Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Genius of Bofur

Whether they’re casual filmgoers, fantasy film lovers, or devout Tolkienites, most people seem to agree that Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movie trilogy is of a lesser quality than his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Reasons for this vary, though one of the most prevalent complaints is that the Hobbit films focus heavily on characters who had minor roles in the novel, weren’t in the novel at all, or weren’t in any work of Tolkien’s whatsoever. While this complaint is understandable, I do want to discuss one such character that has been well received by viewers: Bofur the dwarf.

Bofur obviously falls into the first of the above three categories. A dwarf with his name and same colored clothing is present in the book, but his characterization—that of a witty, fun-loving prankster who’s protective of Bilbo despite constantly teasing him—is not. Although hints of that persona can be read into the original text, particularly in a scene where he trips over a sleeping Bilbo and finds a reason to scold the hobbit for it, the Bofur that we see onscreen is largely a creation of the filmmakers.

You would think that being so embellished from his book counterpart would turn fans off to him, but he’s had the opposite effect. The Internet has been swarming with fanart, fanfiction, fanvideos, memes, and cosplay photos proclaiming our love for the dwarf in the silly hat ever since December 2012. We love Bofur so much that we were even disappointed when he didn’t get his seemingly promised character arc in the third film. Really think about that. Fans of The Hobbit, including fans of the novel, were disappointed that a character made almost from scratch for the movies didn’t get more screentime.

So why do we love him so much?

Well, he gets points for technically being a major character who’s supposed to be in the story. Bofur is one of Bilbo’s thirteen main traveling companions from the book, so it makes sense that the movies would want to give him a better-defined personality and more development. He also gets points for being a nice guy, as well as for being funny and optimistic to a degree that isn’t annoying or forced. And yes, being played by a charismatic actor like James Nesbitt also helps. These qualities certainly make Bofur likeable, but I think what really made his character stand out was the way the movies unveiled him.

We probably weren’t expecting the supporting dwarves to be very complex when we first saw An Unexpected Journey. They were barely more than names on a list in the book, and since we had a much bigger main cast and a shorter running time than the Lord of the Rings films, we may have figured that those dwarves would each fall into a standard “token” role. The tough-looking dwarf with the tattoos would be the token muscle, the little dwarf with the slingshot would be the token kid, and that dwarf with the floppy hat and the jaunty accent would be the token comic relief.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with keeping film characters simple when you’ve got so many of them, especially in an adaptation. Leaving any of the dwarves out of the Hobbit films would have likely angered the fanbase, and since Peter Jackson’s team didn’t have much to go off of from the book in terms of their personalities, depicting the less important dwarves as one-note tropes would have been forgivable. The fact stood though that being an oblivious walking punchline didn’t make Bofur terribly engaging in the first two thirds of the film.

And then the cave scene happened.

To this day, I think that the conversation where Bilbo accidentally says the dwarves don’t belong anywhere and Bofur wishes him “all the luck in the world” is one of the most moving and ingenious moments in the whole Hobbit film trilogy, and it wasn’t even written by Tolkien. Not only did it reveal that Bofur actually had feelings to hurt underneath his wisecracks, but it also changed our perspective on a lot of his previous actions towards Bilbo. He wasn’t an insensitive idiot; he was a well-intentioned friend who just liked to poke fun at the hobbit for being so uptight.

That’s why I think we came to love Bofur so much. He caught us by surprise in a really good way, and we were excited to see what he would do next. The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies may not have given us anything quite as impressive, at least not yet in the latter’s case, but after Bofur got our attention, he stayed interesting enough to keep it.

As superior as the Lord of the Rings movies are considered to be, I do think that the filmmakers learned a lesson from their slapstick portrayal of Gimli. They may have learned that lesson so well, in fact, that they decided to play to our expectations by introducing Bofur as another clown before revealing more of his layers. Granted, there are still a few comedic misfires among the cast of The Hobbit, and the cave scene with Bilbo was actually a later idea shot in pickups, but it’s clear that movie Bofur was always meant to be something new to Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth. He was meant to be (and is) self-aware comic relief.

How often in movies like this are the funny characters in on their own jokes? Most of the time, it seems like the audience is meant to laugh at them rather than with them. Even with previous three-dimensional comic relief characters like Merry and Pippin, the humor usually came from how foolish or awkward they were, not from how witty they were.

Bofur is a different breed. While he does have a few comical misfortunes, such as hitting his head on the bottom of a table and saying that things “could have been worse” right before the Great Goblin falls on him, the majority of his humor comes from him mocking or making light of serious situations. The character himself has a sense of humor, and he deliberately uses it throughout the films to try and boost his company's moral.

Case in point, the scene in The Desolation of Smaug where he leaves to find Athelas for Kili's poisonous arrow wound. Just before Bofur runs out the door to begin his search, he stops in front of the younger dwarf and orders him not to move, earning a few stares from his other companions. This line might seem obtuse at first, but a moment's thought makes us realize the true spirit behind it. 

Bofur knows full well how dire the situation is. He was the one who told Bard in the first place that Kili was "very sick," after all. He's aware that a dying, violently convulsing person isn't going to wander off while he's gone, but he's making a joke anyway to try and cheer up Kili.

Another case is the scene in An Unexpected Journey where he describes to Bilbo what it’s like to be incinerated by dragon fire. Bofur obviously has no idea what that’s really like, but since Bilbo is taking the threat of it so seriously, the dwarf is trying to play it down and make it sound ridiculous. Some might see this as him trying to scare Bilbo more, since it ends with the hobbit passing out, but remember that it comes after Bofur’s thoughtful reaction to Gandalf saying that there’s more to the hobbit “than appearances suggest.” He’s putting on a goofy act to try and make Bilbo laugh off the danger. 

That’s what makes Bofur’s movie persona so ingenious, in my opinion. He’s a person first and an archetype second, and he knows it in a way. Because of that, he’s versatile enough to carry a completely serious moment just as naturally as a completely funny one, just like a real person who has a sense of humor.

The fact that he carries out those funny moments on purpose makes him all the more endearing, because he’s putting forth a conscious effort to make the events we see onscreen more enjoyable. We almost feel like Bofur, not just the actor and film crew behind his character, is trying to entertain us and get us through things as much as he’s trying to do that for Bilbo and the other dwarves. That makes us feel more like we’re part of the company, rather than a bunch of spectators watching them from a theater. The experience of viewing the Hobbit movies is more immersive because his character is so genuine.

No official word has been given so far on Bofur’s role in the Extended Edition of The Battle of the Five Armies. The only guesses we can make are from hints by screenwriter Philippa Boyens and a couple castmembers about what was meant for him prior to the film’s theatrical release. Whether or not we’ll see him come more into his own or have another conversation with Bilbo this November is unclear, but given his history with the Extended Editions and that thirty minutes will be added to this coming one—and that the filmmakers seem to like him as much as we do—it’s a safe bet that he’ll get his chance to shine one last time.


  1. wow, you pegged it! (he's my favorite from the Hobbit films).

  2. wow, you pegged it! (he's my favorite from the Hobbit films).

  3. Hey eager stuff precise substance your response on