Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


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).

The big difference from the book here is that it is while Bilbo’s attention is drawn towards the Lonely Mountain in the distance the spiders of Mirkwood close in to capture and tie up the Dwarves.

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.

Now Bilbo doesn’t use his Ring's invisibility too long (as it doesn’t work as well on film as it does in the book) but he is quite adroit with Sting in fighting the spiders. Indeed, as in the book, we have him give this new name to his sword at this moment. But there is one other aspect of this scene that is an addition by the filmmakers. When J.R.R. Tolkien first wrote “The Hobbit” he had not yet developed the “personality” and power of the Ring as it was illustrated in the later trilogy. Here I see that Jackson appears to purposely show the audience how the Ring “works” on Bilbo throughout this adventure.

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


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.

In the meantime, we return to Mirkwood.