The success of Peter Jackson’s earlier adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings brought forward the idea of adapting The Hobbit to the cinema. Taking the liberty to fill in the unexplained parts of the book, Peter Jackson decided to release The Hobbit as a trilogy as well. Despite the financial success, the movie series has received mixed reviews. The children’s fantasy novel acquired a mature, dark tone by linking the Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings through the changes in plots and characters.
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Adapting a short novel into a film trilogy can be a challenge. Since The Lord of the Rings proved Tolkien’s story to transfer well to the new media, The Hobbit trilogy is well-suited for cinema. Despite casting many accomplished actors, the changes and additions to the plot were necessary to stretch the story and keep the viewer engaged. The very beginning of the trilogy’s first movie is different from the begging of The Hobbit. In An Unexpected Journey, the main character Bilbo shares a story of his youth with Frodo, the main character of The Lord of the Rings (Jackson); the novel starts with the story itself (Tolkien 1). Throughout the entire movie series, flashbacks are used to remind the viewer of the first trilogy’s events and connect them to The Hobbit. The movie opening immediately links The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to remind the viewer of the fantasy world in which the story takes place. This change might not be crucial, but it may be considered the first of the many references to the original trilogy to make the older audience feel nostalgic.
The need to have a beginning, a middle and a climax in each trilogy movie to keep the viewer interested leads to the creation of additional plots, goals, and enemies. Besides the novel’s main villain, the greedy dragon Smaug, the movie introduces the leader of orcs, Azog the Defiler (An Unexpected Journey). This new enemy has no appearance in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The presence of Azog the Defiler changes Bilbo’s arc and character to a more heroic one compared to the novel. At the end of An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo gathers up his courage to save one of his companions from certain death, fighting the orc’s leader (Jackson). Tolkien’s Bilbo does not perform any heroic deeds until much later in the book when he finally sees his companions as true friends (76). The novel’s Bilbo may be considered an unadventurous, domestic person, taken away from the comforts of his home. In contrast, the movie’s Bilbo shows his heroic side and ease in facing dangers. This way, Bilbo reminds the viewers of Frodo, a conventional hero on a journey with a glorious purpose.
Along with Azog the Defiler, Peter Jackson took the liberty to add more characters that did not appear in the original Hobbit. In such a way, Legolas joined the story, being one more link between the trilogies. His inclusion brings forward a love dispute between characters, involving one of Bilbo’s dwarf companions, Kili, and an invented in the movies character, wood-elf Tauriel. Both Legolas and Kili fall in love with strong yet kind Tauriel (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug). This love triangle served as a link to The Lord of the Rings in two different ways. The forbidden love between an elf and a dwarf reminds of Aragorn and Arwen, a human and an elf from the first trilogy, who also could not be together. This subplot reaches its culmination when Kili dies, leaving Tauriel as a tragic heroine who failed to save her lover (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies). This relationship can also explain the hatred for dwarves, a famous trait of Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, linking it to the original trilogy.
The connection between the Hobbit trilogy and The Lord of the Rings significantly affects the movie’s tone. Although an Unexpected Journey can be considered the lightest of the three films, the additional plots and characters lead to the darkening of the rest of the trilogies movies’ tone. The inclusion of Azog the Defiler is explained as the spreading evil of Sauron, the main villain of The Lord of the Rings (An Unexpected Journey). This change brings the theme of war and massacre to the children’s fantasy world, making it more serious and mature. The parallels drawn between Bilbo and Frodo turn the story into a good versus evil scenario, rather than the original, adventurous quest for a treasure guarded by a dragon. The sad ending of the love story between Tauriel and Kili, and its similarity with Aragorn and Arwen’s tragic love, brings more depths and darkness to the setting of The Hobbit. The movie seems to make the audience feel nostalgic by bringing the same actors who play their characters, despite their absence in the source text.
Peter Jackson’s decision to turn Tolkien’s short novel into a trilogy, following the structure of The Lord of the Rings, drastically changes the tone of the story. The changes needed to stretch the length of the movies include the additional connections between two trilogies. Such additions, as new enemies Azog the Defiler and Sauron, and a tragic love story indirectly lead to the darkening of the tone of what was initially supposed to be a children’s story.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Directed by Peter Jackson, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2012.
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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Directed by Peter Jackson, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2014.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Directed by Peter Jackson, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2013.
Tolkien, John R.R. The Hobbit. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.