The novels of J.R.R. Tolkien are sacred cows in the world of fantasy literature, and even though director Peter Jackson has bought all the good faith he needs for the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” fanbases, every cut or alteration to the beloved stories brought some heat with it. Hell, some fans are still mourning the loss of Tom Bombadil from “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
It’s the business of adapting a book into a movie that cuts will be made. Additions, however, are mostly uncharted waters. That’s why so many hardcore Tolkienites shuddered at the news of Tauriel, a female elf created specifically for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” and “The Hobbit: There and Back Again.” Even with a fan-approved actress like “Lost” star Evangeline Lilly in the role, what could a new character add to an already crowded world?
Even Lilly, especially as a “Star Wars” fan, understood the perils of jumping into a series. “When I took the role as Tauriel in these films and I knew she wasn’t in the books, I was like, ‘Oh sh–, I could be the Jar Jar of this series. This is dangerous,’ ” she told MTV News.
Well, it turns out that she can add a lot.
We mentioned Tauriel’s impact on “The Desolation of Smaug” briefly the other day, but because of just how important the character ended up being the sequel’s vast improvement of quality, we thought we’d take a close look at the elfin archer.
Perhaps the biggest thing that “The Desolation of Smaug” does to improve upon the first installment is to split up the action between different storylines and then locations. The budding romance between Tauriel and Kili will catch people off-guard at first, but the strong performances from Lilly and Aiden Turner do the heavy lifting to make an inter-species love story not be as force as it might sound on paper. With the introduction of that narrative, the stakes are instantly double because not everything is riding on the dwarves getting their home back. It’s more complicated than that now. (It also doesn’t hurt to have more than one female character.)
Now, that we’ve got the mushy emotional talk out of the way, we can move onto the other great thing Tauriel does for “The Desolation of Smaug”: She’s really, really good at killing orcs. Now, to be fair, the praise should be split between Lilly and returning elf Orlando Bloom. As soon as those two start taking out the forces of the Dark Lord, it’s pretty clear what “An Unexpected Journey” was missing. Thinking back to the major set pieces of the first film, it was almost entirely devoid of battles. The dwarves would attack larger foes as a group and then run away. That’s not the elfin way, however, and as a result, we get fights that feel like “The Lord of the Rings” all over again.
It was considerations like these that persuaded Lilly to take the part. Though she is a fan of the book, the actress took a step back to think about what the character could mean for the movie.
“I look at it from an intellectual standpoint. I think there are great feminist reasons to do it. There are great story structure reasons to do it and story evolution reasons to do it,” she said. “Ultimately, a film is always going to be an adaptation of a book. It’s never the book verbatim…. And now that I’ve seen the film, I can say that it totally was not the Jar Jar path because it wasn’t jarring. It didn’t pull you out of the film. It drew you deeper into Middle-earth because it embellished on Tolkien’s vision for Middle-earth.”
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is in theaters now.