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The Hobbit vs. The Goblins

We saw The Hobbit on New Year’s Day, and overall, I enjoyed it. It did feel occasionally bloated, but there were other additions I appreciated and enjoyed. “Riddles in the Dark” was, as many have said already, one of the best parts of the film. While I don’t think it was as strong as Lord of the Rings, that would be a pretty high bar to reach.

That said, the movie did have some problems. I have no taste for fat jokes, which felt like pretty much all they did with the character of Bombur. The stone giants seemed completely random and unnecessary to the story. But my biggest complaint, which will probably come as no surprise, was the way the story treated the goblins.

In Lord of the Rings, our heroes slaughtered an awful lot of orcs. Orcs were the stormtroopers of Middle Earth, generic villains who could be killed with little to no remorse, because they’re all Evil. On the other hand, Lord of the Rings took place in a time of war. The orcs we saw were generally soldiers sent out to hunt and kill humans and other races. The Uruk-hai were specifically created to be evil killing machines.

But then we get to The Hobbit. The dwarves take shelter in a cave, and find themselves tumbling into the goblin kingdom under the mountain. They’re taken prisoner and brought to the goblin king, and oversized and grotesque creature. The dwarves, with Gandalf’s help, eventually break free and fight their way out. In the process, they pretty much Kill All The Goblins.

This scene drags on and on. Goblins are smashed with rocks, stabbed with swords, chopped with axes, knocked into the abyss, and generally massacred left and right.

As a mental exercise, how do you think a party of goblins would have been treated had they stumbled into a dwarf kingdom? They’d have been taken prisoner, hauled in front of the authorities, and probably sentenced to death for the crime of being goblins. How is what the goblins did any different? Yet we’re supposed to sympathize and cheer as the heroes kill every goblin they come across?

Exercise the second: remember toward the beginning of the movie, when they’re talking about how most of these dwarves aren’t really warriors? Yet they killed all of those goblins without a single casualty. What does that tell you about the goblins they were fighting? Those goblins weren’t trained or experienced fighters. They couldn’t have been. Most of them were probably just minding their own business and got caught up in the chaos.

Yeah, I have a soft spot for goblins, but this was just thoughtless storytelling. It felt almost pornographic in a way. Instead of Debbie Does Dallas, we get Gandalf Guts Goblins.

I can appreciate a good fight scene. This wasn’t one. This was empty hack and slash, and I want better.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 51 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jan. 14th, 2013 02:41 pm (UTC)
My feeling in most action-adventure and epic fantasy movies is that ALL fight scenes should be cut by 20%, because most of them DO feel like empty hack-and-slash (or punch-and-kick, or stab-and-shoot) to me, but I hear what you're saying about the goblins. It's not unlike the Roofing Contractors On The Unfinished Death Star discussion in Clerks.
Jan. 14th, 2013 03:33 pm (UTC)
I don't mind the longer fight scenes if they're *interesting* fight scenes. The ones from The Matrix come to mind. But yeah, given how quick fights in real life tend to be, cutting 20% at a minimum would be a good start.
(no subject) - lenora_rose - Jan. 14th, 2013 08:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 15th, 2013 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 14th, 2013 03:00 pm (UTC)
The "always chaotic evil" trope and the corollary that Goblins/Orcs/etc. can be killed wholesale with no twinges of conscience on the part of Our Heroes has always made me twitch. Even when playing D&D, actually (and I had a DM who would throw in the occasional lawful-good orc just to mess with us.)
Jan. 14th, 2013 03:02 pm (UTC)
(I should put a warning here: that link leads to TVTropes. If you click it, you may be there for hours. It's one of the worst time-suck sites ever and writers are particularly susceptible!)
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 14th, 2013 03:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - telophase - Jan. 14th, 2013 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 14th, 2013 03:46 pm (UTC)
100% agreed. My comment on them in my review: "And then they go and make the [Great Goblin] a bit of a buffoon (the chin really doesn’t help) and play the rest of the goblins as cartoonish rather than dangerous."

There was a moment of real menace and threat when the dwarves were brought before the GG. If that mood had been held, I would have been all right with them slaughtering goblins on their way out. As it was, the scene just dragged on and felt pointless.

Re the fat jokes: That's all Tolkien uses Bombur for in the book. I thought Jackson was actually somewhat restrained in that regard, making it affectionate teasing from Bombur's comrades, rather than malicious mockery. Yes, I would have rather it were omitted altogether.

Edited at 2013-01-14 03:47 pm (UTC)
Jan. 14th, 2013 04:20 pm (UTC)
It was my impression that the cave they slept in was a trap. So the goblins were expecting captives. They just weren't expecting them to fight back so well. I'd imagine that anything they'd gotten before was animals seeking shelter from the storm and stupid adventurers.

So it wasn't an accidental thing, just tumbling into the goblin kingdom. It was a trap set by the goblins.
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:16 pm (UTC)
I agree, and seem to recall this being clearer in the book: dwarves go to sleep in a cave, goblins come out and grab them.
(no subject) - temporus - Jan. 14th, 2013 05:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - funwithrage - Jan. 14th, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 14th, 2013 06:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
It's all H'wood's fault! If H'wood didn't show people stabbing each other and carrying big honkin' swords around, there wouldn't be an epidemic of knife violence in our schools!

Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of epic fantasy -- and Tolkein is a good bad example, although far from the worst -- is a strong tendency toward slightly disguised racism. Is Jig available as a potential class respresentative for a lawsuit? I think the NAAGP (National Association for the Advancement of Goblinoid Persons) would provide an awful lot of support. And if you think this doesn't matter, just do some careful research on "blood libel" in print, and not on the 'net.
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:24 pm (UTC)
The giants appear in the novel, if not quite that spectacularly, but they are a part of why the dwarves seek shelter just as much as the rain, to avoid becoming victim to the mountain giants "fun".

As to the goblin scene....way too much, way to long, and it should have been far more running away with very little actual fighting in my opinion. Most of what's in the book is them running away in the dark, and the bulk of the escape isn't seen, since Bilbo is largely absent, and the book generally sticks with Bilbo even though it's not first person POV. (Almost but not exactly third person tight focus POV) So scenes where he's not present are easy to identify as not from the book. (Though that doesn't mean they aren't from the overall source material, as some of the "added" scenes are either described, or show up in appendices, etc for other works by JRRT.)

I thought the fight scenes were too big and open, and the caverns were way more exapnsive and open than I ever imagined. In my mind, it was more like a maze of twisty tunnels, all looking about the same. Seemed like they just wanted to outdo the Moria scenes in LotR, and that doesn't work for me.

But on a general level, goblins in Middle Earth are evil. They don't get shades of grey, like humans and elves and dwarves do. They don't get depth. And you can get away with it better when they are just one of many obstacles to overcome. For my money, there's already way too MUCH hack and slash when compared to the original book. Way too much. It should be far, far less than we've seen.
Jan. 14th, 2013 06:28 pm (UTC)
The coverage of the dwarves' escape in the book is done by Bilbo listening in on them when they have regrouped outdoors and Bilbo has snuck up on them while invisible. The dialogue is very "as you know, Bob" while the dwarves talk to each other about the escape. But yes, it reads as a lot of running, with periodic moments of "Oh shit, they outflanked us; time to fight" followed by more running.
(no subject) - temporus - Jan. 14th, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 15th, 2013 08:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:31 pm (UTC)
For me, I think it says a lot about Bilbo's character that he got out of the whole goblin fighting scene. Blustery defiant hostile dwarves get dragged before the Great Goblin, and Bilbo practices the fine art of fight avoidance and gets out by using his brain instead of his blade.

The contrast clearly shows Bilbo as the better person. Not perfect, but a bit more practical and decent. Though he did essentially steal the ring, I'm sure he realized that leaving it with Gollum would mean his own death sooner rather than later.
Jan. 14th, 2013 08:11 pm (UTC)
Except that's a change from the novel. In the book, Bilbo is there with the Dwarves, who have to carry him during the escape because he can't run as fast and keep up in the tunnels, and Dori ends up dropping him when he's grabbed from behind in the dark. That's how they get split up. So Riddles in the Dark happens after the Dwarves flee and escape.
(no subject) - roseaponi - Jan. 14th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jan. 14th, 2013 07:15 pm (UTC)
Caveat--I have never been a huge Tolkien fan. Yes, I understand he is the wellspring from which all (or most) D&D tropes spring, but ... just could never enjoy his writing style.

That said, the thing that bothers me the most in all of the Middle-Earth movies is the visual aspect. Namely, that beautiful=good, and ugly=evil. Not just with the races, though they're by far the worst offenders, but also in the scenery and architecture. I mean, I get visual cues, believe me. But there's a difference between visual cues to the reader/movie watcher and BEATING them over the head with it. Plus it sets up this whole fat/ugly/deformed=evil/lazy/greedy bit of bigotry that just bothers me. What, beautiful people can't be evil bastards? Fat people and homely people can't be heroes? (The closest I'd see to the latter is the dwarves, and you have to admit there are a whole *lot* of uncommonly pretty ones in the movies ...)
Jan. 14th, 2013 08:14 pm (UTC)
One of the reasons some people objected to the casting of Aragorn is that Viggo's "too pretty". Aragorn is not supposed be handsome, and in fact, there's a whole "Foul is fair and fair is foul", thing going on with that as a character.
Jan. 14th, 2013 08:30 pm (UTC)
Across all the movies, my most common nitpick is, "Wow, for a powerful wizard, Gandalf's repertoire is really damn limited." No spells of invisibility or don't-notice-me? Or putting an enemy to sleep? Or disguise? Nope, Gandalf has two modes: blast 'em with a ray of light or gut 'em with a sword.
Jan. 15th, 2013 12:05 am (UTC)
The blast 'em part is mostly a movie invention.
Jan. 14th, 2013 09:30 pm (UTC)
I have a similar problem when I play World of Warcraft. My character wanders along until she wanders into a settlement of some sort, and the people there say, "Hey, you look like you can hold your own in a fight. If you got off and slaughter a bunch of the creatures right over there I'll give you gold and cool armor and stuff." What gives me the right, beyond their say-so, to go off and slaughter a bunch of their neighbors? Seems wrong.
Jan. 15th, 2013 12:35 am (UTC)
Heh. Standard for any MMO. And something I... try not to think about too much. Or work into the character I'm playing; most of my characters end up with a very... mercenary bent.

Actually, when I think about it, Everquest was worse; there was rarely any actual /questing/ and you advanced your character by going to an area, slaughtering mobs (often humanoid mobs) wholesale for a while, then moving on to repeat the process elsewhere.

The gnolls in their warren outside Qeynos come to mind. There'd be people there /all the time/ because it was a /prime/ grinding spot, good for XP and vendor loot. :/ Oh, and reputation with most factions within Qeynos, which was important to more than one Iksar character of mine...
Jan. 14th, 2013 09:50 pm (UTC)
I'm of the opinion that the Goblin Kingdom is the most socially progressive on Middle Earth. Did you see the goblin with damage legs carrying messages around the kingdom? GOBLINS HAVE DISABILITY SERVICES! NO GOBLIN CHILD IS LEFT BEHIND!

And then the dwarves just came and smashed it all. Good job, dwarves. Good job with the racism, guys.
Jan. 15th, 2013 10:44 am (UTC)
And by far the most technologically advanced too. Dwarves and Elves do good smithwork, and Gandalf makes fireworks, but only goblins have devices and explosives!
Jan. 14th, 2013 11:02 pm (UTC)
My main problem with the escape from the goblins was the theme music they played over the top. It would have been better if they used Yakkity Sax.
Jan. 16th, 2013 07:40 pm (UTC)
I totally have to run that scene through the Benny Hillifier now...
Jan. 15th, 2013 01:33 am (UTC)
To be fair to the filmmakers, fat jokes are about all Tolkein does with the character of Bombur, too :P

I mostly enjoyed the movie. But I did think that part of it was at least 15 minutes too long.
Jan. 15th, 2013 02:04 am (UTC)
I did get a good snicker at the Keystone Kops homage with the ladder.
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Jim C. Hines

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