June 6, 2014

Character Screen Time In The Desolation of Smaug

It seems like The Desolation of Smaug has split the fanbase in half, more so than any other Middle-earth film released so far.  Most of the discussions revolve around Bilbo's importance in the film.  Many purists argue that Bilbo has taken a backseat role in these trilogy of films titled, The Hobbit.  While these debates will probably continue unceasingly no matter what anyone says or does, I have a few numbers that are worth taking into consideration...

A few weeks ago an interesting chart made by Emil Johansson of the fantastic lotrproject.com added even more fuel to the fire.  He took a fan transcript of The Desolation of Smaug and made a graph showing how many words each character said in the film:

The chart is quite interesting and reveals a lot about the movie, but many fans saw it as a platform to argue about character "importance" in the film.  (It certainly caused a stir on theonering.net.)  While the chart does show how much each character talked it can't be used to say that Dori is more important in the film than the Necromancer (Sauron).  Film is not an audiobook.  Acting in a movie involves much more than just spitting out words.  Many characters, especially Bilbo, have numerous scenes that don't have any dialog at all (or at least very little).  While there is no way to objectively measure "importance" in a film I think measuring screentime would provide a better starting ground for discussion.  So, out of curiosity I decided to do just that.  I watched the film (or sometimes parts of it) a few times (not all at once ;-) ) with some timers and kept track of how many seconds some of the main or most disputed characters visibly appeared on screen (or gave lines over a shot).  The timers produced some interesting results:

While Thorin had about 400 more words than Bilbo our little hobbit was seen for 10 1/2 more minutes on screen than the dwarven king.  The two most disputed characters, Legolas and Tauriel, were only visible on screen for a total of about 18 minutes combined in a 161 minute movie.

Again, there is no objective way to measure "importance".  This chart should point out though that Bilbo was not belittled as much a some purists have tried to insist.  He was given much more screentime than any other character in the film and this should be noticed and understood by Ringers and Purists alike.

What do you think about it though?  Is 10 minutes too much for a character not in the books?  How do you view how "important" a character is in a film like this?  Even though Bilbo had the most screentime do you still think there were too many "distractions"?  Please feel free to comment below!

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