Movie: The Hobbit vs The Lord of The Rings. A question of emotional investment [spoiler]

Thranduil_BotFAI’ve only seen BotFA twice so far, which probably made my ruminating phase slower than most. Despite my misgivings about it, and the trilogy as a whole, RingstrilogyposterI’ve been drawing towards a contradictory conclusion about my thoughts and feelings about The Hobbit (TH) trilogy vis-à-vis The Lord of The Rings (LotR). Yes, despite my disgruntlement and passive-aggressive efforts to fix-it, I am more emotional invested in the former, though I enjoy the story of the latter more.

Fair interest disclosure – I’m a movie-firster. That first FotR trailer I saw near the premiere (I was living under a rock, clueless and spoiler-free, the way I like when it comes to movies) started a desperate attempt to read the book before I went for my first screening. (Managed to finish the book, but it led to a strange, and raw, sense of noveau déjà vu watching the movie. Not something I want to repeat again.)

As a life-long science-fiction/fantasy nerd, both were a foregone conclusion where my geekdom was concerned. Loved the book, loved the movies, with the clarity of understanding on the difference between the two mediums.

Thereafter, I threw myself in the fandom, even starting to write fan-fiction. And of course, in service of both nerd and muse, I read other Tolkien works that spoke to the LotR narrative. And that meant knowing TH. That book I read before TTT premiered. And felt for it probably much as many who read it after LotR did. That is, it was a nice fantasy for a lucky child’s bedtime read but it was no competition for LotR. But I really loved the short book’s gap-fill, especially the Riddles in the Dark chapter and Thranduil (yes, if it wasn’t obvious yet, this is a card-carrying fangirl of the Elvenking, thanks to Legolas).

When news of The Hobbit going to film as well broke, I tried to keep with my live-under-a-rock MO, because with LotR, being online as it happened quite spoiled the in-movie surprises for me and took a lot of the wow away. So AUJ was quite a nice surprise, and I thought I was right to keep my MO and was in fact doing well. But, my success was blown to the netherworld as soon as Thranduil started speaking in DoS.

I do not regret delurking and living virtually in the Thranduil Appreciation thread of the one Middle-earth board I frequent. Still, strangely, even through the plot changes and bizarre creative decisions that seemed to have characterised this trilogy, I find myself invested in The Hobbit’s storyline. With BotFA finally here, I find myself both disappointed at the loose ends and certain plot(gaps), and yet happy for its conclusion.

Unlike most emotionally invested fan(girl)s, I did not cry in the sad moments of BotFA – it’s a RARE movie that can make me wail. Having said that, here at the end, I do find myself feeling more for the characters of TH, and missing them, than I ever did for the denizens of LotR. Which is a surprise since LotR is the fuller story, and the movies were when I was at the more excitable younger-by-a-decade age while TH is a filler to LotR the book, and as I said, is quite the kiddie read to me.

I wondered what was the divisive factor(s) and pondered on it for a fair bit. Ultimately, (while it may conceivably change – there is still the Extended Edition of BotFa to come, I really think my opinion is now quite set), I find that LotR scores for me in terms of story, respect for canon, and treatment. When held up against that, TH’s shortfalls are all the more glaring and frustrating. But despite the problems I have with TH, the conflicts, ambivalence, morality of the the characters in these movies are where I feel affinity for characters more deeply and find my favourites through all six of the Middle-earth films.

Thranduil will always top my list. He is THE ELF of Tolkien’s world for me. But Bilbo in TH is my favourite Hobbit. Ever. I have even found some Dwarves I could get on the bandwagon for – Balin, Fili, Dwalin, and yes, even the most disagreeable one of all… and his worse cousin, Mr Ironfoot. I even find Gandalf here more interesting. Along with the swashbuckling Elrond. It is also quite something to see Galadriel dishing it, and that first sly, voluntary, step onto the other side by Saruman, was just something else.

Grey morality. Yes I think grey morality and conflict is a common thread here and it appeals to me, more than the more clear-cut character arcs of LotR.

While it is true that in LotR there is also fellowship and friendship, those were, more or less, through defined racial and cultural lines, and hot-housed at times. For lack of a better comparison, the Fellowship was formed for a specific purpose. But the Company of Thorin, barring the bit of Gandalf contrivance on the Burglar, was more organic, if that made sense, and even then, by the end, there was no divide between Dwarves and non-Dwarf. Of course, the Company’s camaraderie would have provided such an interesting contrast to the greater tangle of dynamics in the Armies of the Good Peoples as they worked their way through strategy and the annoying details of logistics, if only we had at least some of that in the movies.

But going back to the theme of morality, it is clear that in LotR, bad is bad, and good is good, except for a few niggling details, like the demonisation of Denethor, and the trivialisation of Faramir’s character arc. Even Elrond’s reluctance to give his blessing to Arwen and Aragorn was justified by his love for his daughter. He was also spectacularly redeemed twice: via the levelled-up Haldir, for the movie-contrived plot point of sending Elves to Helm’s Deep, and personally delivering Andúril, and thus his tacit acceptance, of the union.

In contrast, in TH, the clearly Good boasted quite a few characters who appeared on the fence, or were, maybe, even closet Baddies. Thranduil and his antagonism of the Company’s quest for one, and Thorin’s intense focus on dispensing his goodwill and faith only in his own kind. Even Bilbo seemed to have his moments of weakness. The only boring Good Guy, as it turned out, was Bard, who was transplanted with Thranduil’s reluctance for war in the book. But to be fair, he had his “grey” moments too, if only in the interest of moving the plot when the Dwarves first met him.

Also, I think the existence of places and denizens outside of Mordor that was also perceptibly grey, in the form of Beorn, Thranduil and Mirkwood, and even the malcontent of Laketown adds to my affinity scorecard on the morality issue. And Spiders! Those were another bonus.

In the end, I believe that the grey morality of characters in TH resonated, for me, because of two things: it was enabled and made possible in great part to Jackson’s great eye for casting, and to the actors for succeeding beyond expectations, and ironically overcoming the strange creative choices of Jackson himself, that worked against their efforts in service of their characters.


8 thoughts on “Movie: The Hobbit vs The Lord of The Rings. A question of emotional investment [spoiler]

  1. Eric

    Saruman’s “leave Sauron to me” bit was really really well done. I’ve seen Christopher Lee in a bunch of things, but he is Saruman.

    I’ve only seen Hobbit 3 once (and I think have only seen the other two twice), but I think the LotR Trilogy resonates with me more. It really feels that Jackson was trying to recapture the magic, and I’m not sure he always pulled it off. Or maybe ever.

    You mentioned Galadriel in Hobbit 3, but her “going dark” really bugged me. You know I’m not Galadriel fan, but while she was questionable, she was never dark. She appeared so in the Fellowship movie because she was showing what a dark queen would look like. In the Hobbit 3, she wasn’t a dark queen, and yet went all girl-from-the-Ring-movie at Dol Guldur. It was troubling and made me question Jackon’s grasp of just what he was doing.

    But all that said, I do like the grey morality of TH, especially concerning your uber-boyfriend and Thorin.

    Oh, and one big gripe – The Battle of the Five Armies features only four out of the five armies from the book. Men, Dwarves, Elves, Wargs, Orcs/Goblins. Did Jackson count the Eagles? Or did he count the Orcs twice? Army, in Tolkien’s terms, probably meant ground troops/infantry, so he didn’t count the Eagles. So… what gives?


    1. lurkerinthemirk Post author

      My uber boyfriend! Oh, I’d have to remember that one! 😀

      Saruman was the uber walking darksider masquerading as grey morality. With evidence of his manoeuvring piling up through the centuries, it’s a wonder the rest of TWC didn’t cotton on to him being sly about things earlier. Or maybe they couldn’t fathom another Maia turning. Come to think of it, I wonder if he was on the same level as Sauron in terms of their Maia cred? Or are Maia egalitarian (I hardly think so)? (OT: I know Olorin was affiliated with Lorien. And interestingly, Curunir’s boss, Aule, was also Sauron’s ex-sup.)

      I like the notion of Galadriel being more than just a walking sparkly Oracle that she was portrayed as in LotR – oh the delicious potential for her taking the other side. But visually, Galadriel going all nuclear was one of those TH/LotR “resonance”/setup thingies that just didn’t make sense to me. Like the horribly pedestrian romance subplot, this reduced the impact/uniqueness of the situation in LotR. I really don’t get this fixation to make a throughline whenever a possible linkage is spotted.

      The Armies… ah yes, did you not spot the swooping Eagles, with Radagast at the head? But seriously, I know where you’re coming from. They were just an “also-fought”, along with Beorn. But at least they had some frames. The poor Wargs! Totally shunted aside, even Azog’s precious white warg.


      1. Eric

        From what I understand, both Gandalf and Saruman in Valinor were as or more powerful than Sauron (maybe in Valinor). But limitations were put on them by the Valar and by circumstances (being incarnate, etc) that made them less powerful then Sauron. This is just something I’ve heard along the way, so exactly where this comes from, i’m not sure (though I’d guess it would be the late 60s/early 70s writings).

        Maybe the White Council didn’t see Saruman changing because nobody did anything about anything for literally hundreds of years, and everyone just assumed that everyone was actually doing nothing, except that Saruman was actually doing something. Make sense? Pretty much not at all.

        Galadriel’s bout in Dol Guldur was also kind of anti-feminist, wasn’t it? Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but she kind of had to be saved by the guys because she was just too exhausted. I don’t know. I’ll have to see it again to get my thoughts in order about it. It just seemed pretty weak.

        The armies! So really, why no Wargs? Seriously, Jackson. The other two movies were filthy with them. Why not just continue that? I know that he didn’t really make them anything more than beasts of burden, but still, at least have them show up as an army – it would have solidified what was at stake. Look! Things are so bad that even the wolves are taking sides!

        I saw Radagast swooping in (and say what you like about his crappy portrayal in the first two movies, he was pretty great in this one), but really just wanted to see him ride a Mothra-sized moth into battle – the same moth that Gandalf whispered to atop Orthanc. You want ties between the two trilogies, try that one on for size. 🙂


        1. lurkerinthemirk Post author

          Just LOL at Ganddy’s Mothra – the same thought struck me as well. 😀 That would be the cincher of cinchers re tie-ins.

          The Wargs! I lament their absence. This is one of the glaring inconsistencies for me.

          Galadriel’s power display and resulting drain was the weird bit, well one of the weird bits, but one of the more prominent ones. I do find it anti-feminist that she needed to be taken care of by men in the end. Though I got that her power was being drained by Sauron’s presence or being at DG, or both, in addition to her own expending nuclear lightshow.

          The Council’s apathy, or maybe just their tendency to procrastinate, makes no sense to me. maybe Saruman slipped some stuff into the tea during meetups. But one thing’s for sure, his slyness knows no bounds. He’d be living it up as a corporate raider he was a contemporary entity.


          1. Eric

            Seriously, why wasn’t Jackson trying to figure out how this relates to the Mothra series?

            The Council waited so long! I get why Jackson condensed all of that.


          2. lurkerinthemirk Post author

            That is the Silmaril-worthy question. Why indeed?! 😛

            Oh, I know! TWC seemed to be an occasional gathering of the haughty-pouty for tea appreciation. I mean, come on, the meeting minutes probably made Farmer Giles’ adventures looked like a tome-y codex.


          3. Eric

            I think what actually happened is that Tolkien had an idea for a more condensed time frame, but also needed to fit a BUNCH more stuff into the Third Age. Therefore, it seems like the White Council does nothing at all for centuries. It’s really a tough one to explain. For a long time, they thought it was the Witch King, but why didn’t they at least act on that?


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