Warner Bros. unveiled a new trailer plus 20 minutes of footage from Peter Jackson’s latest J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, to fans around the world Monday. Audiences turned out for special events in Los Angeles, New York, Wellington, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Brussels, Paris, Rome, Miami, Toronto, Hamburg, and Sydney.
Crowds lined up early at the Grove in Los Angeles to grab free T-shirts and limited edition photobooks from the film. Warner decorated the lobby of the Pacific Theatre with posters, costumes from the film, and even trees inspired by Middle Earth. Some of the attendees donned their best Tolkien-inspired costumes, including one fellow in a pretty amazing Gandalf outfit (and his imitation of Sir Ian McKellen’s voice wasn’t too shabby, either). Inside, there were trailers for the film playing on the cinema screen, including a new extended trailer that left fans cheering at their first glimpse of the mighty Smaug. On hand to take questions from the audience was one of the stars of the film, Evangeline Lilly. Lilly portays the Woodland Elf and head of the Mirkwood Elven guard Tauriel, a character created specifically for the film by Jackson and Fran Walsh.
Jackson himself attended the event in New Zealand (he wasn’t wearing shoes, and before you ask, no, his feet aren’t Hobbit-hairy); stars Orlando Bloom and Richard Armitage were on hand in New York with CNN’s Anderson Cooper; and stars Andy Serkis, Luke Evans and Lee Pace attended in London. Live feeds connected the events, and audiences were asked to cheer and signal their enthusiasm.
Aware that some hardcore Tolkien fans are unsure or downright hostile to the inclusion of the new character Tauriel in the story, Lilly declared her own longtime love of the Tolkien stories and promised to try and win over any unhappy fans. She appears to have succeeded, as her lighthearted demeanor charmed the audience pretty quickly, such as her jokes about her baggy plaid pants which she said were inspired by her love of the film “Annie Hall.”
As the event got underway, Jackson introduced a clip of Martin Freeman -- who portrays lead character Bilbo Baggins in the film -- thanking all of the fans for their support and for turning out to the events. Things then moved to a video blog featurette covering the May-to-July shoot that Jackson described as “the most intense ten weeks of my life.” The video blog itself featured lots of on-set joking and bloopers that pleased the crowd, plus some fascinating, behind-the-scenes glimpses into the production.
Jackson was asked whether the expansion of the story to involve so many new characters made his work more difficult, and surprisingly his answer was, “Not really.” He explained, “The fundamental thing people must understand is that in the novel, the voice of the novelist takes you on the journey... But as a movie director, you don’t want to insert yourself into it like that.” The larger cast allowed the filmmaker to rely on the characters to act as that voice.
For an undertaking like this, you might expect Lilly would review the previous film to familiarize herself with it, or with the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy. But Lilly said, “One of the things I intentionally did in preparation for this role was to not go back and watch those films.” She didn’t wish to alter her performance or perception of her character based on what other people had done in the series. Not that she took no inspiration from other sources -- Tinkerbell is a character Lilly looked to for the balance between grace and toughness. “She is a badass little fairy,” Lilly remarked.
“One of the most exciting things in a film so male-driven,” Lilly said, “is Tauriel is one of the few characters fighting for truth and justice... As one of the two women in the film, I love that as a woman I’m fighting for truth and justice.” She also pointed out that she didn’t have to be taught archery, having taught it at a youth camp in the past. So she wasn’t totally unprepared for the role, although it had been long enough since her archery days that she had to be somewhat reacquainted with it. Overall, she said this was her most difficult role to date, having re-learned using a bow, learning extensive knife-wielding, learning how to move like an elf, losing her “baby weight” from her recent pregnancy, learning to speak Elvish, and so on.
Discussing returning to a character a decade later while playing a younger version of that character, Bloom stated, “60 to an elf is a blink of an eye,” before adding, “The first thing I did was to try on my old costume to see if it still fit.” It did, he added, eliciting applause from the audience (especially the female fans, from the sounds of it)
Of his motion-capture performance, Serkis discussed some of the difficulties this time around. “Trying to find Smeagol before he became Gollum was difficult,” the actor said. He also explained that the passage of time and age changed things as well, saying, “Crawling around was more difficult ten years later.” Of his favorite moments in the production, he singled out the sequence from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in which Bilbo first encounters Gollum, which he particularly appreciated because, “we got to do that scene in its entirety.”
When asked if there would be an eventual DVD/Blu-ray boxed set of all six films of the series, Jackson replied, “I’m sure at some point there will be a box set,” and said of the films’ bloopers, “They are very funny, and we have lot of them... There are also a lot of pranks.”
Finally, it was time for the exclusive footage from the movie. Jackson announced that rather than the five minutes of footage the studio wanted him to assemble, he ended up creating an extended series of clips totallng about 20 minutes in length. Some of the shots were temporary, he said. Each sequence -- there were three primary sequences assembled for the screening -- was of a scary or otherwise dangerous situation, and they retained that sense of fear and risk but still had many laugh-out-loud moments.
[Spoiler alert, folks, since while I won’t ruin anything for you I will describe some situations from the story that you might not want to know about. So if you prefer to go in 100 percent unspoiled, you best not peek at what I’m about to say next.]
We start with Bilbo climbing a large, rickety tree, out of breath and struggling. Then he reaches the top, his head breaks through the canopy of the forest, and he sees the gorgeous view all around him as bright blue butterflies take wing from the trees. In the distance he sees the mountain, and grows excited as he announces to his party that he knows the way they need to go. Nobody answers, however, and we soon find out why -- the trees are full of giant spiders, and Bilbo’s party has been captured and cocooned, as soon happens to Bilbo himself. But he has his Elvish long knife, and he has the Ring, and he uses them to help himself and his companions. It’s a horror movie sequence that becomes even creepier when Bilbo experiences a voice while wearing the Ring -- but I’ll just leave it at that for now. This is, however, the sequence where Bilbo gives his knife its name: “Sting.”
We then see the Elven King Thranduil (played by Pace) and Lilly’s character Tauriel interrogating an Orc prisoner, with Lilly’s aggressiveness leading her to nearly attack the Orc before Thranduil stops her. But after the Orc reveals “death is upon you, the flames of war are upon you,” and alludes to the nature of the true threat the Elves face, Thranduil’s treatment of the captive changes abruptly. He ends up ordering security increased and declares, “No one enters this kingdom, and no one leaves it.”
From there, we go to a “prison escape” in which Bilbo rescues Thorin and his band from locked cells, leading them into a vast wine cellar where the Dwarves complain and distrust Bilbo’s instructions on how to escape, but Thorin tells them to do as Bilbo instructs -- which involves a hilarious series of events where the Hobbit’s ingenious plan comes up a tad short when it’s time for him to make good on his own escape.
Next up is a brief sequence with Bilbo and Thorin in a boat on icy waters, unsure whether to trust their boat captain. They bicker about coughing up payment, but when the mountain comes into view and the captain presses them to pay up so he can take them through the toll gate, they agree -- and then get subjected to an unexpected but funny comeupance involving fish and barrels. Again, a great example of balancing tension and humor.
The final sequence is the one the fans were no doubt hoping most of all to see. Bilbo is sent down into the mountain by Balin to retrieve the Arkenstone -- a white gem. As he descends the many steps, Bilbo sees the vast riches collected below, and it’s indeed an impressive view for the audience as well. But he’s been warned, “If there is a dragon down there... try not to wake it up.” The sight of so much riches, however, makes Bilbo less cautious than he should be, and he stirs Smaug. The dragon first reveals an eye beneath the massive mountain of gold and gems. Then, far away on the other side of the vast expanse, more of the mountain stirs and we see some of the dragon’s tail. So does Bilbo, who does a quick calculation in his head and assesses the dragon’s enormous proportions. Watching him stumble and try to run away, pausing and cringing each time he makes too much noise, was delightful. Freeman is truly perfect in this role, and this sequence demonstrates why -- he has the physical sensibilities to make it all work. Anyway, Bilbo’s efforts to remain quiet are for naught, as Smaug awakens, and...
Ah, but that would be telling.
The event was undoubtedly a rousing success for the studio and the film, sure to increase fan anticipation and likely to inspire more positive advance buzz in light of the pacing and humor working so well in these sequences. Jackson is famous for his devotion to fans, and he certainly earned that reputation today.