Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Here Comes The Hobbit (again)!!

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I sat in the movie theatre, awaiting the start of Thor: The Dark World. As we slogged through about 30 previews (seriously, are they making the list longer each month?), three trailers actually excited us. Of those, only one elicited true joy - that for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. 

Granted, this may be partly due to the fact that we are both hopeless LOTR/Hobbit/anything-related-to-Tolkien-including-The-Silmarillion fans.

But, come on. Who wouldn't be excited? Ok, there are a few. Book purists have expressed disappointment in some of the ways director Peter Jackson's expanded a relatively simple children's adventure into another three-film epic. Some of my friends, many of whom are even more intense fans of Tolkien's work than I am, point out flaws in the first film. Others bemoan the use of CG for the goblins and orcs, complaining that it takes away from the realism that imbued the LOTR trilogy.

Every film (or book, or comic-book, or TV show, or webserial...) has flaws and critics. I myself have some concerns about the "bloating" of this story. However, if a picture book like The Polar Express can be made into a successful full-length film, The Hobbit and all of Middle Earth's back story provide plenty of source material. The best choice anyone can make regarding these films is "wait and see."

On a specific note regarding the CGI orcs: The Lord of the Rings was an epic, six-book-long high fantasy adventure. Its intensity translated well to film, partly through use of "real" orcs and Uruk-Hai. Those books and the films they inspired are intended for a more grown-up audience. The Hobbit is a children's story. It's an intelligent and sometimes challenging children's story, but it is meant for adolescent audiences nonetheless. We know this because of the dwarves' dinner party, because of just how silly the trolls are, because of the fact that those thousands of goblins are amusing rather than scary, and because a ferocious dragon can be defeated by one well-aimed arrow. By animating the film's most frightening characters, Jackson is helping to preserve at least some of the spirit behind the book. Yes, wargs and spiders are terrifying, as is Azog. But the goblins are kind of funny, right? That's exactly what they should be. The Defiler isn't as frightening, because (brilliant as the animation is), we know that it's just an animation. The most frightening elements of the story are removed from us, the viewers, by one layer. Doing so preserves the fairy-tale quality that makes this tale a bit more kid-friendly.

Whether this movie satisfies hard-core Tolkien fans or not, The Desolation of Smaug (DOS for short...laugh away, computer geeks) promises to be a ripping good tale. As Thorin and his band continue their quest to re-claim the Lonely Mountain from the dreaded wyrm Smaug, we the audience will get treated to some of the most iconic moments from Tolkien's book.

(By the way, if you forgot which dwarf is which, refer to this helpful guide.)

Bilbo's tangle with the Mirkwood spiders looks satisfyingly frightening. According to one of the video diaries, Jackson is arachnophobic. I don't blame him. Considering how excellently Shelob came to life in ROTK, the glimpse we're given of Bilbo's task in the sneak peak sent chills up my spine. Ugh.

Then of course, we have the dwarves' escape from Thranduil via the barrels. The clips suggest that their watery adventure may escalate to match the famous "bridge" scene in FOTR. Famously, the script merely stated "Fellowship run down a flight of stairs." That's all it ever said, but the CG and stunt teams converted that one sentence into one of the longest and most intense sequences in the trilogy! Looks like the barrel-rides have the potential to expand in importance and peril.

Smaug from Hobbit2 Desolation of Smaug
Smaug. Oh, Smaug. Voiced (and motion-captured) by Benedict "I-can-out-Sherlock-Sherlock" Cumberbatch, this CG character may be the most charismatic and frightening figure since Andy Serkis's Gollum. We only hear a few words from the great beast, but it's all we need. He will be beautiful and terrifying in the best way possible. And fans of Sherlock will get an added kick out of Watson/Bilbo matching wits with Sherlock/Smaug.

Two new characters and an old friend take prominence in the preview material: Laketown's Bard the Bowman, and Mirkwood's Tauriel and Legolas. Of those three, only Bard is original to The Hobbit in book form. Played by Luke Evans, Bard provides the human hero angle, similar to that of Aragorn or Faramir in LOTR. Unlike Thorin, who desires to kill Smaug in order to regain his throne - and substantial treasure trove - Bard's first concern is his family and the welfare of the people of Laketown. Whereas Thorin's greed may cool some of the fans' adoration, Bard may very well win the movie-goers' hearts. As long as they can tell the difference between him and Orlando Bloom. (Seriously, am I the only one to notice that Luke Evans and Orlando Bloom could be twins? I suppose having blonde hair will help Legolas stand out.)

As anyone who's read The Hobbit knows, Legolas has no part in the book. However, his appearance in the films is logical, since we know from LOTR that Legolas is the prince of Mirkwood - a.k.a., Thranduil's son. The nature of his relationship with Tauriel (performed by a refreshingly spirited Evangeline Lilly) teases us viewers. We assume he's single in LOTR, but could there be another dimension to this pointy-eared princeling?

If Legolas is indeed Tauriel's love-interest (or, at least her wannabe-love-interest), this puts to rest a disturbing rumor that I remember making the rounds before Unexpected Journey premiered. Back then, a story circulated that Jackson would be including another "crusty-dwarf-falls-for-regal-elf-maid" plot device, a la Gimli's love for Galadriel in FOTR. Forget all the other sins Jackson may have committed against Tolkien's canon - that would have been a seriously bad move. (For the less fanatic: dyed-in-the-wool-dwarfish, jewel-loving, rough-and-tumble, grumpy Gimli's complete and immediate surrender to Galadriel's quiet majesty is unheard-of in Middle Earth. The fact that this happened is Tolkien's way of showing the reader just how incredible Galadriel is. Putting a similar scenario in The Hobbit, a prequel, steals her thunder and diminishes the power of that moment.)  Fortunately, Jackson seems to have laid that idea to rest. But what do we think? The image of Legolas seems to be rather androgynous, at least as far as the movies go. This change may either strengthen his personality (can he be more than a single-dimensional figure with a penchant for obvious one-liners?), or make him unrecognizable from who we know from the first thee films.

I'm excited for Tauriel. She is a complete fabrication by the film-makers, intended to embody the wilder side of the woodland elves. It's about time! I have to say, that's one element that I think came across well in the 1977 animated version. That movie had plenty of flaws (oh, my). But that movie gave me the distinct feeling that elves aren't safe. Well, Tolkien would say, go with the feeling. Because our first exposure to Jackson's elves were to the likes of Elrond, Arwen, and Legolas, we naturally expect that their Wood Elf cousins would be just like them, as opposed to this. (Dionysus? Is that you?) We've already seen that Thranduil is not quite like his kinsman; his primary objective seems to be more self-centered than the good of all Middle Earth. However, he still possesses that slow-motion detachment that we recognize in the LOTR elves. Tauriel, on the other hand, is a risk-taker. She may even be (gasp!) foolish and rash. And she gets to fight and kick butt! She now doubles the number of proactive females in the five films to date - huzzah! Let's hope that her inclusion will actually propel story elements, rather than just satisfy the "need" for a female in the cast.

Now there's another interesting note. The book has no women. I mean, they're peripheral characters, but play no significant roles anywhere in the story. It is a pure adventure tale, a road-trip movie, one that is unencumbered with feminine issues. I never really noticed this fact until it was announced that Galadriel would be appearing in An Unexpected Journey (AUJ). I suppose that Jackson's White Council (or whatever they call themselves) figured that no women would want to come see it unless there was at least one compelling female character. Maybe they were right. Now we'll never know.

The last character I want to talk about is one that has not been featured in, well, anything. We know that Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) is in the movie, thanks to a quick glimpse of him chatting with Gandalf in behind-the-scenes footage, but they're keeping a lot of details under wraps. I hope this is because they plan to blow us away with how awesome he is!

In short. Er, No? Ok, well, in long, the buzz around Episode II - that is, The Desolation of Smaug - seems to be well-deserved. The new characters promise to add greater depth to the plot, the spiders look squeamishly disgusting, SMAUG is in it, and all of the setting-up-for-LOTR back-story has the opportunity to open our eyes to just how important Bilbo's task really is. Wrap that all up with the pitch-perfect and (dare I say?) adorable performance by Martin Freeman as our main character, and this should be a pretty cool movie.

Ok, your turn! What are you most excited about? What makes you scratch your head? What are you worried about? And what's with the army of orcs that looks like it belongs at Orthanc?

Fun Links
Behind-the-scenes featurette:

Peter Jackson's video diaries:



How the cast of The Hobbit supported Ian McKellen through a tough time while filming An Unexpected Journey:

C.S. Lewis's original review of The Hobbit when it first released (he was much more favorable toward Tolkien's work than Tolkien was of the Narnia books!):
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