go kill Thorin.  DiscountAzog tracks the dwarves to Laketown and attacks, which results again in zero dwarves killed and a whole bunch of dead orcs.  Legolas chases after DiscountAzog so now that’s his nemesis for the remainder of the story for…reasons… I guess.  In the last movie, Azog finally shows up again to kill Fili and finally finish off Thorin.  This does in fact result in two dwarves killed and a whole bunch of dead orcs.  So, between Azog and DiscountAzog we have three dead dwarves and three whole bunches of dead orcs.  Then again, the orcish battle strategy appears to be primarily overwhelming numbers.

c) What does this remove – after all, there are so many minutes.  This removes Beorn’s hero moment because he does not get to slay the goblin leader.  This, to me, also removes any reason to include Beorn.

Briefly – minus another 10 points to the creative team.  This whole subplot didn’t seem well thought out to me and I don’t think it added anything I might have missed otherwise.  But 3 points to the video game developers for the warg chases.

2) Spoiler Alert! (or, “the Necromancer is Totally Sauron”) –

a) Hints and Allegations – like all of the veiled language to a dark power and the implication that the slaying the dragon and re-taking Erebor was very important in the grand scheme of things.  In the first movie, Saruman tells the others on the Council that the dwarves absolutely can’t go back to Erebor.  In the second movie in the Bree flashback, Gandalf hints to Thorin that there are forces that would prefer he not try to re-take Erebor.  Of course, what this has to actually do with the story is never explained (or, at least, not in a way that was clear to me), especially since Sauron doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the book’s plot except keep Gandalf out of the way for a bit so the Thorin and Co. can actually get some XPs.

b) Time for Back Story! – the events of The Hobbit were subject to the dreaded retcon before “LotR” was published.  Initially the author just wrote his children’s story and continued on with his world building.  So when he reaches this epic battle over the ring, he realized that there was nothing to really tie it to the first story besides the fact Bilbo had it in his possession.  A change was made in the original story to better tie into to “LotR” by making the ring something evil and implying Gandalf kept an eye on Bilbo because of the mysterious ring, but clearly Gandalf didn’t have the slightest suspicion of what it actually was for 60 years!  And when he did start to pass his perception checks, while this was glossed over the movies, in “Fellowship” Gandalf spent 17 years researching Bilbo’s ring to research “questions that need answers.”  It was in that time he and Aragorn teamed up to go find Gollum and try to figure out how an artifact of unimaginable evil and power that had been lost for centuries (!!) ended up with Bilbo.  However, I will grant that in some of the supplemental works, it’s stated that dragons had once upon a time served Sauron’s boss, hence a reasonable fear that Smaug might be talked into working for Sauron.

c) Movie Sign – of course, in the “LotR” movies, no mention was ever made of a necromancer in Mirkwood and there was barely a mention of “that incident with the dragon.”  However, the movies in general did a good job showing that the wise powers were generally caught off-guard by the reappearance of Sauron and the realization that the only thing required for evil to conquer the world again was in the pocket of a well-to-do hobbit who used it to hide from bothersome relatives.  But if, as the “Hobbit” trilogy portrays, the wise powers already knew Sauron had remanifested, and at considerable strength, this raises the question of why were they so damn unprepared by the time “Fellowship” rolled around.

d) To Sum Up – So what did the expansion of this subplot from a few lines to several scenes do for the movies?  Well, the visuals were pretty cool.  It was nice to see Elrond get some action time, although I’m curious why he was not shown to be using his elven ring.  But I don’t understand why Galadriel was so weakened by the use of her power.  I think the payoff was not worth the screen time building up to it and honestly it makes the wise powers of Middle-earth look kind of stupid.  With what the audience presumably already knows about Sauron and the way this set of movies really tried to emphasize what a menace he was, why why why would that confrontation end with, “Well, that’s over and done and we’ll never have to worry about Sauron again.”  Also, this really dragged along.  Sure, the Sauron beat-down was nice, but it took way too long to get any payoff from all the boring conversations in the first two movies.

e) And the Worst Part – There was a very easy fix that would have allowed the fight with the necromancer (although without a lot of the padding), the hints that something dark is happening in the world, and it would not make the wise powers look like morons.  Don’t reveal the necromancer as Sauron.  It’s just that simple.  While this isn’t canon for the books, it would make more sense for the movies since the characters don’t mention that in “LotR.”  Have Gandalf explicitly state that he’s afraid the dragon will ally itself with dark powers and that the necromancer might too.  Then you get a reason to take on the dragon, a reason to fight the necromancer, and all sorts of hints and allegations that something bigger is brewing (hell, even give Gandalf a line saying something like, “I feel this is only the beginning” or something), you maintain continuity with the movies, and the characters don’t look like idiots.

Briefly – minus 15 points to the creative team for making a necessary side-quest unnecessarily overblown from a concise explanation to its own boring story arc that actually undermines the competency of the characters.

4) Unlikely Elf/Elf/Dwarf Love Triangle –

a) I do not object to the addition of Tauriel, Captain of the Guard.  There are zero female characters in the book.  I didn’t object to expanding Arwen’s role in the original “LotR” because of the dearth of female characters.  But the presence of Tauriel only served the story arcs of Legolas and Kili, and the latter mostly to make the audience sad when Kili finally dies.  So Legolas and Tauriel like each other, but he’s a prince and she’s a commoner, so that’s going nowhere.  Then she meets Kili and they instantly bond over a bad pick-up line.  But she’s still loyal to Legolas and he doesn’t like dwarves.

b) This part bothers me a great deal.  Tauriel seemed so kick-ass and then was reduced to practically useless in the last movie.  She couldn’t even avenge Kili because I guess it wouldn’t do for a she-elf to get some glory?  I don’t know, but the whole subplot is weak.  The relationship between Legolas and Tauriel is the most believable part, not her and Kili suddenly falling in love.  The resolution is weak too and it takes a long time to get to it.  Yes, it does provide some insight on Thrandiul’s issues, and gives Legolas a reason to angstily ride off into a new adventure, but Tauriel is deprived of any closure.  Kili is dead, Legolas runs off, and what happens to her?  I guess she goes back to Mirkwood to continue service in the guard.

Briefly – plus five to the creative team for trying to add some diversity (although taking a cast of lily-white dudes and adding one Lilly-white chick barely qualifies as diverse), but minus ten points to the creative team for reducing a promising character into nothing but a source of angst for someone else’s story arc.

That’s minus 40 for all the added subplots, but plus three to the video game developers.  This totals minus 50 points to the creative team.  I expect an adequate adaptation to total out at zero or nearly so.  And what was done with the actual plot of the book wasn’t too bad, but the added subplots just bogged the movie down.  They weren’t well thought-out, they took too long to pay off, and undermined some of the main characters in the original trilogy.  I think had the movies been shorter (or fewer movies) a lot of this dross would have been cut and the subplots that remained tightened up.  I’m not saying all the subplots needed to be cut out.  I think the necromancer subplot could have been a nice visual spectacle if it had been handled better.  I’m not sure what help there is for poor Tauriel though.

Up next, setting the stage for the conclusion.


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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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