With The Hobbit being released next month, people are surely overjoyed that Peter Jackson is returning to direct the prequel to one of their favorite series of movies. There are others that are a bit more cautious, however. While I’m not pessimistic about the films, I do wonder what changes Peter Jackson will make to The Hobbit trilogy that will infuriate fans of Tolkien’s work. Perhaps he’ll have Legolas be the one who shoots down Smaug instead of Bard? Maybe Bilbo will meet 10 year old Aragorn in Rivendell? Maybe Peter will go the George Lucas route and have that same 10 year old prequel character be a major player in the story? I jest with these suggestions but it is worth wondering what liberties will be taken with the source material. After all, The Hobbit’s a shorter book than Fellowship of the Ring and yet it’s going to be a film trilogy.
Despite this, there’s not much reason to be pessimistic about Jackson directing The Hobbit. The majority of changes in Lord of the Rings actually made a good bit of sense. Having Arwen find Frodo and take him to Rivendell instead of Glorfindel? Makes sense. No reason to introduce a minor character (Glorfindel’s a more major player in the mythos altogether but in Lord of the Rings, he’s a minor character) for a one-off sequence when that role can be filled by someone who needs more on-screen characterization. Faramir taking the Hobbits to Osgiliath because he wants the Ring for Gondor? OK. Don’t like the change (especially to a character Tolkien likened himself to) but the reasoning for it is sound. They already had one Man prove worthy enough not to take the Ring for himself (Aragorn at the end of Fellowship), two would weaken the influence of the Ring. Frodo telling Sam to go home? The moment itself added a bit of drama, it was Sam’s reaction that ruined that change.
And that’s what this blurb is going to be about: changes Peter Jackson made to the movie from the book that make absolutely no sense and could have been handled better. I realize Mr. Jackson is the one who has all the money and fame…but that doesn’t make him immune to criticism.
These changes will be listed chronologically and first up is Aragorn not getting Anduril in Fellowship of the Ring. Aragorn’s entire motivation for reclaiming the throne of Gondor was so he could marry Arwen. So in that scene where they pledge their love to each other before the Council of Elrond, I figured Aragorn would recant his previous reluctance towards becoming King. Instead, the sword is not forged until the 3rd movie. This leads to an awkward scene where Elrond rides to Dunharrow just to deliver a sword. There also never seemed to be a moment in the movies in-between that Aragorn decided that hey, maybe he should give this whole “King of Gondor” thing a try. As it is in the movie, Aragorn never seems to evolve beyond reluctant heir who would actually be quite a good king if he bothered to. Despite being a major protagonist, he feels like a very stagnant character. Instead of this awkwardness, let’s have the sword reforged in Rivendell before the Fellowship leaves. Aragorn can then take it, intent on being King so he can marry the one he loves. The rest of his character development would focus on being a leader. This leadership learning experience would not only come from leading the Fellowship post-Moria but also in Rohan, where he advises King Theoden and inspires the men at Helm’s Deep.
The Two Towers might be my favorite movie but that doesn’t it exempt it from some critique. Towers is home to the most egregious changes, one of them being the Lothlorien Elves arriving at Helm’s Deep. Perhaps it’s cheating to include knowledge of the books but Lothlorien was under attack from Sauron’s forces in Dol Guldur. It’s really nice of the Elves that they are able to send a company of archers under Haldir’s command to Rohan. Haldir speaks of an alliance between Men and Elves that existed long ago and the reason for him being there is to show that long-dead alliance has been resurrected. Perhaps he’s speaking in broad terms but Rohan did not even exist as a nation the last time Sauron was around, so technically speaking, there’s no alliance between the Men of Rohan and these Elves. An alternative to this scene would be having Aragorn give a moving speech to rally the Men of Rohan (similar to the one he gives at the Black Gate). Show that while the odds are against these Men, they’ll fight to the last and have hope and faith that things will work out (which it’ll eventually do, as Gandalf shows up with Eomer). Perhaps if Dol Guldur is destroyed in The Hobbit, this change will be less irritating.
While the Elves at Helm’s Deep is a more nitpicky than some of the other changes, having the Entmoot sequence be completely pointless is a silly deviation. In the books, Treebeard and the Entmoot deduce that they do need to go to war with Saruman. In the movies, they decide not to and Pippin has to trick Treebeard into taking himself and Merry south to Isengard. When Treebeard comes to the freshly-made clearing of all his dead tree friends, he lets out a shout and the Ents all come out to sack Isengard. If all Treebeard has to do is shout to overrule the Entmoot’s decision, then what was the point of the Entmoot? Does Treebeard have some sort of supreme veto power that he can exercise? If the idea is to give the Ents a character arc, there were better ways to do this. If the Entmoot has to be stubborn in the films, why not have Quickbeam and some other younger Ents voice their frustration? Have them make arguments that’ll persuade the older Ents to fight. Merry does this in the film but Treebeard ignores him. Why the change?
Notice how all the changes mentioned in Two Towers so far have come towards the end? This is what happens when you have to rewrite the ending to it. The last change is a result the sequence of Faramir taking the Hobbits to Osgiliath. Now I sympathize with fans of the book who complain about the change in Faramir’s character but I see the logic behind it. We already saw one Man reject the lure of the Ring’s power (Aragorn near the end of Fellowship). If Faramir had done so, the Ring’s influence would have been lessened because now we have two guys who can reject it. While I don’t like the changes made to a character Tolkien compared himself to, the logic of the film makers’ wins out here. Faramir taking Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath is not a problem, it’s the scene on the bridge where Frodo nearly puts on the Ring in clear sight of a Nazgul!
This scene raises all kinds of question. This Ringwraith could fly back to Barad-dur and tell Sauron he saw a Halfling with the One Ring and give him a full description of Frodo’s likeness. This is the same Frodo who was stabbed in the wraith world on Weathertop. Wouldn’t this discovery prompt Sauron to send all his available forces to assault Osgiliath, instead of biding his time and only sending “enough” like he does at the Pelennor Fields battle? Why would Sauron be fooled by thinking Pippin had the Ring when Pippin uses the Palantir in the next movie? If changes are going to be made to the source material, they need to make sense from both a writing standpoint and character perspective.
It was mentioned earlier that Frodo telling Sam in to leave in Return of the King wasn’t a bad change, it was what resulted from it. I will stand by that statement because the scene of Sam going down the stairs of Cirith Ungol sobbing is a blatant out of character moment. Of the entire Fellowship (including Frodo himself), Samwise Gamgee is the most steadfast and loyal. If Sam didn’t listen to Frodo when Frodo told him to go back at the end of Fellowship, why would Sam listen to Frodo on the border of Mordor? Sam nearly drowned in the river just to fulfill the “Don’t you leave him” promise he made to Gandalf. If Sam was willing to risk his own life to stick with Frodo, why would he change his mind in the 3rd act? Cut the scene of Sam going down the Stairs of Cirith Ungol out. The next time Sam is on-screen, he’s back to fight Shelob, save Frodo and prove that he’s sticking with Frodo to the bitter end, regardless of whether Frodo wants him to or not. Instead of a scene that damages Sam’s character, we now have a sequence that reinforces it.
Now the movies are well-regarded. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is both a critical and financial success. That said, even the greatest movies have their flaws, some of which could have been easily addressed. Each of these changes damaged the movies in some regard, either by creating a plot hole that pulls the viewer out of their immersion in the movie or by needlessly damaging a beloved character. There appears to be a solution to each of the above changes that would have fixed those problems but then it’s not like I was part of the process. Anyway, careful (or even eager) fans should keep these changes in mind when The Hobbit is released next month. Maybe people won’t be surprised if a drastic change to the source material is made for film. It’s not like there’s a precedent…