INTERVIEW: 'Hobbit' Screenwriter Philippa Boyens Won't Read 'The Silmarillion' Again Because It Will 'Break My Heart'

Philippa Boyens Interview The Hobbit

Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings screenwriter Philippa Boyens is back for another romp in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth playground with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and she recently sat down with Movieline to talk about the fantasy novel's adaptation to the screen. Philippa Boyens Interview The HobbitBoyens, who is Hobbit director (and co-writer) Peter Jackson's foremost Tolkien expert — although Stephen Colbert would beg to differ — refers to the Middle Earth creator using the honorific "Professor"  and her reverence and esteem for the author are just about as infectious (in a good way, naturally) as Gollum's "Precious" ring. By the end of the interview, she had us referring to Tolkien as Professor too, as she discussed the changes and adaptations she and her writing partners made to the text, the sad story of Balin the Dwarf, why fans should be very, very excited for 2043, when the copyright runs out on Tolkien's Middle-Earth compendium, The Silmarillion, and more.

From a technical perspective, if you're not going to have Smaug in this movie you need a secondary antagonist. How did you decide on Azog, and what resonance did he provide for you thematically?

You hit the nail on the head because when we were first looking at this as a piece of storytelling, we wanted to get to the dragon. We did try getting to the dragon in one draft, actually. But you had to lose so much along the way. We also understood that the Necromancer is too ephemeral at this moment – too much of a shadowy character that's not fully understood. It's a great mystery story, but there's a big problem because there's no actual, physical enemy. And yet the dwarves had a very natural one and he was to be found. When Peter [Jackson] talks about taking this chance to tell more of the story, that was one of the pieces that we took — that and Moria. It's the story of the great hatred between the orcs and the dwarves, where it came from and what was informing it. And, also, I mean, Azog the Defiler. What a great name! You kind of can't beat that as a name.

Balin is telling the story of Azog and the Battle at Moria at a point in the film. I have to be honest, I half expected him to say –

I must take this back someday if I ever get the chance!

"It will be mine!" It brings up the question of – well, obviously, Tolkien wrote these sequentially. You're going the other way around. The temptation for prequelitis must have been overwhelming at times.

That's a great word. And no. But you do want some level of resonance because you know the truth is we did make Lord of the Rings first. The relationship between Gandalf and Galadriel is something I particularly loved doing. People forget that Cate Blanchett and Ian Mckellen were never in a single scene together except at the very, very end.

Gandalf was fallen by the time the company got to Lothlorien.

Yeah, and I think that moment – kids especially are gonna come to this and [The Hobbit] is going to be their first introduction to Middle Earth and then they will receive the rest of the story as a sequel. And that moment where she says 'Where is Gandalf for I very much desire to speak with him' to the Fellowship and they have to tell her that he died is going to be incredibly powerful. So…yeah, a little bit of prequelitis. Just a smidge. And Balin. Seeing Balin's tomb in Fellowship will have more resonance as well.

After two more movies especially –

 And Ori! Little Ori is the one who wrote "drums, drums in the deep: they are coming.'" I think probably because we've done Lord of the Rings it wasn't that hard. We had Gollum. This wasn't Gollum that you meet for the first time. We knew him. We understood how to make that internal conflict he has with Smeagal work. We had Andy Serkis the actor. Why wouldn't you use that? It's the great gift. The fact that Gandalf disappears, we know where he goes and what he's dealing with. It was interesting – a lot of pure Tolkien fans loved in Lord of the Rings that, instead of a piece of reportage, we actually followed Gandalf to Isengard. And [showed his] one-on-one with Saruman instead of merely having Gandalf tell everybody what he's been up to at the Council of Elrond. We got to see it, and we get to do the same thing this time as he goes to Dol Godur.

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  • Amy Elsie says:

    Phillipa Boyens... Hmmm. What a scoundrel you and your so-called writing cohorts are. Please stop ruining Professor Tolkien's original, brilliant works. You are not him. Your adaptations (and above all your insipid and tedious alterations) are imbecilic and you should be ashamed of thinking you can best him simply because it's a cinematic, CGI, video-game attempt at a film. You have only written derivative popcorn rubbish, loosely based on Tolkien's works to get paid and think yourself brilliant. You are most certainly not. What a pleasure it is to know you won't be able to make a mockery of The Silmarillion as your age would only advance your demented belief that you would somehow know better. Write something of your own and see how that fares with an audience. In fact, try doing something, anything at all, that doesn't involve smoking fistfuls of Peter Jackson Extra Dim and Fran Walsh-Jackson Unoriginal Choke. Bleh.

    • Couldn't agree more -- Peter let Fran and Phillippa turn The Hobbit into a "woman-friendly" Lifetime channel fantasy that has no relation to the Middle Earth Tolkien produced. When Tolkien himself saw a staged performance of one his works, he questioned why they didn't use more of his dialogue as written. The few times the films use the exact words from Tolkien, (ex. "Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall.") they stand out and makes one realize how Tolkien would've voiced the same complaint about Jackson's work today. Tolkien's dialogue is brilliant and does not need a Shakespearean ear to follow. Ahh Peter, let them pick out your shirts and socks but you should've never let your female cohorts exclude Tolkien's lines from their own re-enactment. The Hobbit was unwatchable -- it's even put a pallor on LOTR -- but it has returned me to Tolkien himself so I thank you for that.

  • K. Caron says:

    I love Tolkien's works. I love the LOTR and Hobbit movies. Those are not mutually exclusive. Adaptations and changes are necessary because a novel is very different thing from a film. Two completely different art mediums that need different things to live and breathe. These adaptations ARE brilliant and the changes only enhance the story. Those individuals who claim to be Tolkien fans yet hate these film adaptations are missing the point. Jackson, Boyens, and Walsh are brilliant and I'm grateful to them for doing such justice to the original works that captured my heart and imagination as a child and as an adult. I'm grateful that I have an education in literature and film that allows me to truly appreciate the mastery required to do this successfully. I'm equally grateful that I have a heart and soul open enough to appreciate beauty in many art forms.

    • Matt says:

      I respectfully disagree with you. While there may be some need to "adapt" a story to move it from the page to the screen, there is no reason to make the story worse. I don't "hate" the films in their entirety, but I feel that the addition of a love story between an elf and dwarf, as well as the way they portray Bilbo in the film, are both unnecessary and diminish the integrity of the story and characters that Tolkien created. I feel that (as a true fan of Tolkien's works) they did a much better job adapting the LOTR novel to screen than The Hobbit. It's one thing to leave some unnecessary characters/sub-plots out to move a story along and create a good story/tempo during a movie. It's entirely disgraceful to create rubbish and add it to a story that so many know and love. I just re-read The Hobbit again (I've read it too many times to remember) and there is plenty of story to tell to make an exceptional movie. And it's fine that they went into the appendices of Tolkien's works to bring out Azog when telling the story, but to make him a primary antagonist is WEAK.
      Actually..I just came across this article. The author pretty much nails my feelings on the movie. While it could be expressed more eloquently, she hits all the main points!

      To each their own, but this is one disappointed Tolkien fan.

  • Psycho says:

    I recommend Peter Jackson's King Kong for anyone who wrestles with sleeplessness.