The Hobbit as prequel: my take on Desolation of Smaug


Trying to make a trilogy out of The Hobbit felt stretched “like butter scraped over too much bread.” While I really enjoyed the first two Hobbit movies, those two movies represented about 300 pages of the book while Desolation of Smaug covers the last 50. The dragon scenes were the best part. The Battle of the Five Armies took up most of the story and felt like they had been done – and better – in Lord of the Rings. It also could be that I am just too much of a Tolkien nerd for Desolation of Smaug to work for me.

Because Lord of the Rings was already out there Jackson had to present a different Hobbit story than the one Tolkien wrote. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit for his kids. It was published in 1937, but in 1951 Tolkien rewrote the part about Bilbo finding the ring as Riddles in the Dark because he was writing Lord of the Rings and realized that readers would discover the significance of the ring in his new book so he changed the tone but didn’t reveal the true nature of the ring in The Hobbit.

The significance of Bilbo’s possession of the ring is already clear to theater audiences who see The Hobbit series because they are likely to have seen Lord of the Rings. This knowledge changes the way the audience processes the story. Jackson’s Hobbit becomes an origin story for Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien’s Hobbit is not.

I’m glad I read The Hobbit first because part of the horror of the ring is it’s deceptive power on Bilbo and on Smeagol before him. The impact of discovery in the scene when Frodo and Gandalf confirm that Bilbo’s ring is indeed the One Ring is more powerful coming after innocently enjoy Bilbo’s perspective on his magic ring and causes the reader to experience the same deceptionScreenwriters Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh challenge was to adapt The Hobbit to a point of view that would accommodate what the audience already knew and to embellished the story to make three movies out of a story that would work best as one or two.

Some of the additions and changes I liked a lot. Writers invented Tauriel because Tolkien didn’t write a strong female or a romantic subplot into The Hobbit. While that was acceptable for the 1930’s and even the 1950’s and 1960’s, a 21st century fantasy blockbuster needs a kickass female elf and some sexual tension. Especially if it’s going to be a video game. Tauriel’s romance with Kili and rejection of Legolas is a good set up for Legolas’ prejudice against dwarves in Lord of the Rings – as if having Thranduil as a father isn’t enough. Anyway Legolas always makes a battle a little more fun…and in this one he actually ran out of arrows!

I also really enjoyed meeting Radagast the Brown. Tolkien invented five wizards for Middle Earth but didn’t include them all in The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s back story for Gandalf (and Saruman and Radagast for that matter) is that they are Maiar sent to Middle Earth to fight against the evil that is Sauron. In Christian theological terms, they are like some lower rank of angel whose mission on Middle Earth is to help men and elves defend against the evil that is Sauron.

Which leads to my biggest problem – besides the pace – with Desolation of Smaug. The whole urgency of Lord of the Rings is that Sauron’s taken human form and the whole job of Gandalf is to know that and act on it. The Necromancer is mentioned but never seen in the book. Seeing him seems to contradict the movies since they are set 60 years after The Hobbit. Having Gandalf surprised and captured seems contradictory to who and what Gandalf is supposed to be.

I think Lord of the Rings is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. None of the Hobbit movie come close but some individual scenes like the dwarves invading Bag End and seeing some of the characters like Radagast and Thorin fleshed out did make the Hobbit journey mostly worth the trip. Billy Boyd’s good-bye song was a nice finish.





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