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December 2014

Tolkien Cinematic Universe

Today I saw the final part of Peter Jackson's adaptation of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, a story that I love and have cherished since I was a child. All in all, I found it a satisfactory conclusion.

Yes, the battle sequences were long and drawn out - in many ways mirroring the approach in The Lord of the Rings’ third part, but they were offset by the moments of humanity in the film with the fall and redemption of Thorin Oakenshield from the dragon-sickness for gold and the conversations involving Bilbo Baggins.

The visuals seemed to be channeling Warhammer, especially with some of the creatures used for steeds and the looks of Dain Ironfoot. Looking at the references in Foster's Complete Guide to Middle Earth, and searching on "Dain”in The Hobbit and Unfinished Tales gives no really hint of Dain's character beyond the fact that he was a doughty and determined warrior who finally fell at the Battle of Dale during the War of the Ring next to his compatriot King Brand1. I guess that this means that this interpretation is as good as any, and in some ways, having Billy Connolly playing him as a Scottish Dwarven Hard-man was an act of inspired genius.

I started to watching the first part, An Unexpected Journey again tonight, and it showed much more of a consistency of characterisation than I recalled, especially around Thorin, the dragon-sickness, honour and bravery. I may revisit these notes after I have re-watched the whole sequence.

Fundamentally, film is a different medium to a book, and what makes a good book doesn't necessarily make a good film. Slavish adaptations often fail. At times, Peter Jackson does push it too far for my liking - the Goblin Town sequence in the first film, the barrel ride sequence in the second, Legolas the Super-Hero, but I suspect that these were aimed at a younger audience than me. They certainly delivered thrills and a counterpoint to the darker parts of the film. However, overall I loved the visuals and the exploration of a tale that I and my eldest love dearly.

I entitled this post Tolkien Cinematic Universe for a reason; the recent Marvel films are referred to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they have not followed the existing canon slavishly but have still had a recognisable validity and similarity to the original published works. I think that Jackson's films hit exactly the same spot; lovingly created, but only related to the original.

27 December 2014
1. I’m not ruling out further descriptions of Dain Ironfoot in the ephemera of Tolkien that followed Unfinished Tales from the Book of Lost Tales onwards, but in honesty I gave up on delving deeper into the Tolkien canon at that point. The depths nearly always end up with bad things happening, like Balrogs or Dragons.