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The Hobbit (1977 film)

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The Hobbit was adapted into an animated television movie by Rankin/Bass Productions in 1977. It manages to retell most of the story within its 77 minute span. An LP with the soundtrack and dialog from the movie was also released in 1977 --- ironically, by Disney, through its Buena Vista Records label, although, by popular demand, an edited version, along with accompanying "storyteller read-alongs," was later issued for the Mouse Factory's Disneyland Records imprint.

The story's hero Bilbo Baggins was voiced by Orson Bean, backed up by John Huston as the voice of Gandalf. Otto Preminger was the voice of the Elvenking, Richard Boone grumbled the Dragon Smaug, Cyril Ritchard spoke for Elrond, Hans Conried voiced Thorin Oakenshield, and Brother Theodore was chosen for the voice of Gollum. Rankin-Bass icon Paul Frees co-starred as Bombur; Don Messick portrayed Dori and Balin; John Stephenson was the charming and proud archer Bard; and they and Jack DeLeon supplied the voices of the other members of Thorin's Company. The film was produced and directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass and adapted for the screen by Romeo Muller; with Rankin taking on the additional duties of production designer, and Bass adapting some of Tolkien's original lyrics, as well as contributing, along with Maury Laws, an original theme song, "The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of the Hobbit)," sung by Glenn Yarbrough.

The same team, along with Bean, Huston, Theodore, Frees and Messick, returned for the 1980 adaption of The Return of the King.

Critical reaction

The movie was first broadcast on NBC in the United States, on November 27, 1977, and was tailored to children: the story was done in a very light-hearted style, and featured a lot of songs (most of which came from book). Much of the story was simplified and several key parts are omitted.

The art is both praised and criticized. Some reviewers regard it as a strong point of the movie. Inaccuracies in the depictions draws a lot of criticism from Tolkien fans: Gandalf has a hood instead of a hat, despite clearly being described in the book; Gollum looks like some sort of frog-creature; Elrond has a beard despite the book outright saying that Elves do not have beards; the Wood-elves, rather than being the "fair folk," are even uglier than the goblins (and the Elvenking has a thick German accent for some reason); Smaug is extremely hairy for being a dragon.

In 1978, NBC, Romeo Muller won a Peabody Award for his teleplay for The Hobbit. The movie was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, but lost to Star Wars.

Changes to the story

While the movie is quite faithful to the story, it is at its core still a child-oriented musical adaptation, and therefore not a perfect adaptation of Tolkien's novel. Most of the changes are found as omissions rather than modifications of the plot.

In the movie:

  1. All the Dwarves show up with Gandalf all at once in the film rather than coming in groups the day after Gandalf meets Bilbo and puts a mark on his door.
  2. The company leaves Bilbo's house on ponies, but after that the ponies are not seen until they are lost in crossing the Misty Mountains. In the book, the company rode ponies from Bag End to Rivendell.
  3. Bilbo is noticed by the Trolls as he sneaks up to steal some meat rather than disclosed by the Troll's "talking" purse.
  4. The Dwarves flee in terror from the Trolls and are picked up one at a time instead of walking blindly into the camp and being ambushed (except for Thorin, who puts up a fight).
  5. Gandalf apparently has the power to make the dawn come earlier and dispatching the Trolls rather than tricking the Trolls by throwing his voice.
  6. The Troll cave does not have a locked door like in the book.
  7. Gandalf gives Thorin the Map of Thror and the key in the troll cave rather than back at Bag End.
  8. Up in the mountains, there are no stone giants playing games amidst the storm.
  9. Gandalf is missing in the cave when the goblins emerge, rather than sleeping when it happens. The Dwarves run into the tunnel rather than are grabbed.
  10. The Dwarves do not fight the goblins in the tunnel.
  11. Bilbo specifically asked Gollum what he has in his pocket rather than muttering it aloud to himself. Gollum does not even try to guess instead of demanding three guesses. Only four riddles are said in the movie (there were ten in the book).
  12. Bilbo pulls the ring out of his pocket after Gollum says he's looking for his "golden ring, magical ring".
  13. Bilbo has no trouble getting out the back door (no goblins to sneak by or tight spots to fit through).
  14. Rather than meet the Wargs in the forest, the goblins come with them, riding on them and wielding torches (despite the Wargs' fear of fire in the book).
  15. The Great Eagles do not take the company to their eyries, but to the edge of Mirkwood, bypassing Beorn (who does not appears in the movie).
  16. The incident at the enchanted river, including Bombur's magical sleep, is omitted.
  17. The feasts of the Wood-elves are omitted (yet are referred to when the Wood-elves capture the Dwarves).
  18. Bilbo has to fight and kill only four spiders rather than dozens and dozens. Bilbo's sword, Sting, always glows in the movie regardless of whether goblins are nearby or not.
  19. Thorin is captured with the other Dwarves by the spiders and then the Wood-elves.
  20. There is no stop over from the journey via barrels from the Wood-elves' castle to Laketown.
  21. There is no Master in Laketown; Bard the guardsman runs the city.
  22. The company does not make camp at the base of the mountain.
  23. Balin does not go with Bilbo into the secret entrance.
  24. Bilbo has only one audience with Smaug and the thrush is present. Bilbo orders the thrush to seek Bard to tell him of Smaug's weakness.
  25. The Arkenstone and all that goes with it is omitted.
  26. Roäc the raven is omitted. In the book, the ravens tell the Dwarves that Smaug is slain and is sent to Dain to call for assistance. In the movie, the Dwarves wait, lost inside the Lonely Mountain for a week and it is never explained why Dain arrives at such an opportune moment.
  27. The company discovers the two armies coming when they are on the doorstep rather than being warned in advance.
  28. Thorin and the dwarves plan a suicidal last stand against the elves and men in a pitched battle outside the mountain and are pleasantly surprised when Dain's army arrives.
  29. Ravenhill is not mentioned.
  30. The armies in the Battle of the Five Armies are divided differently (Bilbo counts the Goblins and Wargs as one army, the Eagles are counted as a separate army).
  31. The Battle of the Five Armies happens differently: notably, Beorn is not there.
  32. In the book, only Thorin, Kili, and Fili die from the battle, leaving 10 dwarves still alive. In the movie, Thorin, Bombur, and five other unnamed dwarves are killed. (In fact, Bombur was one of the few Dwarves in the quest known to be still alive in the days of The Lord of the Rings.)
  33. Most of the return journey, including winter at Beorn's home, a stop at Rivendell, and digging up gold they buried by the troll camp, is omitted.
  34. The auction back at Bag End is omitted.
  35. Balin and Gandalf's visit, years later, is omitted.

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