The Hobbit: A Comparison of the Book to the Movie

716 words | 3 page(s)

In most cases where a novel is adapted into a film, the most striking differences between the two come down to how much of the story was left out of the book in order to fit the narrative into a movie running between two and three hours. The adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit is an entirely different matter since the book was adapted into not just one movie, but three different movies each running at least two and a half hours. As a result, the divergences between book and film tend to be based less cuts made for consideration of time and pace and more on alterations designed to seamlessly connect this trilogy with the previously produced Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy.

The linking of The Hobbit to the earlier trilogy as the foundation for many of the most important differences between book and movie commences with a prefatory sequence which is not found within the book in any form, either as present-tense narrative or past-tense flashback. The sight of Frodo and an older Bilbo in this prologue which serves no purpose toward plot, has no analogue within the book and therefore exists only to situate viewers within the familiar confines of Hobbiton through recognition characters as they were existed in the earlier trilogy. This choice will prove to recur throughout the film adaptation, but one of the most striking is the encounter in the film with Radagast and his description of the Necromancer. Contextually, this scene would have appeared in the third chapter, “A Short Rest” but in reality Radagast makes no appearance at all in The Hobbit. The significance of the eccentric wizard and the Necromancer in LOTR clarify the decision to invent a role for him in the prequel, however: every odd or unusual thing going on in Middle Earth must be tied in some way to the power and pursuit of the Ring.

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While many of the divergences between book and movie can be attributed to the desire to solidify the connection between the two trilogies, it must be pointed out that some fairly important changes seem to have been made for standard adaptation reasons related to pacing or other narrative constraints. For instance, Gollum tests Bilbo with ten riddles in the book, but four of those riddles are missing from the movie. Nothing major is lost through this change and it can be argued that including them would have unnecessarily prolonged things. Another instance of this type of change covers the events of Bilbo finding the ring in Chapter 4. The title of that chapter actually lends a degree of importance to the hobbit being in the dark when he finds the ring Gollum has lost. In the movie, however, there is actually enough light available in the cave for Bilbo to actually see the ring pop out of Gollum’s pocket. While Tolkien clearly wanted the darkness to be an essential aspect in this scene, shooting it that way would have completely undermined it dramatic impact.

Keeping with the most important scene of the entire trilogy—arguably perhaps—there arrives an instance where a change is made from the book that can be attributed both to making the event more visually satisfying as well as to making a direct link between The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy. This change has to do with Bilbo’s actually getting the ring into his finger. Tolkien’s original description of this momentous moment is a masterpiece of literary understatement with Bilbo merely asking what’s in his pockets as his finger casually slides into the most powerful piece of jewelry in the world. The film not only enhances this scene visually, connect it directly back to how Frodo first put on the ring in LOTR.

The Hobbit proves film adaptations are subject to certain differentiations from the source material even when there is seemingly enough screen time to fit in every important scene from the book. At the same time, however, the question that inevitably arises is whether a three-part adaptation of The Hobbit might have become one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel in film history had certain changes not been mandated by the film having been made subsequent to the release of its sequel.

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