But have you ever noticed how often he's right next to Bilbo?
I'm not talking about scenes where the two of them actually interact, either. I'm talking about scenes where Bilbo and the dwarves are just standing around, running around, wandering around, or doing anything else around; scenes where the placement of the characters is meant to be random. There are so many times where Ori is either directly beside, behind, or in front of Bilbo. Even in a lot of shots where Bilbo is the main focus, Ori will be the most prominently visible other character.
But why does this keep happening? Why does this seemingly unimportant character keep popping up so close to the main protagonist? Is it just a coincidence? Are the filmmakers doing it on purpose, or aren't they even aware of it?
If they aren't aware of it, I have two theories:
1. It really is just a coincidence.
2. They're doing it subconsciously.
A bit of background for Theory #2 -- The actor who plays Ori is named Adam Brown, and when he first auditioned for The Hobbit, he actually tried out for the role of Bilbo. He wasn't quite what they were looking for, but the screenwriters loved his audition so much that they wrote Ori's characteristics based on Brown's personality for him specifically to play. Since Brown had a lot of Bilbo-like qualities to begin with, it's no surprise that the film version of Ori wound up with a lot of those qualities too.
Is it possible that in the backs of their minds, the filmmakers still saw Adam Brown and Martin Freeman as the same character, and thus kept seeing Ori as the most natural choice for someone to frame with Bilbo?
If the filmmakers are aware of the trend, I have a few other theories:
3. They're doing it as an in-joke to the fact that Adam Brown auditioned for Bilbo.
4. They're doing it because Ori is the smallest and least distracting-looking dwarf.
5. They're doing it to hint at how protective the other dwarves are.
See, most of the dwarves are well aware of how dangerous their quest is -- except for Ori. He's the kid who signed up with no clue of what he was getting into, much like Bilbo did. Since the two of them are the weakest and least experienced members of the group, it would make sense for the others to lump them together. That would make keeping tabs on both of them easier.
And then there's the crazy theory:
6. The filmmakers are trying to subliminally convey that Bilbo and Ori have a lot in common.
Think about it. The movies could be gradually conditioning us to associate Ori with Bilbo and we don't even know it! If in some bizarre universe this really is the case, then why do it? Did the filmmakers feel bad that they couldn't give Adam Brown a bigger subplot so they decided to showcase his character more covertly? Or better yet, maybe it could be some very subtle foreshadowing of things to come in the next movie, The Battle of the Five Armies.
Probably the most notable aspect of Ori in the films is that he's a scribe. His job on the quest is to document everything in a journal so that future generations can someday read about his group's accomplishments. The only problem is that the films still have yet to clearly introduce his journal. The most we've seen of it so far are a few shots of him handling it in Bilbo's house, and one of those shots features him (of course) in the background behind Bilbo.
That instance really lends to the idea that the filmmakers are trying to subtly draw a connection between the two characters. It happens when the wizard Gandalf tells Bilbo, "All good stories deserve embellishment. You'll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back." Look quickly, and you can spy Ori behind the hobbit, writing in his journal; he's in the process of telling his own "tale or two."
It's also worth noting that Ori tends to play second fiddle to another dwarf, Bofur, in scenes where the latter interacts with Bilbo. In An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo's rant to Gandalf about what the dwarves have done to his house is book-ended by an exchange with Bofur and an exchange with Ori. Later, when Bilbo nearly falls off of a cliff, Ori assists Bofur in a rescue attempt.
In The Desolation of Smaug, Bofur, Bilbo, and Ori are the first three to approach the enchanted river in Mirkwood. When it becomes apparent that Bilbo will have to cross the river first, he looks to Bofur and Ori for confirmation.
As for the old sketch of Bilbo, I'm not the first person to speculate that Ori drew it for him.
But at the end of the day, that's all any of this is: speculation. Come December 17th, I might look back on this essay and think, "Wow. I was an insane person three weeks ago." That's the fun of watching a story play out over multiple installments, though. It gets the creative wheels in your head turning.
In all likelihood, regardless of why he's there, Ori will probably remain off to the side and in the background throughout The Battle of the Five Armies. I see potential for his character and an opportunity to show it, but that doesn't change the fact that his character is a peripheral one that the film might not have time for. Who knows? Maybe he stands a better chance of getting the spotlight in the next Extended Edition. I have hope, even if it is, as they say, just a fool's hope.