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Imagining Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: Part One

November 24, 2012 at 5:19 am by newsfrombree  - 

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Over coming days, in this four-part series, guest writer Eric M. Van will draw together the threads of known facts, and add a dash of logic to speculate on how Peter Jackson and his crew may have imagined their version of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. In the first part, he takes one of the most mysterious sections, how The Necromancer, Sauron, and the wizard, Radagast the Brown, will weave into Bilbo Baggins’ much-less-epic (yet no less important) adventure.

Imagining Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit

Part 1: Sauron and Dol Guldur. Radagast and Rhosgobel

If Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit mirrors his Lord of the Rings, timelines will be compressed.

“What’s it going to be then, eh?”

That’s the question we’re all desperately asking about Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. We have a collection of puzzle pieces—here a Morgul-blade, there a hedgehog—and we’re trying to put them together to make some kind of picture of the trilogy, especially the fast-approaching first installment.

But one can also simply do what the screenwriters have done: take a close look at the novel and see what changes need to be made to adapt it successfully. This humble effort thus begins with a set of solutions to all the major extant mysteries, before turning (in a series of follow-up features) to a general overview.

And, sure, that’s backwards, but I’ve got an empty Nazgûl tomb that’s just aching to be filled with some kind of sensible explanation.

One of the hallmarks of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations is the compression of story timelines. It’s always for the same reason: the Wise regard Sauron as an imminent rather than a long-term threat. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf takes sixteen-and-a-half years to confirm that Bilbo’s ring is the One, once he first suspects it; Jackson has Gandalf accomplish this in what appears to be a single year.

(It’s about 1000 miles to Minas Tirith. A hundred miles per day is a perfectly manageable rate for a horse over adequate roads, and consistent with the 120 that Gandalf managed on Shadowfax with Pippin, according to The Atlas of Middle-earth. It would thus take less than a month to ride to Minas Tirith, view the scroll of Isildur, and return. But in the next scene both Frodo and Gandalf behave as if at least several months have passed. A full year would not only provide adequate time for Gandalf’s pursuit of and interrogation of Gollum, but maintain the seasonal timelines of the book).

Tolkien has Frodo dawdle for 163 further days before leaving Bag End; Jackson gets him out the door the next morning. If this were a contemporary film, we’d be expecting Fed Ex product placement.

A compressed timeline dramatically would increase the perceived threat of Sauron.

With The Hobbit, Jackson and his fellow screenwriters, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Torro, have made a precisely analogous change, only this time it’s supersized. In LOTR’s Tale of Years, it takes the Wise 790 years to confirm that Sauron has returned once they first suspect it, and another 91 for the White Council to decide to attack him. In the film version, the 790 years have been reduced to what appears to be a few months at most, and the 91 years seem likely to be reduced to no time at all. The investigation of Sauron’s possible return has been moved 878 years later, to form an entire parallel storyline to the quest of Erebor. And if Jackson is true to form, the White Council will feel so much urgency over the threat of Sauron that the decision to attack Dol Guldur will be a foregone conclusion. (Why 878 and not 790 + 91 = 881? It’s another compression; in the book, after the Wise first suspect Sauron has returned, they let three years pass before Gandalf goes to Dol Guldur to investigate.)

Both of these timeline compressions dramatically increase the perceived threat of Sauron, but there is a second very good reason for excising the 91-year delay between confirming Sauron’s existence and attacking him. In the books (LOTR and “The Hunt for the Ring” in Unfinished Tales), the White Council meets in Rivendell a year after Gandalf has confirmed that the Necromancer of Dol Guldur is Sauron. And Gandalf does urge an immediate attack. Saruman “overrules” him (presumably by persuading Elrond, Círdan, and the other members, since there is no indication that Saruman, even as head of the Council, had ultimate authority) and Gandalf immediately suspects Saruman’s true motive: he wants the Ring for himself, and wants to leave Sauron alone so the Ring can seek its master.

In Jackson’s necessarily simplified version of the history, Saruman never overtly desires the Ring for his own; he is a true ally to Sauron rather than a false one who secretly desires to supplant him. For the most part, he turns traitor not because of his desire for power, but because he looks in the palantír and is persuaded of the utter certainty of Sauron’s victory. (In the book, this is what happens to Denethor, although he responds by despairing rather than collaborating. Denethor’s palantír was written out of the film apparently to avoid redundancy with Saruman’s; unfortunately, that had the side effect of diminishing his character, since in the movie version he has to be weak enough to fall into despair even without a push from Sauron). Since Saruman only becomes a traitor when he becomes convinced that Sauron’s victory is inevitable, he can’t possibly already be one at the time that it’s first discovered that Sauron has returned, when he is yet to rebuild Barad-Dûr or amass his armies. So the Saruman we see in The Hobbit will be unfallen (as Christopher Lee has stated in interview), and without a fallen Saruman there is no plot mechanism for delaying the attack.

Peter Jackson’s Saruman in The Hobbit will be ‘unfallen’.

Even leaving the history aside, though, an unfallen Saruman makes for much better storytelling. We know that Gandalf has no suspicion of Saruman’s fall when he first leaves for Isengard in FOTR, so there can be no hints of any corruption in his interactions with the Council in The Hobbit (anything we as viewers could discern would certainly not escape Galadriel). Therefore, the only way to portray a fallen Saruman would be to show him working behind the scenes to undermine the attack on Dol Guldur, and in a way that neither Gandalf nor Galadriel ever becomes aware of. Even if that were credible, it doesn’t seem to add anything to the story. And if future viewers of all six films in internal chronological order first see Saruman as a good guy, they’ll be as blindsided as Gandalf when he turns traitor in FOTR. The only narrative function of a fallen Saruman in The Hobbit would be to spoil that surprise. (Part 2 of this series has much more to say about the interaction of the two trilogies.)

In fact, I think we’ll see in this trilogy just why Gandalf regards Saruman as “both wise and powerful” (though admittedly somewhat proud, stubborn, and conservative, since he is apparently skeptical about the significance of the Morgul-blade). We’ll even see Gandalf and Saruman collaborate on creating devices to help win the Battle of Dol Guldur (in the books, credited largely to Saruman alone). And we’ll come to understand that Saruman’s invention of the Olympic Explosive Device in TTT was inspired and informed by Gandalf’s mastery of fireworks in The Desolation of Smaug; that Saruman mimics Gandalf’s magic with technology makes this a cruelly ironic application of Clarke’s Law.
Oops, I said the magic words: Morgul-blade. We’ve learned quite a bit about how the Sauron storyline has been revised for the movie, but what we’ve learned raises many further questions, some of which are so subtle that I haven’t seen them asked yet. Let’s look at what we know and what we don’t know, and see if we can figure out the missing details of this major (but quite justifiable and dramatically effective) revision of Middle-Earth history.

Posted in Characters, Green Books, Headlines, Hobbit Book, Hobbit Movie, The Hobbit on November 24, 2012 by
Daggers of Tauriel

20 responses to “Imagining Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: Part One”

  1. says:

    This is amazing.Thank you!

  2. mildred snitzer says:

    the barrow-downs speculation is pretty hair brained. i think its safe to say the blade is either found in the troll shaws or found by radagast

  3. Claude Allen says:

    We see Gandalf in Dol Guldur holding Glamdring. But we don’t see Gandalf holding Glamdring when he’s fighting Thrain.
    Maybe I’m guilty of wishful thinking, but Gandalf might have found Thrain way before he ever acquired Glamdring, like it was written by Tolkien. After all, we do see the key to Erebor’s secret entrance in Thorin’s hand before they encountered the trolls. I’ve heard plenty of people jump to the conclusion that Gandalf went into Dol Guldur and found Thrain in the present tense of the movie, like with Glamdring. Hopefully that’s wrong.

  4. Goattrider says:

    Great analysis can’t wait to see whether it plays out pike this. BTW we dont actually see Denethor look in the Palanthir but it’s implied in the movie and confirmed in the extras of the extended edition

  5. Ian K. says:

    I think the Barrow-downs idea could work, but I don’t believe that anyone but Gandalf will enter. Frodo and company only entered the Barrow-downs because they wanted to keep off the road and avoid the Nazgul, which are in no way a threat to the dwarves at this point. They will likely stick to the main road on their way to Rivendell. But this doesn’t mean Gandalf won’t be doing some barrow investigations, and he may find a Morgul-blade within.

  6. ericmvan says:

    They already botched, oops, I mean changed the history of Glamdring in LOTR, by not having it glow blue for orcs, meaning it’s not a sword made in Gondolin. (I understand the rationale for that — they wanted to make Sting unique.) So there’s no point in having Gandalf acquire it as Orcrist’s mate in this movie. Therefore, he’s probably had Glamdring all along, and had it when he found Thrain in the dungeons, 91 years ago. Eliminating Glamdring from the Troll-hoard will make Thorin’s acquisition of Orcrist more special. In fact, they could throw in a bit about Glamdring having been made many years later (by, say, Celebrimbor) as essentially a knock-off of, and companion to Orcrist. So finding the original after which it was modeled — and one that still has the magic
    glow-blue power, which art was lost in later years — would be really cool.

    Thanks for pointing this out — one of the main reasons I did this was to have people pose new puzzles to solve!

  7. Rune says:

    would’nt Rhadaghast be responsible for sending the eagles to the aid of Ghadalf the dwarves and Bilbo? I’m no expert but this would give him some credibility other than being a buffoon?

    Are you suggesting in your article that the lord of the Eagle’s get’s arrow shot and gandalf heals him upon whisking them away… Good speculation and all but there really is no way of knowing the end of the movie until we see it but some good calls in here.

    I hope the Nazgul tombs get pushed over to the second movie as you say as this makes sense. but have the party split just like FOTR

  8. ericmvan says:

    Again, you have to think of this in terms of authorial / screenwriter purposes rather than the existing internal logic of the story. When you’re constructing a plot, it’s completely common that you need to have your characters do something, think something, or be somewhere that they simply wouldn’t, given the existing status of the plot. So you make up something that forces them into it! If the screenwriters think it would be good for the story to trap the company in a barrow, then you need an excuse to get them off the road. They might, for instance, have a mishap with their food or water supplies that forces them to leave the road and hunt for game, or find a spring. (Part 3 will discuss why those kind of mundane travel adventures will be good to add to the story, in any case.) And the reader or viewer doesn’t perceive the mishap as an event contrived to get them into the greater peril. Instead, it plays as if they made a small mistake, that led them into big trouble — as small mistakes often do. It plays as nicely dramatic and ironic. Like life!

  9. ericmvan says:

    I love the idea of Radagast summoning the Eagles! That, in fact, could be a real moment of heroism for him — underscoring why it needs to be hard for him to send messages. (You would not let on *who* he was sending the message to, so that the Eagles showing up would still be a surprise to many viewers.*) Radagast having a big hero moment in this Battle would make his resignation from further active participation in the War of the Rings much easier to accept by the Council. In fact, maybe he’s wounded because he has to hold his ground in order to get his messenger off. Of course, he’s immortal, but he still suffers the pains of the flesh when incarnate.

    And having the Eagles essentially be asked to the Battle would further differentiate this appearance from the one in ROTK, where they just show up, completely on their own. But all this is separate from whether the Eagles *want* to help.

    I purposely didn’t speculate on what the Eagles’ beef with the company might be, or how Gandalf might fix it. I want to be surprised! I don’t think it will be just healing an arrow-wound, though.

    *I can vouch for the fact that the ability to figure out movie plots while they unfold before you does not correlate to the ability to figure them out before or afterwards! I get so lost in a story that any good twist takes me by surprise. When Selina Kyle showed up near the end of The Dark Knight Rises, I only saw that it was inevitable a moment after it happened, because I had essentially forgotten about her. So if we see Radagast send some message off as the Battle of Five Armies is just starting, sure, some viewers will figure out that he’s asking for the Eagles’ help, but many will be so caught up in the battle action that they won’t have time to think it through.

  10. Rafe Spraker says:

    Did anyone else notice in the “scroll” before the “Troll Falls” pot is Thorin before what looks like “downs” and a creature that has horns and most un-orc like creature! This may support the Wright interpretations with Thorin demonstrating some courage?

  11. me says:

    No, I don’t think so. In one of the alternative endings for the second Hobbit trailer, there is a scene where Gandalf gives his sword to Elrond, who then says “This is Glamdring, the foe-hammer, sword of the king of Gondolin.” So clearly he just acquired it. If you still doubt me, look at the photo I posted. So I am pretty sure both Thorin and Gandalf find their swords in the troll’s cave.

  12. me says:

    May I ask why it is hair brained?

  13. me says:

    What I would love to see is again the appearance of the moth before the eagles come to the rescue, both while the company is in the trees and at the battle. Then Radagast could be tied in to the LOTR movies without an actual appearance.

  14. name says:

    I also think that establishing that Radagast = the moth would be wonderful. Then, in the RotK, we would have a new perspective on the Eagles. It would show that somewhere Radagast still cares about Gandalf and his causes.

  15. ericmvan says:

    That’s correct … so Sting glows blue, but Glamdring doesn’t? Really? They’ve got some explaining to do …

    There’s also the question as to how Elrond identifies the sword so quickly, if Gandalf has been unable to. In the book, Elrond does so by reading the runes on the sword. Originally, when they find the swords,Gandalf says “*if* we can read the runes on them, we shall know more about them.” “If” was changed to “when” in 1966. But Tolkien had long been bothered by Gandalf’s illiteracy, and when he tried to rewrite the book in 1960, he had Gandalf note “But there’s black blood on them, goblin-blood. When they are cleaned and the runes on them can be read …”

  16. John Allen Reave says:

    Or Radagast could be killed in the battle of five armies. Thus depriving Gandalf of a powerful ally in LoTR.

  17. name says:

    Watch the TV spot #8 and you will clearly see Glamdring glowing blue when Gandalf swings it in the quick 1 second clip towards the end.

  18. ericmvan says:

    Whoah! Either Glamdring is revised to glow blue in the Ultimate Edition (see Part Two), or they explain in this trilogy why the sword loses its magic power! That would be a very outside-the-box solution. Hmm .. maybe in TDOS Gandalf transfers the sword’s power to some anti-Necromancer weapon?

    In the meantime, if Gandalf does have Glamdring in the Dol Guldur flashback, I believe that’s an unfixable error. Maybe this is like Gimli’s axe in FOTR — it only looks just like Glamdring.

  19. ericmvan says:

    Because if it were “hare-brained,” that would be an insult to the friends of a Wizard we’re all expecting to become very fond of!

  20. ericmvan says:

    Radagast is a Mair and hence immortal. Assuming his body was destroyed or damaged beyond repair, he would have been re-incarnated in Valinor. And If the Valar thought that he was important to the war against Sauron, they would have sent him back to Middle-Earth by ship.

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