J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and the differences therein.

This weekend, I, like a ton of other people, went to go see the next movie in The Hobbit trilogy (geez, it feels weird adding that word). And it was good, if not overly stretched out*. But then, everyone expected that. Everyone wanted it to be good and entertaining, so we could have another 3 year stretch where we know a surefire epic entertaining movie is coming around Christmastime. I was a junior in High school when The Fellowship of the Ring came out in theaters, and I remember how amazing it was to see the books I’d read years earlier come to life on screen. I remember seeing it with friends, and telling them afterwards “And just think. We’ll be right back here doing it again next year, and the year after that!”

*I swear, a ton of movies that came out this year pushed the three hour mark. I wish movies would add intermissions again, if they plan on making everything super long. It’s hard to enjoy the climax of a film when I’m squirming in my seat, needing to hit the restroom ASAP.

I’m convinced that that’s what Peter Jackson and co are aiming to do, when they announced that no, even though The Hobbit was just one novel (and a rather modest sized one at that), they were going to make it into a trilogy. I was fine with that. Middle Earth is rife with enough history and backstory that it would be fairly easy to just add padding here and there that would make complete sense, even in the context of a small story.

What I didn’t expect… was for them to just flat out make stuff up.

There was some of that in the first movie, sure. They changed one of my favorite parts in the entire novel (the trolls) to be much more action-y in the first movie, with a hint of humor. But it sort of made sense why they changed it, so I let it slide. They added Radagast the Brown, even though he only ever was mentioned in the LOTR, and not The Hobbit. That was okay too, since he was a genuinely interesting character, nothing like what I expected, and was played by Sylvester McCoy of Doctor Who fame.

I’m not one of those fanboys who will cry foul if you change the fourth sentence of dialogue of my favorite character in a movie adaptation. I understand that books and movies are two completely different mediums, with completely different demands on what is required to be successful. It’s only natural sometimes that changes have to be made. That being said, I thought it would be fun to list off the differences I noticed in the movie.

DISCLAIMER: I enjoyed this movie. So even if I sound overly critical at some points, it’s just me being picky for the fun of it. I think any fan of Tolkien who doesn’t get too uptight over every little thing should probably see it and enjoy it.

Difference #1: Thorin and co on the run.

I’m a wizard, but I have no picnic baskets to give you. Sorry.

As soon as the movie starts, we’re plunged in the middle of another desperate chase scene. Our heroes are STILL being pursued by orcs, led by Azog the Defiler. This is slightly confusing, since at the end of the first movie, the eagles left them on top of a plateau, clearly escaped and safe from danger. But that’s okay. We can just assume there’s a fair lapse of time where the orcs (who have mounts) catch up with the Dwarves (who don’t). They seek refuge in the house of Beorn, a man who can shapeshift into a giant bear. He almost eats them, but they hide in his house until he returns to human form and doesn’t want to eat them anymore. He gives them ponies to see them safely to Mirkwood, but otherwise, his presence in the movie is forgettable.

Do the changes make sense? I’m going to say yes. Within this alternate Middle Earth history Peter Jackson has constructed, the journey Bilbo and friends take in The Hobbit is defined by a constant game of cat and mouse between themselves and Azog’s orcs. Never mind that Azog in the books was already dead by this point in time. In the movie, he’s still hot for revenge over Thorin taking his hand. So while it’s completely different from the novel, in the context of the narrative built in the first movie, it makes perfect sense.

As for Beorn, I’m convinced he was mostly introduced so people will know who he is when he shows up to the Battle of Five Armies and kicks a prodigious amount of ass.

Difference #2: The adventures of Gandalf the Grey.

Just like in the book, Gandalf stops at the edge of Mirkwood and basically tells Bilbo and the dwarves “brb, wizard stuff” before he rides off. That’s it. Ten minutes or so into the movie, Gandalf leaves Bilbo and the Dwarves, and they don’t see him again for the rest of the movie. However, unlike the book, we actually get to see what he’s up to when he rides off. I LOVE that. Why? Two reasons:

1) Throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you can’t help but feel that Gandalf is playing the game on a higher level than everyone else around him. He’s playing chess while everyone else is trying to decide between red or black in Checkers. Peter Jackson apparently decided to show us what the heck he’s up to, and exactly how good of a multitasker Gandalf is. Which is a good thing, because according to canon, he’s asked to save the world with little more than his wits.*

2) Ian McKellan as Gandalf is a pleasure to watch, so the more of him, the better.

*According to Tolkien, Gandalf is actually a Maia, which is just a fancy word for something between an angel and a demi-god. He’s sent to Middle Earth to aid man against Sauron and the forces of evil. Despite being insanely powerful, he is explicitly forbidden from using brute force to win. Which is why you almost never see him do anything really impressive, beyond a couple of exceptions.

We get to see him confirm that the Nazgul are on the loose, and then go into Dol Guldur alone, to try and get the evil there to reveal itself. We then see him face a few orcs, use a clever flash of light to escape, and then face Sauron head on. Then we get to witness a clash of power that wouldn’t look out of place in Dragonball Z. However, Gandalf loses, has his staff broken by Sauron, and is imprisoned at the end of the movie.

Do these changes make sense? Well, it’s not really a change, per se, since it never was shown at all in the book. It’s just a nice little supplement to help bridge the gap to the events of the LOTR trilogy. I thought it was handled respectfully, in regards to Gandalf. He uses trickery to escape the lesser beings, despite having the power to squash them, and pulls out his full power when faced against a being of equal or greater power (Sauron is a Maia too, after all. Just one that let his power get to his head). So this part was probably my favorite “extra” part of the movie.

Difference #3: Almost all of the Mirkwood journey.

In the book, the biggest obstacles in Mirkwood were the forest itself, and the spiders. The illusions only make an appearance for like 30 seconds. The spiders make an appearance to capture them, but they easily are bested by Bilbo and the dwarves. The elves show up after that, and only really treat the Dwarves as prisoners after Thorin basically tells them to buzz off.

In the movie, of course, the elves are the ones who saved the Dwarves from the spiders, looking like superninjas flipping around, arrowing everything in sight. Oh yeah, and we get a Legolas appearance. They throw the dwarves into prison because Thorin is a jerk. They escape by way of wine barrels, which makes absolutely no sense with the way the movie portrayed it. The barrels were empty and lidless, but on their side like they were ready to be shipped. Not a huge deal, regardless, since I know it’s a movie and they can show more if you can actually see them in the barrels. But it led to….

Difference #4: I used to be an adventurer, until I took an arrow to the knee.

There’s an overly elaborate and slightly ridiculous fight scene, with elves and dwarves fighting orcs that only successfully had one hit. Kili plays the hero, and makes the dramatic move to help his comrades escape, but takes a poisoned arrow for his troubles. From there until they reach Lake Town, his wound obviously keeps getting worse and worse, to the point where Thorin basically tells him to stay behind, since he’d only slow everyone else down. Fili stays behind with his brother, along with Bofur. They get their own little sub-story fighting off orcs with Bard’s children, and….

Difference #5: Tauriel.

Let’s get two things out of the way: no, she is not in the books. She’s not in anything Tolkien ever wrote. Someone from Hollywood created her. But on the other hand, Arwen wasn’t exactly a big deal in LOTR until the movies came out. Both of these characters exist for the same reason: if they weren’t around, you’d basically have no major female characters at all. She appears and is told to be a longtime friend and love interest for Legolas, and a valued servant of the elven king, despite her being a lowly sylvan elf. Out of no other reason that apparently Kili is hot for a dwarf and is good with the ladies, she follows him all the way to Lake Town and heals his wound with elven magic… or something.

Yeah… there’s a lot of Mary Sue action going on there.

Do the changes make sense? Well, I think it’s a good idea to hand off a subplot or two to the minor Dwarves, so I’m fine with Kili taking an arrow to the knee. That being said, this part of the story would’ve worked a LOT better to me if Tauriel had pursued the Dwarves out of dogged determination to drag them back to prison, only to show a soft spot by healing Kili at the last second.* Instead, we got the “Oh, I’m a free spirit! Don’t tell me what to do, Legolas!” *arrows another dwarf while she’s talking* approach.

It’s like they wanted to put Katniss Everdeen into Middle Earth. Please excuse me while I vomit at the thought of that.

We’ll live together, Peeta… er, I mean Legolas.

*Was I the only person who thought it was sort of hilarious and lame that it was BOFUR who knew what herb to get for the poison, goes and snatches it from a pig to treat Kili, only for Tauriel to grab the herbs out of his hands and use them, because Elven healing magic? That just made her look like a completely unnecessary link in the story. There was already someone there that was going to heal him!

Difference #6: Smaug. Just… Smaug.

Don’t get me wrong, here. Smaug looked and sounded fantastic. Nothing better than getting Sherlock to voice a menacing dragon.

Oh, wait. He was supposed to be menacing, right? Then why is he just talking and spewing exposition to Bilbo instead of deep frying him after Bilbo inexplicably takes the ring off? It’s been a fair number of months since I last read the source material, but I seem to recall the ring’s power of invisibility being the only thing that keeps Bilbo alive when he meets Smaug. As in, Bilbo never takes it off. After some conversation back and forth, Smaug gets frustrated and flies off to Laketown to burn it to the ground, because he can’t find Bilbo to kill him, and the only hint he got from Bilbo was about barrels, which made him think the hobbit was from that city.

Instead, Smaug just keeps talking…. and talking… and when the dwarves show up, they actually somehow put up a fight. After all the hype about how Smaug is a flying weapon of mass destruction, he can’t even roast one Dwarf in what looked like an elaborate fantasy version of Tom and Jerry.

Do the changes make sense? Um, no. Smaug was supposed to make this movie by being some unbeatable force that falls to a bit of luck and a fluke shot. Instead, we’re shown that a bunch of random dwarves can hold their own against the big, scary dragon. Kind of hurts the title character’s credibility. I winced at some of the “awe-inspiring” action scenes at the climax of the movie. Dragons are death machines, but to be death machines, they have to be able to kill things when they’re actually on the hunt. Not taking a bath in molten gold.


Believe it or not, I liked this movie. I just think you have to approach it as having its own continuity, as opposed to the novel. It’s basically turned into fan-fiction at this point, straight out of Peter Jackson’s head.

But the good news is… it’s actually pretty good fan fiction. Still happy I saw it.

Final rating: ****



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This entry was posted on December 18, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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