Years ago (probably 2004 or 2005), I remember thinking about the potential of a Hobbit movie. I remember thinking, “But who’s going to be the hot guy? Every movie nowadays has to have a hot guy. The dwarves certainly won’t work, and it’s not likely that Bilbo will work.”
That’s when it dawned on me–Bard! Of course he’ll be the hot guy. Yeah, he comes in pretty late in the movie, but he still fits the bill. He’s heroic, he’s a mortal man (and thus can be shown to be hot, unlike dwarves and most Elves), he doesn’t have a romance but you could give him one. He seemed like the logical choice (aside from giving Legolas more of a role, but that’s a different story).
Warning: spoilers ahead, both for DoS (if you haven’t seen it yet) and what will most likely happen in TaBA.
That’s why I was very surprised with Bard’s portrayal in The Desolation of Smaug. There’s no hint of a romance. He isn’t made out to be particularly appealing to womenfolk (although he isn’t ugly either–certainly not like the Master of Lake-town or his right-hand man). He has three kids, which typically isn’t heart-throb material. He does hide the dwarves and Bilbo, but only after they offer to pay him. Overall, he’s certainly not not another Aragorn, Éomer, or even Boromir. He’s much more of an ordinary character.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not displeased with Bard’s portrayal. I actually liked that they gave him a few kids (even though a family is never mentioned in the book). It makes him much more sympathetic and gives the audience another reason to want him to succeed. I also liked seeing a more prosaic part of human life in Middle-earth. Although I love the sweeping epic nature of LotR and Tolkien’s other writings, it’s good to see some daily living.
The Bad Part
The part that did bother me about Bard was his low status among the people of Lake-town. It’s a little ridiculous that people jeer at him because his ancestor failed to kill the dragon. Did the descendants of Claus von Stauffenberg, the mastermind behind a failed attempt to kill Hitler, endure ridicule from other Germans? Unlikely. (Okay, I admit that this is a kind of weird analogy, but it’s the first one that came to mind. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go watch the 2008 film Valkyrie.)
I wonder why these choices were made when the movie was being written and filmed. Was this just another example of Jackson’s sometimes excessively melodramatic storytelling? Possibly, but it doesn’t seem to add to the audience’s experience much. Did it make it that much more important for Bard to kill Smaug when the time comes? People making fun of you would probably be the least of your concerns when your family, your home, and everyone you’ve ever known is at risk of being destroyed, so I don’t think that cuts it. Is it a way of explaining how Bard has come down in the world, even though his ancestor was a king? Possibly. Remember, Bard’s more lowly status was an invention of Jackson, so that may not be it.
In my personal opinion, Bard is made fun of because Jackson wants Bard to feel doubt. Not unlike Aragorn, who is frequently consumed with doubts about his skill and strength in the films, Bard must feel that he may not be capable of killing Smaug.
Is this reasonable? Yes and no. Yes, because everyone has doubts about themselves. It makes Bard more relatable that he has (or will have) the same. No, because I don’t think doubt will be the first thing on Bard’s mind when Smaug attacks. While I’ve never been in an emergency situation myself (certainly not under threat of a dragon burning down my town), my understanding is that you don’t think–you react. I think it is most likely that Bard would do the same. Whether his ancestor failed in the past or not is irrelevant–both to him and to the audience. The only important thing is the present, not the past.
Photo Credit: ylmworkshop