Hobbit Changes Part Two: Orcs, Eagles, and the Dragon

Part One here.

Okay, so it took about a year but I am finishing this thought. I know, I know – if I waited just another four years before I did anything I would show promise as a Congressman.

So the Hobbit trilogy, the trilogy that is nearly as fashionable to hate as the Star Wars prequels. Some people have even suggested that they are on the same level, as people have argued that both have an over-reliance on CGI and an underdeveloped story. I would counter and ask someone to please find either the Jar Jar or the Midi-chlorian equivalent in the Hobbit trilogy. Please let me know if you find it and feel like you can make a compelling argument.

Is there anything close to this bad in Jackson's Hobbit? I think not.
Is there anything close to this bad in Jackson’s Hobbit? I think not.

The point is: Love or hate director Peter Jackson’s changes, most of them make sense from a storytelling perspective in the context of the Middle Earth universe. There are, however, a few that are truly disappointing. While I largely defend the Hobbit trilogy… Lord of the Rings these ain’t.

The Orc Design/Effects

This first change is not really a storytelling critique, but rather an effects one. When the Lord of the Rings came out, it wowed audiences with its masterful use of effects. Mixing costumes and model work with the latest in computer technology, those films were able to create an incredibly believable look that reflected a restraint rarely seen today in big budget Hollywood. I’m not sure where those guys are getting their data, but audiences today seem sick of an overuse of CGI.

That said…

WHAT IS UP WITH THE ORCS?!

Or goblins, I want to be politically correct. In particular I’m talking about the two lead baddies, Azog the Defiler and Bolg… the other one. While they can be criticized on more than their appearance (both are rather boring villains who are given way too much screen time), the fact that they are computer generated creations is noticeable. Unlike Gollum, who emotes with the lively presence of Andy Serkis, Azog and Bolg appear stiffer and less, well – alive. This again could have to do with their simplistic motivations. Or it could involve another fact:

The original costumes were relegated to smaller parts in the final trilogy.
The original costumes were relegated to smaller parts in the final trilogy.

They were originally people in costumes and NOT motion captured acting like the Gollum performance. That’s right, Peter Jackson originally wanted both of the main villains to at least look a little more real. Yet, at least according to this source – Jackson was happy with CGI redos and wished his other orcs looked that way.

I don't know, the original Bolg looks really cool.
I don’t know, the original Bolg looks really cool.

I’m not sure I buy this.

A lot has come out since the release of the Hobbit trilogy that alleges that Jackson did not have as much control as people would naturally think. I mean, after making Lord of the Rings, how could they not…

Are you kidding?

After Jackson’s trilogy single-handedly saved New Line Cinemas from disappearing into irrelevant oblivion (they tried to withhold money from him on those btw) he and his work was still not respected from a studio standpoint. While the other Hobbit production videos (and commentary tracks) all painted a roses-and-sunshine picture, this feels like the truest look at a production that was in major trouble from day one.

Azog probably still would have been a boring villain, but there is a performance here that has been lost, and that is really sad.
Azog probably still would have been a boring villain, but there is a performance here that has been lost, and that is really sad.

With Jackson never being given the time he asked for, one must wonder: what other decisions were made for him? This would not be the first time that a studio came in, looked at painstakingly crafted practical effects, and said: “kids these days really just want stuff from the computers and the internets.”

Is Peter Jackson the next George Lucas… or is he just one of many directors not fully in charge of their own movies (Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi, Joss Whedon)? We may never know… but damage done in The Hobbit.

The Eagles

Ah the Eagles, the deus ex machina of the Tolkien universe. Need a hand, got to leave a bad situation – the Eagles got you covered. I’m always amazed when fans of the book criticize Jackson’s decision to explain where Gandalf went when he vanished. Without those scenes, Gandalf would just disappear, conveniently only  reappearing to save Bilbo and the dwarves from impending peril. We already got the Eagles guys, we don’t need another one.

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Yet the book did have one very important piece that Jackson’s films omit: An introduction. The Eagles are introduced in the Hobbit and their actions are explained… if only a little bit. How might you ask? Well very naturally, the Eagles can and do talk. They express gratitude to Gandalf as well as state that they have no desire to be a taxi service, especially where “fat dwarves” are concerned.

This is a minor problem, and its omission is far from the greatest flaw in the trilogy. That said, it would have been really nice to give the Eagles their motivation, rather than having them appear yet again to only fulfill plot necessity. Doing so would not only have helped the Hobbit movies, but it would have fixed one of the greatest complaints against the Lord of the Rings, namely explaining why this did not happen:

The Smaug Sequence at the end of Desolation of Smaug

Oh Smaug the terrible, chiefest and greatest calamity of our age!

Wait.

No.

That poor excuse for Rodan can’t even kill a few dwarves running around the Lonely Mountain.

This is the biggest problem with that ending “action sequence” in Desolation of Smaug. Not only does nothing happen to propel the story forward for like.. I don’t know, at least fifteen minutes, the menace of Smaug is greatly reduced. For the past two movies, the horror of this dragon has been built up. When he is revealed, he is depicted as godlike; capable of destroying entire cities without suffering a single injury.

Don't be scared Bilbo! He's definitely farsighted.
Don’t be scared Bilbo! He’s definitely farsighted.

Yet for at least ten minutes, he flails about like a drunk Benedict Cumberbatch, unable to do anything right. Seriously, it goes to the point that Thorin actually taunts him into breathing more fire – that’s how ineffective he is.

A scene equivalent would have been watching Sauron fumble around for the ring for ten minutes at the end of Return of the King before Frodo just kicks it into Mount Doom.

Storytelling tip: if you want a villain to be threatening, they must be effective. What makes it worse, was if the dwarves and Bilbo actually succeeded in doing something (like say knocking off a scale and exposing Smaug’s weakness) the scene would have served at least some point. As it stands, Smaug looks dumb and the good guys do… nothing.

 

All this being said, I still like The Hobbit trilogy. Is it as good as Lord of the Rings, not even close. That said, there is still a love here for a world that is noticeable, and characters who feel real and entertaining (there is also no picnic love scene equivalent to the Star Wars prequels). It is an absolute shame that Peter Jackson was not given the time to do this properly, but never say never.

Remakes are all the rage in Hollywood right now. Who knows what adventure the highly profitable Middle Earth will take next time.

I would love to see someone try to flesh out the plot of this story into something that is actually fun to dive into.
I would love to see someone try to flesh out the plot of this story into something that is actually fun to dive into.

One thought on “Hobbit Changes Part Two: Orcs, Eagles, and the Dragon

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