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The Hobbit vs. The Goblins

Snoopy

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.

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( 51 comments — Leave a comment )
julian_griffith
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.
jimhines
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.
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naomikritzer
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.)
naomikritzer
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!)
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barbarienne
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)
heinous_bitca
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.
funwithrage
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.
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cepetit.myopenid.com
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.
temporus
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.
barbarienne
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.
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roseaponi
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.
temporus
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
grav_ity
Jan. 14th, 2013 05:42 pm (UTC)
As a rather unbashed lover of this movie, I very much enjoyed the Goblin fight scenes. I liked tracking each dwarf and following his fight style, and I also really liked how, when they were split into groups, the "warriors" were always at the front and back, and the others mostly group fought.

Gandalf references how lucky they've all been about 8000 times in the book, so I guess I just forget that everyone doesn't know that already. Most of the references to Bombur in the book also reference his weight (including the very unfair "Then you shouldn't be so fat" when he's last to arrive at Beorn's house). It's unfortunate that the movie chose to dwell on it as well, but at least they dialed it back a lot, and, interestingly, limited the actual comments to Bofur (his brother).

As for the treatment of Goblins, well...there are goblins and there are goblins. Tolkien's goblins are one-dimensional on purpose. They don't even really have their own WILL without Sauron's influence (which, at this time, is negligible). My only complaint about the goblins was that the Great Goblin's voice sounded too human.

ETA: OH, and the Stone Giant part was a bit over the top, but it also allowed them to separate all the dwarf family groups (except for Oin and Gloin), which allows for CHARACTER AND FEEEEEEELINGS, so I'm for it. I'd rather that than a bunch of lines explaining how they're all related and why it matters.

It wasn't perfect, I acknowledge that, but I am also very, very tired of people telling me that it wasn't a good fight scene. If you say "in my opinion", I'd be more accepting, but I found it to be intricate and storied, with the right dwarves doing the bulk of the work, and the others being shepherded along in the "run, and then turn and fight" style described in the book.

At times like these, I cling pretty hard to How To Be A Fan of Problematic Things, but I get pretty tired of people telling me that things I love are badly done, and not badly done in their opinion.

Edited at 2013-01-14 05:44 pm (UTC)
hopeofdawn
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 ...)
temporus
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.
wordswoman
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.
etherial
Jan. 15th, 2013 12:05 am (UTC)
The blast 'em part is mostly a movie invention.
klwilliams
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.
wow_hazmat
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...
lunarflight
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.
cartesiandaemon
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!
brendanpodger
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.
etherial
Jan. 16th, 2013 07:40 pm (UTC)
I totally have to run that scene through the Benny Hillifier now...
sylvia_rachel
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.
6_penny
Jan. 15th, 2013 02:04 am (UTC)
I did get a good snicker at the Keystone Kops homage with the ladder.
tekalynn
Jan. 15th, 2013 05:49 am (UTC)
I found the movie dwarves to be much more interesting and individualized than in the book. I plan to go see the movie again soon, specifically so I can study the group interactions with more attention.
cartesiandaemon
Jan. 15th, 2013 10:58 am (UTC)
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?

I realised that this basically happened in every roleplaying campaign (and most fantasy books).

But I eventually realised that it was quite realistic -- before there was widespread international diplomacy, if you were fighting another tribe, you often probably didn't have much choice but to kill people, lacking any infrastructure which would impose a lesser penalty on the losers whilst preventing them from immediately seeking revenge.

So I thought it was an interesting exercise in empathy, even though a modern morality absolutely shouldn't prioritise the Dwarves over the Goblins (and I agree the extended game of whack-a-goblin was badly placed -- a bit of high-spirited action is good, but mass slaughter is not so good).

FWIW, I think the books had a similar problem, played up less here (where the Dwarves were reasonably acting in self defence by escaping and mostly just running away) but more so in other places.

IIRC, Tolkien considered the question of the inherent evilness of Orcs in some letters, but never really settled the matter in his own mind. I think he decided that because Orcs were derived from Elves, they must have the same free will that all sentient beings were born with, so there must be good Orcs somewhere, they must just not show up on screen.

For that matter, the evil-evil orcs are more a LOTR things, in the Hobbit, the Goblins do seem like a functioning society, if possibly a nasty one, whereas in LOTR they were all sadistic enemy soldiers.
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Jim C. Hines
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