Hobbit Changes Part One: In Defense of Tauriel

Well, it is done. Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies are out. Love them or hate them: the journey is over. Now comes the time for internet reflection. As with any hyped production, there were a lot of gut reactions to The Hobbit. One casting decision in particular appeared to irk some fans. In 2011, Evangeline Lilly was announced as Tauriel, a wood elf of Mirkwood. To say that the majority of people reacted with a “hmmm, that’s interesting, let’s wait and see” attitude would be a bit of an overstatement. The immediate reaction came more in the form of comments like these. There was even a wonderful little song put together, have a look:

Fun fact: that video was published on December 15th of 2013, just two days after The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug was released. Either these artists were very moved to write, shoot, edit, and release a song in two days or… it was made before any of them had even seen the film. For the record, there is nothing innately wrong with this. People are allowed to have opinions and reactions of any kind to fictional characters – there are bigger problems in the world to deal with.

One of the many more important problems gripping our world.
One of the many more important problems gripping our world.

But that said, there is also an innate problem of jumping to conclusions and facing new material with a closed mind. Also I titled this blog post with “in Defense of Tauriel” so I am going to defend her inclusion in this Hobbit trilogy. While Tauriel “may not be in the book,” she brings many improvements to the story of The Hobbit. First and most obvious is the addition of a woman in a world where vaginas are more mythical than dragons.

Eowyn is great but it is nice to see that there was more than one active woman in Middle Earth.
Eowyn is great but it is nice to see that there was more than one active woman in Middle Earth.

Now that I got my cleverness out-of-the-way, let’s dive into the more substantial contributions. When Tolkien wrote the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings did not exist. In short: the Hobbit was written in a vacuum that has not existed since (and never will again). As with any simple story that was later expanded into a full universe, there are inconsistencies. For starters, let’s talk about those wood elves: what a bunch of dicks.

Seriously, how are these people good guys? When reading the Hobbit, the wood elves are terrible. The are greedy, selfish, and imprison the dwarves for basically no reason (starving dwarves stole food, can you believe their nerve?). Sure they don’t want to directly kill them like the goblins do, but is rotting in a cell really that much of an upgrade over a quick death? And once the dragon is dead and the dwarves and men are having a stupid (but kinda legitimate) battle over the treasure, the elves show up and pretty much declare it is theirs because….

They’re assholes.

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you over how pretty I am."
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over how pretty I am.”

As much as some people like to claim that the Hobbit is a perfect book and that all problems came from Satan (Peter Jackson), the reality is that this was one of the biggest problems in the story. If we are to believe that the elves are good guys (and Lord of the Rings seems to say so) then they cannot be so easily compared to the bad guys.

A good way to do this while staying true to the book is to keep Thranduil a jerk while adding two elf protagonists who are a bit more relatable. Enter Legolas and Tauriel:

People can make jokes but this is the scene of the movie that argues that the elves should actually you know, do something positive.
People can make jokes but this is the scene of the movie that argues that the elves should actually you know, do something positive.

Sure, neither one is in the book but where else (as prince of the Mirkwood elves) would Legolas be and again, it is nice to have a character calling the elves out on their hypocrisy.

The other great contribution that Tauriel makes is Kíli . Now, I say this as a huge Tolkien fan and as someone who loved the book: I never gave a sh*t when Fíli and Kíli died. I know I know, burn me at the stake. The Hobbit was a book about Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and twelve other dwarves with different names who were all basically also Thorin. There was no real difference between them. Yes, some were fatter and some were taller and some were older but really: who cared. It is a mark of poor storytelling to have so many named characters with so little character between them. Yes, I just criticized Tolkien: deal with it.

Even with three movies, can you name all the dwarves?
Even with three movies, can you name all the dwarves?

When I saw the Battle of the Five Armies in theaters, I heard something I did not expect. Gasping. People gasped when Kíli died. Now, people who read the book would not gasp since they would know it was coming. Generally also, people do not gasp at the deaths of characters they do not care about. What then could be the reason?

Tauriel made people care. The love story made people care. Was it a perfect love story? Not by any stretch, but it was better than Twilight and it worked the way that Jackson had designed it to. By including a new character, he was able to add to the character of the dwarves.

Okay... I will give you that. The dialogue in this scene sounded right out of high school.
Okay… I will give you that. The dialogue in this scene sounded right out of high school.

So while she was a lady, Tauriel was added for more than just her gender difference. She improves upon weak areas of the book and allowed for people who have never read the Hobbit as children to care a little bit more about this Middle Earth journey. Was the addition a successful one? Maybe or maybe not (that’s a matter of opinion), but it was a defensible one.

Part Two here.

There and Back Again: Reviewing The Hobbit (The Battle of the Five Armies)

Yesterday I had a rare and unexpected privilege. I was able to watch all three films of Peter Jackson‘s The Hobbit trilogy, back-to-back-to-back. I say rare because cinemas do not offer this kind of experience nearly enough, and unexpected because: they’re good, really good together. Certain films, even great ones like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, gain very little from the trilogy viewing experience. They were created as separate entities and each tell their own story. In the case of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, however, the experience is much like The Lord of the Rings. All three films feel like they are parts to the same giant epic. The Unexpected Journey introduces audiences back to Middle Earth; The Desolation of Smaug escalates the conflict while building to the climax; and then there is The Battle of the Five Armies – what an ending it is.

In a film that echoes the overall strengths and weaknesses of the trilogy it concludes, The Battle of the Five Armies is over-the-top spectacle fueled by the simple heart of the story it is telling. Those out there who lamented the limited presence of actor Martin Freeman in The Desolation of Smaug can breathe a sigh: he is much more involved in this film. Indeed, it can be argued that the best scenes of the movie come before the blockbuster titular battle sequence.

One of the benefits of three movies allowed Jackson to develop individual personalities and presences for each of the dwarves in the company. This allows for more investment in the battle.
One of the benefits of three movies allowed Jackson to develop individual personalities and presences for each of the dwarves in the company. This allows for more investment in the battle.

By breaking the story into three portions, Peter Jackson is able to give each their own feel. The Battle of the Five Armies plays out like a tragedy, with all sides building to a war that few truly want. Each leader has their own personality but is depicted as small in the events that are rapidly spiraling out of control. Whether it is the gold-driven insanity of Richard Armitage‘s Thorin, the reluctant responsibility of Luke Evans‘ Bard, or the seeming indifference of Lee Pace‘s Thranduil: every leader talks of peace while preparing for war.

Bard and Legolas are two of the more reasonable voices leading to the battle.
Bard and Legolas are two of the more reasonable voices leading to the battle.

Here is where the not-so-subtle moral message of movie is hammered down. Greed is bad. Gold is not worth more than lives and the world would be a better place if more people treated jewels with as little value as hobbits do. With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still fresh in everyone’s minds, there are definite parallels to be drawn. A war fought solely over money while many innocents are caught and killed in the crossfire: not as fantastical as we’d all like it to be.

Certain cynics have already dismissed Jackson’s newest trilogy as a Lord of the Rings cash-in, but after watching it all play out it is clear that this was not the case. The reality is a situation very similar to 2005’s King Kong. Peter Jackson has the spirit of a child, the love of a fan… and enough money to create Middle Earth in his own image. While The Hobbit trilogy does take its bombastic nature to a fault, there is a purity running underneath it, and a sincerity that is greatly appreciated.

The controversial addition of Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel ultimately adds heart and even more of a sense of loss in The Battle of the Five Armies.
The controversial addition of Evangeline Lilly‘s Tauriel ultimately adds heart and even more of a sense of loss in The Battle of the Five Armies.

Lightning may not have struck twice, but it was close. In the end, The Battle of the Five Armies serves as an immensely fun and satisfying conclusion to a trilogy done well enough to stand on its own. As the ending credits roll, one cannot help but feel a sense of sadness and gratitude at the sheer spectacle that is Peter Jackson and his Middle Earth epics. It is only a shame that the story is now truly done.