I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug the other day. I had been disappointed with much of An Unexpected Journey, and after seeing the sequel, I now realize that there is an underlying problem with these two movies.
This problem has been highly detrimental to the success of The Hobbit films: Simply put, Peter Jackson is telling the wrong story.
I think this can be proven in the philosophy of the script. In the behind the scenes interviews for The Lord of the Rings, Philippa Boyens, one of the screenwriters, says that there was one simple thing that drove them in writing the script. This was that The Lord of the Rings is at its bare bones the story of Frodo carrying the Ring to Mordor, and hurling it into Mount Doom.
Because they had this simple goal in mind when they wrote the script, it helped them cut away things that didn’t aid to the plot. Perhaps more crucially, it stopped them from adding unnecessary original material to the movies. The Hobbit movies lack the necessary bare bones plot outline, which should really be quite simple: Bilbo goes on an adventure to help reclaim The Lonely Mountain, during which he discovers his true mettle.
That’s it. Done. We have points A and B. End of story. The book was called The Hobbit for a reason. Yet Peter Jackson wanted this to be so much more than The Hobbit. He wanted this series to be a prologue to The Lord of the Rings, which is never a healthy way to go about writing movies (cough *Star Wars episodes 1, 2, and 3.* Cough), and it created splintered plot lines which instead of stopping at B, mosey along to plot lines C, D, E, etc.
Because of this, much of what was added to the movie failed. Gandalf’s fight with the Necromancer/Sauron was particularly unforgivable as it really does not make sense if you are not familiar with The Lord of the Rings. The fight is not built up to at all, and relies upon cheap movie tropes to explain – Gandalf is super good and awesome, and Sauron is super bad and evil. So let’s have them duke it out, and it’ll be awesome! – Though perhaps what was most egregious was the oh so unsubtle “light vs. dark” visualization of the battle.
Another flawed addition to the movie was Tauriel the elf, a character who could have been really great, but was weakened by a silly love triangle. The filmmakers felt that it was important to add a strong female character since it is such a male driven movie, and they were completely right. What they got wrong however, was putting in a love story.
Let’s imagine Tauriel sans Legolas, and Kili. She’s a vicious fighter who’s not afraid of orcs, or (perhaps more impressively) Thranduil, and who is one of the few elves unwilling to sit by and let the world burn. Put back in Legolas and Kili, and what we get is a series of coy and shy glances, and a jumble of confusing motives. Is she chasing the orcs to kill them, or to save Kili? Not that they have to be mutually exclusive, but why can’t she simply want to save Kili because he doesn’t deserve to die, not because she has feelings for him?
The additions to the storyline that worked did so because they enhanced that bare-bones story and the characters. For instance, in the scene where Bilbo viciously attacks the spider, and then realizes that he did it for the Ring, he is horrified and rightly so. It is a wonderful wordless moment that shows much about his character. We also get a longer interrogation scene between Thranduil and Thorin than in the books. The dialogue and acting was great, and it exposed us more to Thranduil, who becomes very important during the Battle of the Five Armies.
Unfortunately, the effect (and cause) of this inconsistency of added material was an inherent marginalization of (what should have been) the movie’s basic plotline. Peter Jackson was essentially saying, “look, some stuff in here is pretty cool I guess, but you know what’s even cooler? THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Lets play with that some more!”
No Peter. I love The Lord of the Rings too, but Tolkien did not tell us the story of Sauron in The Hobbit because that story belongs in a different book. And even though yes, The Hobbit is technically a prelude to The Lord of the Rings, it is very much its own stand-alone entity, and deserves to be treated as such.