It’s been a while. Yes, life has been getting in the way – sort of; yes, it is day 10 of NaNoWriMo – definitely; BUT, my laptop also died – bugger. Not just technologically, or spiritually, but physically. If you recall an earlier post, I remarked on how a lot of my time is spent writing graduate job applications, or researching for novelling, and at the moment should be NaNoing. Really I should. But I’m not able to, to the extent that I wish, which saddens me. While I should have a new one at the end of the week(ish), I’m trying to use various other machines/my phone, and I’ve gone back to the old-fashioned method for some. I also found the time to watch a DVD in this, which I should be talking about instead of this preamble.
This past week has seen the new trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies go online, and the release of the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I have never made it a secret that I adore Tolkien’s work, and how much love I have for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but sometimes I am bemused by the less warm reception for his The Hobbit adaptation that exists in some circles. I share some of the gripes people have with it’s higher resolution/greater defined image on screen, computer-game like visuals and sped-up travelling, but it adds to the fairy-tale nature that was The Hobbit when it was published. The bottom line is, (whispers,) I do actually like PJ’s adaptation. Seriously.
Tolkien’s work was huge, a rich tapestry of characters and cultures, language and art, history and legend. For those who have, as I do, the three volume Harper edition of LOTR, you will probably be familiar with the treasure trove that is the appendices. They are as fascinating, if not more so, than the main narrative story, because they add depth, they make things clear that you might have thought “Huh?” to when you first read it. It also gives insights to why characters disappear only to reappear unexplained/unexpected. Much like the Journey (sorry). There are sections in the appendices that you do think would be great were they actually integrated, giving the more rounded story for the serious fan while not taking away from the more casual. And this is where my first true applause comes in.
Like Tolkien when he revised The Hobbit to fit a little better with the darker Middle Earth of LOTR, although some revisions were deemed too dark and so rejected, PJ has followed a similar path. To make references in the original trilogy fit into place, to unify the entire series (other than cast, crew and characters), he has – quite rightly in my eyes – raided the appendices and brought relevant sections to the screen. Huzzah! And this is why the Extended Editions are the superior product, however enjoyable the cinema cut is at Christmas time: it takes us deeper into Middle Earth, and colours in what was left an outline. The Elves of Mirkwood fit into this to an extent, because they have their one chapter as foes, then reappear later as a foe before becoming a friend. The film simply expands this, making it make sense to us. For example, the appendices tell us who the Elvenking at the time was (Thranduil), and tell us when his son Legolas was born; well before the events of The Hobbit, so it’s not too much to assume he might be present. Tauriel is an interesting case, and I suspect for many she is a “Marmite character” – you love her or you hate her. I love her. With the wonderful scene between Thorin and Thranduil, we see two proud dynasties at an impasse, trying to push one another’s buttons, to make them yield. Legolas has some of Thranduil’s traits (obviously), but Tauriel is the voice of reason to act as a foil to them, and it seems to me (and I hope it proves so in TBOTFA – already booked my ticket(!)) that her wisdom will be a bridging force between the “Do not think I won’t kill you Dwarf” Legolas of TDOS to the less grudging Legolas of TFOTR (despite Gimli, no doubt thinking of Gloin in Thranduil’s cells), the more bantering Legolas of TTT and then to the “side by side with a friend” Legolas of TROTK. Tauriel is giving us an opportunity to see the enmity of the Dwarves and the Elves thaw, more widely regarding Legolas and Mirkwood with the wider world and, of course, with the added Kili plotline. On top of that, she has some truly memorable moments. And kicks ass, as they say across the pond.
But PJ has done more than that, and this is my second true applause: there are moments in the films that are lifted from the Norse mythology that influenced Tolkien so heavily, and are so beautifully rendered. A particular standout moment is at the end of An Unexpected Journey, where Thorin, who could have stayed on the fallen tree, rises to his feet to face Azog despite how forlorn it appears, like the heroes in the old sagas. Those better acquainted with this mythology will understand it better than I can explain it, but it felt so right for the character. And yes, I appreciate that Azog dies at the Battle of Azanulbizar at the hands of Dain, but I can live with that change. Somehow it gives credence to the hatred of the Dwarves for Orcs, and gives us a belated/shifted – depending on your point of view – War of the Dwarves and Orcs as a driving force, an ongoing struggle if you will. A change made for film-making purposes I assume, like the Elves of Lothlorien effectively standing in for the Grey Company in TTT for reasons of economy and not confusing the viewer, but like I said, I can live with it. Why? Because PJ is still telling us a great story: not a good one, but a great one: his one. When we read books when we are younger, we often have this image in our minds of how we see it. I believe this is PJ showing us how he imagined Tolkien’s story when he read it. And sometimes you make additions that may not be there originally to bridge changes that might be too significant to believe, or increase the fantastical nature of it – much like the oral tradition in centuries long since gone.
The Extended Edition is also great because Beorn finally gets the glory that was lost when DOS was originally cut for the cinema release: along with Gollum’s riddles and Smaug’s playing, Beorn’s house is one of the great passages Tolkien wrote, and I was really excited about seeing it realised, so thank you PJ! I won’t go into it, but as a politics graduate I also appreciated the commentary on government and leadership running through the film, cleverly slipped in alongside some of the touches of humour – like the best children’s stories, there is the face value product for the younger generation to enjoy, but an added subtext that increases the pleasure for the older. Stunning: I think that might be the adjective I’m looking for.
I really hope that TBOTFA isn’t going to our #onelasttime, as like many Tolkienists I have a favourite amongst his works I would love to see realised on screen: in my case, it’s The Children of Hurin. For me it’s the darkest, most tragic and utterly compelling of his Middle Earth works but also one of the most powerful. But if TBOTFA is to be the end, then I believe it will be such an end as to be worthy of song. Roll on 12th December.
And then the Extended release.