Chapter 7, Revisited
So, here we resume our chapter revisit. Film one ended exactly one-third of the way into the story, at pretty much where I expected it would with the end of “the adventures of the Misty Mountains”. When we look back at the Peter Jackson productions of the “Lord of the Rings” films, we notice that each installment begins with a prologue of some sorts usually in the form of a flashback the gives us a little more information about the story itself or a particular character.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (TDOS) opens with a brief meeting between Thorin and Gandalf at the Inn of The Prancing Pony. This meeting, having taken place about one year before the party’s arrival at the Carrock gives the audience a better understanding of how this quest originated. The source material for this scene comes from a work entitled “The Quest For Erebor” that was published after J.R.R. Tolkien’s death as part of an anthology called “Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth”. I previously discussed this story in an older post so I won’t repeat myself here. I had expected this material to show up somewhere in this trilogy and, after now having seen some of it for myself, I decided to return to “The Quest For Erebor” and see how the depictions compared.
The original account has Gandalf coming upon Thorin in Bree by happenstance and the Dwarf was already harboring “plans of battle and war” to take Erebor by force. Here Gandalf needs to persuade him to take a more stealthy approach. In this prologue scene, Thorin is actually hesitant to take up the quest and fulfill his destiny as King Under the Mountain. He is being stalked by would-be assassins (one of whom is actually the father of Bill Ferny!). Thorin’s reluctance to seek power is reminiscent of Aragorn’s portrayal in Jackson’s “Rings” series. The wizard, however, does manage to convince Thorin to take on the quest with a new very specific goal in mind: the recovery of the Arkenstone which would serve as a symbol of his birthright. As I mentioned in my review of TDOS, this emphasis on the Arkenstone will likely come into play down the road.
Flash forward to “one year later” and Bilbo is playing his part in the company’s escape down the Carrock by keeping a look out for the pursuing Orcs. When Bilbo returns to the Dwarves he reports the presence of a large bear in their vicinity. Gandalf does not share any thoughts other than the need to find shelter and leads them to a specific dwelling. The bear in question begins a pursuit and the the party manages to bar themselves inside a cottage while narrowly escaping being torn apart. It is here that Gandalf shares with his companions (and the audience) that the bear was in fact the owner of the home and that this individual, Beorn, is a skin-changer who will likely return soon in his human form. At this point, the Dwarves are able to enjoy a needed rest while they await the coming of the dawn.
Going back to my original post, I had commented that I considered the entire scope of Chapter Seven as being unnecessary to be included in the film. When the announcement of this being a three film project came to light I definitely expected to see Beorn in some capacity and even wondered if the scene would need to be expanded given that the movies would be about nine hours total. All in all, however, Jackson skates through this part fairly quickly. They dispensed with the lengthy and rather comical introduction of the Dwarves (two at a time while Gandalf recounts their adventure) which is more in keeping with this version's darker tone. The time frame is compressed to one evening and part of a day, there is no Dwarf song as they wait for their host to return and the animals (no dogs or sheep) were almost incidental to the scene.
What is established - and this is very important for the next film - is Beorn’s hatred for the Orcs. Beorn’s people were enslaved by the goblins and he is the sole survivor of his race. He even mentions Azog by name and seems to hold a particular vendetta against him. It is because of this that I expect that Beorn’s role in the Battle of the Five Armies to not only be prominent but perhaps even more fully developed. In the book, it is Beorn who kills Bolg, who is the leader of the Orcs and Azog’s son. Since Azog is present in the movie and has been established as the primary villain it is likely that this will shape up to be a Beorn v. Azog showdown in that battle.
The producers had indicated that Beorn’s transformation scene would be a major special effects sequence. We do see him change from bear to man in silhouette. And I wonder if we won’t see something more elaborate in the next installment. One other observation I will make about Beorn. In appearance he looks very much like the top half of the centaurs from the Harry Potter film franchise. He is very lean and muscular. Though very tall, he does not look so much as a “giant” of a man as he is described in the book.
Once the group finishes dinner, they are ready to depart. Unlike in the book, it is not necessary for Beorn to confirm their story as he has seen the Orcs for himself. So, that very morning, he sends them off with ponies (and a horse for Gandalf) and they head towards Mirkwood. Now, in the original story, Gandalf departs with very little explanation after advising them to send the ponies back before entering. He never tells them where or when they will meet again. But they do agree that the Dwarves should follow an alternate path through the forest rather than the main road, which has since fallen into disrepair. But here on film, there is no discussion of any particular path or their reason for taking it. And in this version, Gandalf at first seems intent on entering with them - and he does have them at first send the horse back with the ponies.
And as soon as he enters, he encounters graffiti of the type that represents the Black Speech of Mordor. At the same moment he receives a “vision” communication from Galadriel that he must investigate what this dark force in Mirkwood. Bilbo, also, briefly envisions something that looks a lot like the “Eye of Sauron” effect that we have become familiar with. Gandalf suddenly decides to depart, calls back his horse and tells the Dwarves not to enter the mountain until he joins them again. Before he leaves, it appears that Bilbo is prepared to reveal his discovery of the Ring. He goes so far as to tell Gandalf that he "found something in the goblins’ cave”. But he then hesitates at the wizard’s question of what it was and says simply “My courage”. To which Gandalf tells him he will need it. This incident is meant to illustrate that the Ring is already beginning to take a hold of his thoughts and making him possessive and secretive, unusual traits for a hobbit like Bilbo.
As Bilbo, Thorin and company enter Mirkwood, Gandalf heads South.
At this point I want to address some new material that Peter Jackson added to keep Gandalf on screen. Tolkien’s original story doesn’t bring back Gandalf until the final battle.
Here, however, he decides to find the place where the Nine Nazgul are supposedly buried only to find that the bars covering their “tombs" are broken outward from the inside. It appears that he climbs some sort of rocky formation to access this place but it definitely seems that it is a place apart from Dol Guldur itself. Now, here Jackson takes some license because the remains of the Witch King of Angmar and his fellow Nazgul were supposedly located somewhere along the Barrow Downs in Eriador (as this scene was not made for the Lord of the Rings films, there is no continuity error here).
Radagast appears at this point and Gandalf is determined to investigate Dol Guldur. So he sends the Brown Wizard to seek out Galadriel with the information he has discovered – that the Necromancer may indeed be Sauron coming back to power. This will likely be the catalyst for a scene in the next film where Dol Guldur is attacked by the White Council. I will discuss more of Gandalf’s mission in this film in a later chapter revisit.