One of my biggest gripes about the final Hobbit movie was the way it – rather literally – lost the plot. Not just the plot of Tolkien’s wonderful kids’ classic, but the plot that this curious adaptation had defined for itself.
In particular, the big battle scene – which from a dramatic perspective should have been the closing drama of the eight-hour, three-movie sequence – dribbled. We lost it half-way in favour of Legolas defing physics in a cartoon-character climb up falling stones; and Thorin going into glacially slow single combat with a CGI orc on a skating rink.
Abandoning the battle scene around which the movie was built – was a major structural failure on the part of Jackson and his script-writing team. Sure, it enabled them to personify the fight and resolve the tensions of the ‘big bad guy’ who provided ‘chase melodrama’ in the first movie.
But that could have been set amidst the battle. And should have been. Tolkien did in the original, when the battle became the setting for Thorin’s redemption of himself, through combat. Thus one of the key character arcs resolved in synch with the dramatic climax of the story.
This is a basic dramatic principle. Sure, it’s good form to personify the challenge your hero has to meet, in the form of a ‘big bad guy’. But you can’t isolate the resolution from the way the plot’s been built. For a great movie example of that, check out Star Wars, where the underlying plot – the need by the rebels to destroy the Death Star – came together with the personal character arc, Luke’s tensions with Darth Vader, who was also the ‘big bad guy’ of the Death Star. Everything came together in a single very exciting scene. This was simply brilliant movie-making and story-telling. Losing the plot – literally – is something novelists need to avoid too.
The base principle, both for novels and films, is simple; plots move in dramatic rising waves until the final climactic scenes when both the plot and the main character arcs resolve. Putting the two together creates real tension and drama. Failing to do so results in melodrama, at best. At worst, it’s simply silly – as The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies showed us. The key to bringing the character and plot together correctly is planning. Not necessarily blow-by-blow; there’s still room for good ideas. And for re-planning if those ideas threaten to overwhelm the balance of the plot.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015