Books vs. movies, the age old debate (well, not really age old, but old enough for our purposes). In my younger days I considered myself a book/comic book snob. If Peter Parker wasn’t exactly how he was in the comic books when compared to the movies, well, then, I was just plain pissed off. Like when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man had organic webbing instead of how Stan Lee wrote the character – where Peter Parker had to construct web-slingers (and where Marc Webb’s, The Amazing Spider-Man is more faithful to the comic), I was upset. Or how in the movie, 300, about the Spartans and Thermopylae, where the Spartans did not wear any armor, I went ballistic. Who the fuck really thinks soldiers went into battle with no armor on? Even 2,500 years ago. Anyway, I digress. My point has been proven about what an obnoxious jackass I was.
How did I change my ways, you ask? Simple, I saw the movie, The Hobbit, an Unexpected Journey (part one, at least. Part two hasn’t been released yet at the time of this posting).
In so many many ways, the movie version of The Hobbit outshines the book (and I just re-read the book to make sure I was up to snuff before writing this). There will always be differences when translating stories into different mediums, whether it’s comic books to shows, theater to movies, movies to shows, plays, books, short stories, whatever. That really is just part of the business. Certain things can’t be done with shows/theater/movies because of budget constraints or time that can be done in books. But J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit, is really light on dramatic action, whereas Peter Jackson is a master at holding our attention. By way of example, I offer the following (warning, spoilers below, FYI):
Near the end of the film (and nearly a third into the novel), Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves find themselves trapped at the top of tall trees while wargs (oversized, evil wolves) snap at their feet. To remedy the problem, Gandalf sets pinecones on fire and begins throwing the flaming cones at the wargs until they are lit on fire or run away. Inconveniently, the trees in which the dwarves are perched also catch fire, and Gandalf calls his friends the Eagles to rescue them. Yet in the film, the dwarves, hobbit and wizard all congregate to a single tree that remains untouched by the fire. The weight of the company tips the tree over the edge of the cliff, and leaves the creatures dangling for their lives. At the same time, the “Pale Orc” (Thorin’s archnemesis and leader of the goblins—a character very embellished for the film) shows up to join the party. Riding a warg, the Pale Orc watches as the company awaits their free-fall into death. He recognizes Thorin as the dwarf who cut off his hand way-back-when, and tries to claim his life. But Bilbo will have none of it, and uses his tiny hobbit sword to fight off the Pale Orc and his gang until the eagles swoop down and carry them to safety.
The movie version of this scene: Fracking awesome.
The book version of this scene: Okay…(it was about 3 pages).
Another change that I loved was the depiction of Thorin, the dwarf. Peter Jackson may have altered the character of Thorin to provide for an appealing hero. He also has a deep, creamy voice and calm demeanor that completes his fallen-hero facade. But in the book, Tolkien paints a much less attractive Thorin. He is greedy, bumbling, an inexperienced leader who wants to kill Smaug not to avenge his forefathers and reclaim his homeland, but to get his hands on the gold Smaug guards. In the film, he is a king in exile, and his intentions are entirely honorable. Not only that, in the book, Thorin doesn’t really do anything. In the movies, he’s much more of a leader.
There are tons of differences that I could spend a long time outlining, for instance, Radagast the Brown (one of the five wizards) is literally mentioned once in the book and never shows up. In the movie, he is painted as a crazed, animal-loving and quirky character who interacts with Gandalf, the dwarves, and Bilbo throughout the film. He even aids the group by distracting a herd of goblins on their tail (a scene dreamed up by Jackson).
But the biggest difference between the book and the movie? Tone. And while I understand Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a children’s book, the fact is many children watch The Lord of the Rings movies. Jackson’s version is darker and more mysterious, giving allusions to “dark forces” happening and specifically mentioning the Necromancer (and showing scenes and foreshadowing to a dark threat). Setting up the idea of the main trilogy wonderfully.
I know this is a long post, but I wanted to make a point. There are times, mostly limited circumstances, where movies can be more than the original source material ever hoped to be. In my opinion, the movie version of The Hobbit outshines the book by a mile.