Review of RA and Thorin; or Oh Thorin, You Fine Bastard

Thorin12I’m not a Tolkien fan, having never read any of his books.  I saw all of the LotR trilogy  enjoyed them, then promptly forgot them, except for Gollum and his precious. I wouldn’t have been particularly interested in seeing The Hobbit were it not for Richard Armitage being cast as Thorin.    So my knowledge of the story is either forgotten or nonexistent.   As for RA, I’ve made no bones about not being an avid fangurl.  But I wanted  him to do well and was thrilled for him that he’d snagged this major role.  Also, I attended with a friend who didn’t know RA from Adam. Truth be told, I would have felt mortified had she turned to me and said, “So that was your boy? He sucked.”

So yes, I hoped he didn’t fall on his face.  That was the extent of my expectations of him.

That’s also the extent of my objective fan bona fides.  Okay, now for RA and Thorin.

Knowing next to nothing about Thorin, I was prepared to embrace this dispossessed king.  I knew he might have some issues over the situation, but this Thorin is a total prick.  He is prideful, ego-driven, stubborn, obsessed, bastard – the poster child for grudge carrying.  Even the flashbacks showing Smaug toasting Erebor, Thranduil the Elvenking turning his back, and Azog beheading his grandfather didn’t adequately explain his highly antagonistic attitude towards Bilbo and need to insult him every chance he got.  Aside from marveling his noble and commanding warrior badassery, I felt little reason to care, other than he is the good guy.  By the end, I wouldn’t have been surprised had Bilbo acknowledged Thorin’s thanks by telling him where he could go.  RA gives a solid performance as a solid asshole.  But wait, this is a children’s movie.  Other fan reviewers raved and cried.  Hmm.

Clearly I was missing something.  So, I went back for a second viewing in a closer seat.  All became clear. Literally.  I was too nearsighted to see RA’s eyes during the first showing.  This time, Thorin is still a bastard, but such a good-looking one.  That always helps, it really, really, really does. (But you know I’m shallow).  More importantly, seeing his eyes makes him more human dwarven; they signal more depth and emotion underneath the gruff exterior.  This makes Thorin more palatable to me, but he is still not admirable as a character.  The big scene in which he loses his mind and marches out of the burning tree to take on Azog AND his warg,  leaving his group to die, qualifies him for a major beatdown later.  Or at least a good right hook.  There’s also the strong indication that his quest is more motivated by personal vengeance and the need to redeem himself in his own eyes as an heir of Durin than an altruistic reclamation for his people.  As he tells Balin, “*I* have no choice.”  He’s hell-bound to proceed with the mission no matter what and feels no qualms about leading a paltry band of 14 to do what an entire army of dwarves could not.  Again, having never read Tolkien, I assume honor and vengeance is the dwarven creed, so maybe his behavior is understandable.  While Thorin is not a particularly likeable character, there’s an indication that might change as the journey continues.  However, considering that he’s already half unhinged, I’m not sure how he will avoid the dragon sickness and its greed.

[EDIT: Thanks to our Mujer Tropical, I have a better understanding of Thorin.  Facing his destiny and fears is certainly admirable, so I revise that part.  However, I still have difficulty with his likeability, mainly because it take a little more time to understand such a character without some outside source (the books, Mujer Tropical).  Unlike Sir Ian with Gandalf, RA was given precious little time to convey Thorin’s complexities.]

RA delivers a solid performance as Thorin, considering he was quite hampered by the prosthetic forehead.  He had to dispense with the repertoire of micro-expressions for which he’s known.  RA reported he had to overreact scenes with his eyes and jaw in order to signal emotions to the audience.  He managed successfully, giving Thorin more depth than he would have had ordinarily.  Instead of being a bastard on a quest, he’s an interesting bastard with potential on a quest.  RA uses his low- baritone effectively, lending a commanding voice to his fine visage.  His characterization is mostly Thorin, although I detected Thornton in two lines, and Guy of Gisborne in a few  eye and head movements.  His fight scenes are excellent with his dancer’s spins and graceful choreography.  He did well with the material he had.  I can find no fault with his acting.  Most of my issues concern problems with the script and overall editing.

More about that later.


13 thoughts on “Review of RA and Thorin; or Oh Thorin, You Fine Bastard

  1. Hello. I hear what you are saying, but not reading the book has made you misunderstand part of what Thorin is all about. He is not a bastard. The thing is, in order to explain what I mean, I would have to spoil things you will see in the next two movies, and I can’t do that. Bilbo isn’t perfect either. He does something really bad later, something he has no business doing. I don’t know if Peter Jackson has/will film it the way Tolkien wrote it, but…let’s just say both Bilbo and Thorin make mistakes they later regret.

    Richard certainly brings grace and a royal demeanor to his role. Like Peter Jackson said at the Tokyo Press Conference, as an actor Richard commands your attention by the force of his screen presence, whether he is talking or not. He oozes authority and inspires loyalty and respect as a leader. Those dwarves would do anything for him, and there are very good reasons for that attitude.

    As for the scene where he stands up from the tree and confronts Azog, he was not abandoning his peers. The odds of them dying out there were almost 100%, trapped on a huge tree that was about to fall, and surrounded by fire and a hateful army of orcs. Thorin decided that he would not cower, that he would fight for his life and those of his dwarves until the end. He was convinced he would die anyway, and he wasn’t about to do nothing and let his grandfather’s murderer sit there gloating and mocking them. He got angry. He was very young in dwarf years when he witnessed the destruction of his home and most of his race. In the book, Thorin is away from the Mountain when the attack occurs. That makes him an even more tormented Prince, full of frustration, one who has always wondered if things would have been different had he been there to fight. We must also take into consideration that it was Gandalf who went to Thorin and urged him to reclaim Erebor. Gandalf did this because he was afraid evil was growing in secret and Smaug would be used to attack all the peaceful races of Middle-Earth. In other words, Gandalf used Thorin for his own agenda. The whole story is much more profound in tone and meaning than what the movie lets us believe.

    The next movie will be crucial in determining whether or not Jackson has succeeded in telling his story. The dwarves will face Thránduil, and Smaug. The Hobbit is really a tale of the dichotomy between two different protagonists, one who is humble and has not discovered the courage that lies within his soul, and another who has proven his courage and strength beyond doubt but also knows his pride can be his downfall and is terrified of facing his destiny for fear it will destroy him. Part of him wants to stay where he has created a new life for him and his people, but he feels duty bound by blood and honor to avenge his family and reclaim their treasure. It’s a sad and – in the end – very moving lesson to us all. One more thing, since we have seen the LOTR trilogy, we know that Bilbo also loved his comforts and his wealth. The main difference between him and Thorin is that the Hobbit did not live with the burden of a constant, seething undercurrent of anger. Bilbo was happy. Thorin was not.
    Sorry for the long post! Can you tell I love Tolkien? Ha! 😉

    • Thanks so much for this post!

      In my usual way, I was looking for the missing element in his story. While the script dedicated almost too much time to Thorin’s backstory, it gave RA very little time to signal Thorin’s fears and conflicts to the audience (well, at least to me). Also, I wasn’t sure whether it was Gandalf or Thorin who really wanted to do this, so that does add another consideration.

      Could you be my go-to person for future Thorin posts? 🙂

      • Thank you for your kind words! I would love to do that if you’d like. I can always go back to my small library of Tolkien reference books! One of the reasons I love Richard so much and admire him as an artist is that when he is hired for a role, he sits down with every possible piece of related material he can find and – not only studies it thoroughly – but he uses the information to stir his imagination into creating a biography for the character, going all the way back to their childhood. He imagines their family life, friends, hobbies, studies, tastes, loves, faults, dreams, goals, and even how they like to dress, the sound of their voice, their gait and their bodies. All this to fill out the gaps left by the original writer, and to shape his portrayal in his mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is a little OCD. He likes to be in control, he wants to win, he wants to be the strongest link in the chain. He has admitted that he has pride. It’s hard not to when you are practically perfect in every way. Ha!
        Like I said, give Thorin a chance. He is a good dwarf. He was born to be a King and has witness a terrible holocaust and lost everything and almost everyone he loved. He went from living in a castle to having to earn a living as a blacksmith while being in charge of the well being of the survivors of Erebor AND supervise the construction of a new city. Wouldn’t YOU be tense? If on top of that, you add the fact that he was single and childless – a huge NO NO for a Royal Heir…well, you can imagine his burden.
        Okay then, I will shut up now. Let me know when you need me. 😉

        • Oh, I agree RA has obsessive qualities, sometimes disturbingly so. But as a friend told me, it’s what it takes to be the caliber actor he is.

          Yes, I’m keeping an open mind about Thorin. Hopefully, the next film will allow RA more time to explore his character.

          Oh, why did you bring up the point about Thorin being all alone… it’s giving me bad ideas. Wickedly awful bad ideas. 😉

  2. Both the blog post and the first commenters response were very interesting for me to read. It’s a great example of “point-counterpoint”. First, I never read Tolkien and confess I wasn’t a huge LOTR fan although I did watch all three movies when they eventually came out on DVD. I do have a husband and son, see, so it was inevitable we’d watch them (many times over the years actually!). So I was familiar with the later tale of the Hobbit’s nephew Frodo, but didn’t know too much about Bilbo’s own adventure. It was after seeing LOTR that I bought The Hobbit to read. So I was late to the party, I guess. But I agree that Thorin is written as a very flawed yet imposing character, but that was Tolkien’s choosing. Richard Armitage, in my opinion, did a great job of conveying the conflict Thorin feels inside himself as he leads his loyal band on this dangerous quest. I can find his reluctance to have Bilbo tag along believeable, because it seems to me that in Middle Earth no one trusts anyone outside their own race. As for Thorin charging across the burning tree, aimed at revenge against a murderer, well – heaven forbid I’m ever in that position (of losing a loved one at the hands of someone else) but I’d be bent on exacting a little “eye for an eye” justice myself. I know the end of the book, and also know that when the third film comes out I MUST take Kleenex. I know that Thorin will descend further into his own darkness. And that there will be epic battles fought. I cannot wait to see it all.

      • The book is pretty short – I reread it in just a few days this summer. While reading it I realized that Jackson would have needed 2 movies to do it, despite it’s short length – Tolkein doesn’t go into as much detail as some modern children’s books do (Harry Potter, for example). Adding the extra stuff is what put him to 3 movies.

  3. Giggles! You pot stirrer you, Miss Judiang!
    Points taken by all of you. By the way, I’m on the loved the movie and Richard Armitage’s portrayal side of the aisel–Thorin being a badass isn’t all that bad. Ha!

    But when I see the movie again–and I will, and hopefully with fewer potty breaks so I won’t miss anything–it will be interesting to see what nuances I discern in Richard Armitage’s Thorin and all of the performances. And maybe I will have my own story, plot, and Gandalf and Bilbo motivation questions answered more thoroughly.
    Cheers! Grati ;->

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the movie and RA’s portrayal. His badassery was totally awesome, although Gandalf was giving him competition. I’m due for one last viewing with a free IMAX ticket. It will be interesting to see what I pick up then. Perhaps, the third time’s the charm? 😉

      • Sign me up! Ha! I’ve never been to an IMax theatre–I don’t think. Hmmmm. Does the Lincoln Library count? Ha! But, I’m guessing I might have to wait until after Christmas to train up to the big city to see my THAUJ in 3D HFR splendour. Sighhhhh!
        P.S. OT: A napping beagle puppy is the most “precious” thing on the planet–especially since her chewing teeth are not in use. Ha!

  4. Ok, so I’ve read the book and watched the movie a couple of times as well. My opinion of Thorin is, and always will be, that he is an a**h**e. The scene you mention where he leaves his brothers in arms and future citizens showed how much of a selfish jerk he is. On top of that, it is a stupid move. If he would have defeated Azog and the other orcs on his own (hugely impossible if), he would have likely lost his fellow dwarves, hobbit and wizard and been faced with the task of completing the journey and facing Smaug alone which would not be successful either. At least it shows where his heart is and we should not be surprised with what happens near the end of the films (if it remains true to the book).

  5. I’m rather surprised that some people see Thorin as a selfish bastard just because he is mean to Bilbo and because he descends from the tree to fight Azog. He doesn’t want Bilbo along for two reasons: he doesn’t see his function within the group and, if Bilbo can’t cope then he will die. Secondly, and more importantly to him as a leader of men that he feels very responsible for and very close to, Bilbo appears to be the sort of liability that might bring about the deaths of his men – and he puts his men first. We see in his discussion with Balin in Bag End that this company are the only dwarves who came when he called and he is very moved by this and values them over a whole army from the Iron Hills.

    And yet, although he feels very strongly about Bilbo’s presence, he puts his own life on the line for him twice when Bilbo gets into a mess: first, Bilbo is captured by the trolls and Thorin orders everyone to throw down their weapons rather than allowing Bilbo to be torn to pieces. Secondly, Bilbo is the only one who can’t cope with the cliff path during the storm and Thorin nearly kills himself going to his rescue when he falls off. A bastard would have let him die both times and would have been glad to be rid of him.

    Thorin’s quest is not a selfish one of revenge: it is to get back Erebor for a dispossessed people. He doesn’t know that Azog is still alive and so that element doesn’t come into things until later and who wouldn’t want to destroy a dragon whom you have seen roast alive and kill so many of your friends and kin? When Gandalf gives him the map and key, he knows he has inherited a burden and that he must try to do what both his father and grandfather have failed to do. Again, it is the responsibility of kingship and of leadership.

    And as for him descending from the tree to kill Azog being selfish…… In what way? All the dwarves are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. They are all about to die anyway and Thorin decides on one last act of heroism: he will try to take down their enemy against all odds. He’s not abandoning his men. In fact, his leadership and courage prompts them all to follow, even Bilbo. Bilbo follows and then the rest join in. Yes, they would have all gone down fighting but, better that than being burned to death or falling over the cliff.

    And finally, although many leaders or princes might see it as losing face, he publicly recognises Bilbo’s courage and apologises to him, ending on that heartfelt hug.

    And that last moment of him in the film? You can see the pain, the hope and the longing in his eyes as he gets his first glimpse of the Lonely Mountain. He might become a bit of a bastard later on in the story as he and Bilbo painfully clash again – but he’s far from being a bastard yet. He is someone whom we are supposed to love and admire – just like his men and just like Bilbo.

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