Monday, January 5, 2015

Character Care in LOTR vs The Hobbit movies

Time to start some healthy controversy :-)

Let’s talk about character development in two of the most anticipated series out in the past 10 years. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Since I’m talking about characters in fantasy novels, I figured if I posted a picture of Aragorn it would appeal to the romance writers out there too, right? :-) And WHAT a hero!

So, let’s talk.

The Hobbit was written for a younger audience than The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The Hobbit is one novel that was stretched over 3 movies whereas LOTR had 3 books to fit the movie number.

And let’s face it – the INCREDIBLE cast chosen for LOTR was a once-in-a-lifetime pairing of artists and personalities which was pretty impossible to match in The Hobbit.

So with those in mind, let’s talk Character Development.

I am big Tolkien fan, so when LOTR came out in movie form, I was thrilled. For the most part, Peter Jackson did a great job portraying the heart of the story and he gave viewers a visually thrilling introduction to the world of Middle Earth. With a large cast of characters, it can be a little difficult to make the viewer/reader really care about any one character, but in the movies, Jackson does this so well. In LOTR, in particular, viewers are invited to care about A LOT of characters - and we do! What happens here? How does the ‘care’ of the characters create a deeper development in one series over another?

He builds care through relationships.

We care about the characters because of the evidence that other people care.

This happens in much more depth in LOTR than in The Hobbit trilogy. The fellowship of the 9 have various elements of camaraderie before they are brought together, so when they start their relationships as a Fellowship, it makes the story even stronger. Aragorn and Legolas are clearly good buds, Gandalf has a relationship (of sorts) with all of them, the four Hobbits have been raised around each other for years. Even if the relationships begin as somewhat antagonistic (Legolas & Gimli), there is a connection.

The Hobbit trilogy doesn’t build the same depth of character relationships as LOTR, which leads to viewers feeling less of a connection to the characters. Of course, the dwarves add some humor in the beginning, Tauriel and Kili are sweet, and the relationship between Bilbo and Gandalf is cute, but as far as developing the kind of ‘care’ as LOTR? It isn’t the same. One of my favorite characters in the whole Hobbit Trilogy is Bard, especially as we get to know his character more in the third movie – but this, again, is due to his relationship as a father and leader. The relationships, the interaction, builds the care.

(Smaug is AWESOME, btw,  but because he’s a dragon and voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch)

As a writer - how do you use relationship to develop 'care' in your characters? What does the relationship your main characters have with each other tell us about them? How does it deepen their characterization?

He builds care through basic characterization

In LOTR we learn pretty early on that Pippin is the jokster and risk-taker, Samewise is the faithful one, Gimli is the comic relief, Gandalf is the wise mentor, Aragorn is the honest warrior. In the books and in the movies, the characterization of these characters helps readers and viewers to develop a kinship or likeability with them. There’s comfort, humor, and compassion that comes with the predictability in their characters.

In The Hobbit, it was a more thinly presented characterization. In my opinion, even over 3 movies, I didn’t get to know any of the characters well enough to feel confident in predicting their behaviors – except maybe Bilbo and Bard.

So what do you do as a writer? Does your character have endearing quirks? How do you 'show' who they are through they way they interact with their environment and world? Their clothing choices? How they drive a car? Do they clean their house on a schedule or as the mood hits? All these seemingly small things can deepen characterization and thus the reader's care.

He builds care through character choices.

It seems to be a pretty common thought that we care about good people more than bad people (unless they are fantastic villains, then we may just enjoy their appearance on the page), and individuals in movies and books show their ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ through the choices they make. I must take the time to mention Samwise Gamgee here. WOW! His example of friendship and faithfulness in LOTR is beautiful and definitely ‘quote-worthy’.

“I can’t carry it, Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you.”

Okay, I digress.
Aragorn’s constant acts of heroism and sacrifice, Merry & Pippins companionship, Gandalf’s self-sacrifice and wisdom … there are so many. The choices make give us a deeper understanding of who they are - and who they are willing to become.

The same is true in the Hobbit, but it never quite goes as deep and close as LOTRs. Bard’s choices to save the town is certainly a reason to care for him (and the fact he loves his kids), Bilbo’s choices to save his friends (on several occasions).

The choices your characters make help to build the reader's connection to them. When the characters win, lose, and how they seek forgiveness for their mistakes. Boromir in his epic death scene trying to 'redeem' himself from his choices - and even asks forgiveness of Aragorn. Thorin asking for forgiveness from Bilbo (which helps us end with good thoughts about Thorin who had pretty much been a grumpy pants the entire movie)

So what are your thoughts?

Why do you CARE about the characters you read or write?


Laurie Tomlinson said...

LOVE this post, and I agree completely. The Hobbit trilogy execution didn't quite live up to the LOTR trilogy -- but not quite as bad as Star Wars and it's follow-up. That's a post for a different day, though :)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Wow, Pepper, what a great post! I haven't seen the third Hobbit movie yet, but I would concur with what you shared.

I also appreciate your questions woven through the post for me to consider with my characters. :)

Loved this!

Alen said...

The Hobbit wasn't as good a book as LOTR. In the book Gandalf left and returned for no reason other than to have the spider/wood elf sub-plot.

in the book it wasn't the one ring, it was just another magic ring to help the plot along.

all their adventures were just a bunch of events with no connection, no theme, nothing to tie them together.

i'm amazed the movies came out as good as they did.

Pepper said...

You just added another GREAT note about characterization.

When the characters have a purpose, especially as in LOTR (a combined purpose) is draws the readers/viewers in all the more!

THanks for sharing

Pepper said...

Laurie - so true about Star Wars. Ugh... The hero's journey is so nicely portrayed in the original movies, btw. Great for story and character :-)

Pepper said...

Thanks a bunch. I love fantasy stuff so this was 'right up my alley'
I'm glad it was helpful

Anonymous said...

I actually like The Hobbit movie trilogy better than the LOTR movie trilogy, although I can see how the complex relationships in the LOTR movies made the characters more real and developed. Another relationship that I think is worth mentioning in The Hobbit is the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin. There is a lot of tension between them because Thorin does not believe in Bilbo's abilities. Then, his respect grows as Bilbo shows how truly courageous he can be. Great post!

Pepper Basham said...

GREAT reminder. That relationship between Bilbo and Thorin was fabulous - especially the 'acorn' scene in the third movie. The one person able to get a glimpse of the 'old Thorin' in that crazy moment was Bilbo.
Thanks for that. (and it was one of my 13 year old daughter's favorite scenes)

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Kara Isaac said...

I haven't seen the third Hobbit movie yet but I definitely agree with you so far and it would take a pretty epic third movie to make me change my mind (and I've heard it is epic but more in the battle sense!).

I definitely was more attached to the LOTR movie characters than the Hobbit ones. There is just a lot more depth of relationship and character displayed which got me a lot more engaged. Some of the dwarves just all merge together for me!