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Old 10-28-2015, 07:52 AM   #1
Zigūr
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Adaptation by Vague Recollection

I was talking to a friend about "The Hobbit" films today and he was asking me to remind him about what happens in Lake-Town in the film as opposed to the book. We talked about it for a bit, and I found myself thinking about how little resemblance Lake-Town in the second film has to the book.

Consider the following:
Book: The Dwarves openly announce themselves
Film: The Dwarves hide and enter the town in secret, with much climbing through toilets and so forth

Book: Many Lake Men are impressed or excited by the idea of the King Under the Mountain returning, and to curry favour the Master puts them up in comfort and style with gifts and servants
Film: The film switches focus to Bard and his family, and Bard's investigation into the truth of Thorin's claims, as well as his power struggle with the Master. Meanwhile, the Dwarves try to steal weapons from the town armoury (for some reason) and are caught; Thorin gives a big speech about gold to win their favour and the Master helps them for that reason; his motivations are comparable to the book

Book: With the help of the Lake Men, the Dwarves set off up the River Running for the Mountain
Film: The Dwarves set off alone, and some of them even stay behind

Apart from, perhaps, the Master's motivation, the entire sequence bears astonishingly little relation to the book. Now, the argument would be, of course, that the filmmakers told the story that they wanted to tell, and thus they changed it. That's reasonable enough.

Yet thinking about sequences like this, I can't help but feel like to an extent this is the product of a screenwriting conversation that goes like this:
"What happens after the Elvenking?"
"Lake-Town, isn't it?"
"Yeah. What happens then?"
"Um..."
"We have to introduce Bard, so what if the Dwarves sneak in on his barge?"
"Yes, and they can get caught stealing weapons from the town armoury."
"That would be very dramatic. Now, isn't there a leader or someone in Lake Town?"

You get the idea. One thing that has always struck me about Jackson's films as adaptations is their inconsistent approach. On one level, they follows the narratives closely, more or less including all the main "stages" of the story on a level of surface memory of the individual episodes "Trolls - Rivendell - Goblin Town - Wolves - Beorn - Mirkwood" etc. Yet the individual details of those episodes often bear little to no relation whatsoever to the text.

It leaves me thinking of these films as "adaptation by hazy memory", like a script written by someone who had an above-average knowledge of the narrative, but hadn't read it in a long time, so they remembered only the broad strokes and not the details; as if, had they remembered or considered what Professor Tolkien wrote closely, that there was no need to fill in the details with their own inventions, as he had done so already, but they had forgotten.

Has this occurred to anyone else? In hindsight I think it's one of the things I find most unsatisfying about the films, and inadequate about protestations of their "faithfulness" - do they retain superficial elements because these signify the narrative in the popular consciousness, but ignore the specifics because they have forgotten they exist?

Are there any other comparable moments from either trilogy? I think "The Lord of the Rings" might be less guilty of this than "The Hobbit", featuring compression over invention, but parts like the Trolls, like Mirkwood and like the last stage of the journey to the Mountain seem to feature this "vague adaptation" quality quite substantially.
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Old 10-29-2015, 11:24 AM   #2
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An interesting theory that has some attraction.

However, I have to disagree. I think they believed they were "improving" it. I cite the existence of Tauriel. There is no way anybody (not under the influence of powerful brain-addling drugs) would recollect the existence of a female elven warrior when one did not exist in the story.
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Old 10-29-2015, 03:32 PM   #3
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However, I have to disagree. I think they believed they were "improving" it. I cite the existence of Tauriel. There is no way anybody (not under the influence of powerful brain-addling drugs) would recollect the existence of a female elven warrior when one did not exist in the story.
Well, of course I didn't mean in every conceivable case. We know Tauriel was an intentional invention of the filmmakers. Certainly her insertion into various points is a clear example of intentional alteration to the existing narrative.

I'm talking about the "episodes" of the film and how they fail to adapt almost any of the specific details of the source material. It's said that when shooting "The Lord of the Rings", Peter Jackson had a copy of the book with him at all times, and I think generally, while there are changes, many more of the details are retained. At the same time, of course, there are moments where they seem to take a "filling in the blanks" approach when there are in fact no blanks to be filled - the characters time-wasting in Edoras in both "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King", for instance. I wonder if he had a copy of "The Hobbit" with him at all times, because I can't think it would have been very useful given that, transition from setting to setting aside, the events in those settings bear almost no relation whatsoever to what actually happens in the book.
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Old 10-30-2015, 08:25 AM   #4
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The sad thing is that the changes really took away from the gravity of Thorin's moral decay in the book.
In the book, the Lake-Towners - aside from the Master - treat the Dwarves as returning heroes and honour them with every courtesy. But in the movie, they seem more mean, more fickle, and an attempt is even made to justify Thorin's betrayal of them.

In the book, I saw no justification. Especially not when Thorin actually begins firing at messengers - an act which, by the standards of both the Medieval age and both Tolkien's and our own, is highly dishonourable. And, really, it's not "Dragon-sickness", or any such thing, I think it's pretty clear that it's his true character shining through - which is a far more interesting narrative to me than a sudden mood swing, and an even more sudden swing back.

Lake-Town, to me, felt as though they had been swindled by Thorin, charmed by all his pleases and thank you's and at your services, but ultimately as expendable as Bilbo himself.
I just feel that as the goal of the filmmakers was to turn Thorin into an action hero, they felt the need to introduce moral ambiguity about Lake-Town, so - at Thorin's eventual betrayal - you could think Oh, he has a point, really, doesn't he?
But come on, Tolkien's book was hardly painted in strokes of black and white, was it? There were hidden depths to be found, and I don't think those who made the movie saw them between the lines.
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Old 10-30-2015, 09:08 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zigūr View Post
I wonder if he had a copy of "The Hobbit" with him at all times, because I can't think it would have been very useful given that, transition from setting to setting aside, the events in those settings bear almost no relation whatsoever to what actually happens in the book.
I think this again gets back to the fundamental problem of trying to scrape his butter over too much bread. It didn't matter if he had the book with him, what he was trying to do was not particularly compatible with the story in the book.

I'm still convinced that Jackson and Co. don't have much respect for Tolkien as a storyteller and mostly view him as a meal ticket for themselves.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron
But in the movie, they seem more mean, more fickle, and an attempt is even made to justify Thorin's betrayal of them.

and

they felt the need to introduce moral ambiguity about Lake-Town, so - at Thorin's eventual betrayal - you could think Oh, he has a point, really, doesn't he?
I think this was an attempt to make Lake-town more "gritty" and "realistic" for its own sake.

Moral ambiguity is so in vogue right now that injecting it into anything and everything is practically a requirement.
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Old 11-01-2015, 06:21 AM   #6
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Question Moral ambiguity already existed in 'The Hobbit'

Aaron and Kuruharan, I was interested in what you had to say about the possible attempt by Jackson to fit 'moral ambiguity' into The Hobbit. I had thought about that possibility myself, which angered me; because moral ambiguity already existed in the book. All Jackson, or anyone else, needed to have done was to have read it properly, and followed the instructions...

The moral ambiguity can be particularly seen in what happens after Smaug is killed by Bard, his death destroying Lake-town. In a more 'traditional' story, the death of a dragon would have been the end, everyone living happily ever after.

This does not happen in The Hobbit, something I noted with particular interest when I first read the book. The row then emerges with Bard legitimately claiming a share of the treasure, first as a reward for the killing of Smaug, second as heir of Girion; and the more controversial claim on behalf of the Lake-men for a share of the treasure due to the destruction of their town by Smaug, despite the fact that the treasure was not the dragon's.

Thorin refuses to consider any of the claim, due to having heard that some of the Lake-men blamed him and the dwarves for deliberately stirring up Smaug against them. Also, Bard came with an army to the borders of his kingdom, along with an army from the Elvenking, who had imprisoned Thorin and his people.

Bard, while dropping the claim on behalf of the Lake-people, claims a twelfth of the treasure, as slayer of Smaug and heir of Girion, threatening war. This happens because Thorin attacks Bard's messenger, something Tolkien obviously blames him for, but showing him to have been sorely provoked by the messenger referring to Thorin as 'calling himself' King under the Mountain, questioning the legitimacy of his title.

This indicates, in my opinion, that Bard and Thorin, while the legitimate heirs to monarchs, have due to circumstances received no training for and have no experience of ruling. The Elvenking, while obviously greedy for treasure, later tries to restrain matters, perhaps because he has had both training for and experience of ruling.

Bilbo tries to resolve things by giving Bard and the Elvenking the Arkenstone, to aid them in their bargaining for a share of the treasure. Bilbo has a right to the Arkenstone, it being the reward he was allowed to chose for his services under an agreed contract. But such is Thorin and other dwarves' anger at the stone being in the hands of others that an attack is planned on the Lake-men and elves, only stopped by the attack of goblins and wolves under Bolg. Despite dwarves, elves and men uniting to fight these invaders and winning, one of the casualties is Thorin, the book's most prominent character after Bilbo.

If all this isn't 'moral ambiguity' I don't know what is!

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Old 11-01-2015, 07:46 PM   #7
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I had thought about that possibility myself, which angered me; because moral ambiguity already existed in the book. All Jackson, or anyone else, needed to have done was to have read it properly, and followed the instructions...
Exactly. The book is packed with complexities, and Professor Tolkien, despite his unjustified reputation for verbosity, had a knack exemplified in The Hobbit for conveying a great deal of detail and characterisation in relatively few words. In the space of a few pages we receive a vivid picture of Lake Town and the characterisation of the Master: a businesslike man whose practical and rather cynical view of the world is challenged by the romantic intrusion of the lost past in his midst in the shape of Thorin and Company.

The films have their own details, but they overlook the quite substantial amount of detail that already exists; it's what makes me look back on these sequences in the films as a "retelling" of events that might be elaborated upon in the mind of someone who remembered the episodes in broad strokes but had forgotten the details and thus assumed that no such details existed.

Or perhaps, of course, they did read all this and simply chose to ignore it.
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