Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tolkien Weekly #2 - Movies vs. Books

This discussion may be opening a can of worms, but I think that it's something that deserves deliberation.  As a student of literature who also appreciates film, I can't help but wonder if the departure that directors often take from books is warranted. 

Anyways, these are a few of the strongest arguments that I have heard defending it.  I'll try to do a fairly quick and succinct summary:

1)  All of the things that are written in a book can't be translated to a motion picture.  In addition, there are some things that are more easily expounded upon in a film (i.e. battle sequences).
2)  The director is also an artist and has the right to make changes, even if he is using a borrowed work (after all, doesn't a conductor sometimes make changes to the musical score?).  People have argued this for many, many years in different mediums (i.e. changing the end of a Shakespeare play so that it isn't a tragedy).
3)  No matter how hard you try, it just wouldn't be possible to find actors or actresses with the exact same personality traits as characters in a novel.  Each actor or actress brings their own experience to the scene, regardless of how they are supposed to act, and therefore changes the film in subtle ways.

On the flip side, here are some of the arguments that I have heard against it.

1)  Changing large portions of a book is no different than an agency eliminating words, sentences, or scenes in an effort at censorship.  As Ray Bradbury said, "There is more than one way to burn a book."
2)  Differing how characters act, or even introducing new characters, is an insult to both the author and the reader. 
3)  If a book can't be adapted to film without few departures from the original book, then it shouldn't be.  Changing vital parts of a book delivers different messages than the author intended.

With two more The Hobbit movies on the way, I was more thinking along the lines of this recent franchise, but if you want to bring The Lord of the Rings movies into the discussion, feel free to.  Here are just a few guiding questions to help us along.

1)  Has Peter Jackson (director) done a good job of adapting The Hobbit to film?
2)  Where do you stand on the points that I listed above?  Are there any other discussion points that you want to bring up?
3)  What additions are hard to swallow, or what additions might be positive or give the viewer a better understanding of Tolkien's world?
4)  After seeing The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, are you looking forward to the sequel The Desolation of Smaug?

Here's a trailer for The Desolation of Smaug, if you haven't seen it.  It's scheduled to come out on December 13, 2013.

Have at it!  I'll join in the discussion, but I want to see where people stand before I voice my opinions.

M.R. Michel


  1. I liked the Lord of the Rings movies more than the first Hobbit movie, though part of that is simply that they were less cheesy.

    I'm not thrilled with Jackson's decision to make three movies out of The Hobbit, but I'll try to judge the whole trilogy rather than just the first installment.

    1. Good point. All of the movies haven't come out yet. What parts did you think were cheesy? For me, it was Radagast being pulled by rabbits.

    2. Sorry, I'd forgotten about that. The scenes with Radagast, definitely. I also didn't like the excessive CGI with the orcs; I thought the LotR orcs were significantly more substantial.

      I can't really nail this down, but I also thought the LotR were noticeably darker in tone, which I tend to prefer. The Hobbit was more lighthearted and goofy, which isn't bad, just not as much to my liking.

  2. I understand why they made the changes. If you are going to take a single book and make it into three movies, you're going to have to make more radical changes than if you go one for one a la LOTR. There were some things The Hobbit book did really, really well. There were some things that weren't that great (mainly none of the dwarves seemed to be all that unique other than Thorin and Bombur, and that was only because he was fat and Thorin was the leader). The movie also had its own strengths (Biblo was well done, songs were good, Gollum, and the dwarves are easy to root for) and weaknesses (too much CG, the dwarves nearly being killed during the rock giant battle was ridiculous and unnecessary, Ragadast is also way too weird for my liking {at least with Gollum there's a reason he's weird other than he eats too much mushrooms} and once again the eagles seem to be mere beasts of burden at the beck and call of Gandalf rather than an intelligent and noble species) . Overall both are great and enjoyable forms of their own medium. I think Peter Jackson did a great job in both the trilogy and The Hobbit. He did his homework, honored the very excellent works of Tolkein to the best of his abilities, and I think the changes he made were not out of arrogance, but because he felt it would translate better to film that way. I'm pumped for the Desolation of Smaug (though I hope Smaug doesn't look nearly as crappy as he did in the trailer) and curious as to where exactly they will end it (I was shocked in the trailer to see Bilbo inside The Lonely Mountain's Treasure Room with Smaug, that seems really far into the story line to end the second movie).

    1. You have made some great points, Bru! I think that they should have tried to just make it into two movies, personally. I never really thought about the Dwarves like that, but you're right. They are fairly interchangeable in the book, and I was always getting confused as to who was who. I agree about the rock battle and Radagast. The mention of mushrooms was just puerile, and him being pulled by a sled of rabbits... I think that overall Peter Jackson has done a good job, but we will see how he does the next two movies. In the trailer it looked like Smaug saw Bilbo face to face. If I remember correctly, the two never saw each other in the book; he always had his ring on. I guess that's a minor point, though. I know that the third movie will be just epic, as it will have the Battle of Five Armies.