Chapter 8, Revisited
The screen time covering this chapter is extensive but not surprising when you consider that amount of story that unfolds at this point. However, because of the introduction of Legolas and Tauriel as major characters, it has become somewhat longer than expected. In fact, I’ve decided to dedicate a separate post on those two and how they fit into the story which will follow this one, so I won’t cover them here.
First, let me note which parts of Chapter Eight did not make the translation from book to script: crossing the enchanted stream, the appearance of the White Hart, Bombur’s magically-induced slumber and the game of cat and mouse with the mostly unseen Elves. Whether or not Peter Jackson filmed (or even wrote) these sequences we won’t know until the Extended Edition of the DVD. It seems doubtful, however, that any of it was considered for this film. The fact is, Jackson needed to allocate sufficient screen time for the expanded story of Thranduil, Legolas and Tauriel.
As to the presentation of Mirkwood, the journey itself to the point of encountering the spiders is truncated considerably. What took many days in the book was reduced to less than a twenty-four hour period. As most of the audience is not familiar with Mirkwood’s size this shouldn’t be unexpected. Those of us who recall the journey through Moria, beneath the Misty Mountains, in “The Fellowhip of the Ring” probably noticed that Jackson treated this in a similar fashion. A four day’s journey was cropped back to one or two at most. Remember, the audience is full of non-Tolkien fans that could care less about the moments from the book that appear to have been abandoned.
The “feel” of the forest actually reminds me of what Frodo and his friends encountered in the Old Forest just outside of the Shire in the chapter six of "Fellowship". The stuffiness and overall oppressive environment seem to instill in the Dwarves a sense of confusion and a lack of direction. Indeed, as with the Old Forest, the trees almost seem to be interfering with their progress and leading them in circles.
At last, Bilbo needs to climb up a tree to get above the murkiness and get a better fix on what direction they should be headed. As his head pops through the treetops, Bilbo sees a swarm of dark-blue winged butterflies. I’m convinced by the way this is presented that this represents a direct hat-tip to a similar scene in the 1977 Rankin/Bass cartoon “The Hobbit” on Jackson’s part. Even the color matches (in the book they are “dark velvety black” wings).
Now, in Tolkien’s original story, the Mirkwood spiders actually speak (the Common Tongue, no less) and they are able to understand Bilbo as he taunts them with names like “Lazy Lob” and “Attercop”. Here – to the average ears – the spiders communicate with a series of clicks and hisses. However, when Bilbo puts on the Ring and enters the “other” world (known in The Lord of the Rings as the “wraith world” he (and the audience) are able to understand the spiders debating over how and when to suck the blood out of the now web-entrapped Dwarves.
I recall something from Tolkien’s “The Return of the King” that makes this ability seem familiar. Though it was not demonstrated in Peter Jackson’s film, in the chapter entitled “The Choices of Master Samwise” the effect of putting on the Ring at the foot of the tower of Cirith Ungol gives Sam Gamgee the ability to understand the Orcs even though they are using the Black Speech. I believe that Jackson used this condition of being in the “wraith world” to allow Bilbo to understand the spiders. As Sam never put on the Ring in the film “The Return of the King” (probably for a number of reasons), I am guessing that the Director looked back on that experience and decided to incorporate those conditions here. Hopefully, the commentary track or one of the documentaries on the DVD/Blu-Ray edition will shed some light on this.
In the process of fighting off the spiders, Bilbo briefly loses the Ring. As expected he goes into a panic to find it and when he does locate it he discovers his access to it blocked by one of the spiders. Here we see Bilbo uncharacteristically enter into berserker mode and aggressively (if not brutally) dispatch the spider to protect what is now becoming his “precious” Ring. Indeed, Bilbo has found his courage – perhaps more than even he expected. And when he once again regains his Ring, he returns to being the more cautious and tentative version of himself. In fact, I recall that look on his face afterwards seeming to indicate that even he was surprised by his recklessness.
Bilbo frees the Dwarves from the webs but the spiders are still threatening. Enter the Elves. They are all captured (minus Bilbo) and taken to the halls of Thranduil, the King of the Wood-Elves. In the book, only Thorin is captured at first and the rest of the party becomes privy to the powers of the Hobbit’s Ring, and they marvel at his resourcefulness. Only later is the rest of the party taken into custody and marched eastwards to join Thorin. In this version, however, there is only one capture scene and Bilbo keeps his big secret to himself – reinforcing the idea that he is growing mistrustful of others when it comes to his new possession.
The Dwarves are confined to their cells and Thorin is brought before Thranduil (and Legolas) and this scene follows closely to the interrogation Thorin receives in the book. There is some added resentment on the Dwarf’s part as he recalls the moment that we saw in the first film’s prologue where Thranduil and the Elves essentially abandon Thror’s people and the Men of Dale to the wrath of Smaug by not coming to their aid. Now the enmity between the Dwarves and Elves goes back to another Age but there isn’t sufficient time for that kind of exposition here. So, Jackson’s creation of this new “incident” became necessary to explain to the unfamiliar audience why these two races seem to despise each other. Thranduil, of course, blames the Dwarves' riches for attracting the dragon in the first place. Thorin, however, will not reveal his quest though the Elven King seems to guess it anyway.
Between this point and the escape via barrels, there is additional material that involves Legolas and Tauriel that not only contributes to the movie’s running time but will also ripple through future events both here and in the much-anticipated “There and Back Again”. Since these are such wholesale changes to the original story I have addressed the impact of Legolas and Tauriel on “The Hobbit” separately.