It was just a few days past the tenth anniversary of Middle Earth’s first arrival in theaters with Fellowship of the Ring in December 2001. Yesterday, Peter Jackson and company unveiled an astonishing Christmas gift for the vast fans of Middle Earth: the first trailer for the much-anticipated film The Hobbit. “Tolkien” and “The Hobbit” were nearly instantly trending topics on Twitter, and Facebook shares of the trailer were running rampant, as it quickly racked up 3 or 4 million views on YouTube.
This took me by complete surprise. I had seen glimpses of news in recent months that filming had finally begun after years of delays, setbacks, and complications, but I was unaware that the production was even remotely far enough along to have a 2.5 minutes worth of fully edited film. Anyway, I’ve watched the trailer three times now, and while we have about fifty-one weeks to go which means half of these shots may not even make it to the final film, I still have an array of scattered thoughts that I would like to put down on pixel.
1. Bilbo Baggins. I generally think that the casting was fantastic for the Lord of the Rings movies. I watch the films ten years later and still think about how awesome almost all of the major and semi-major characters look, act, and feel on the screen. Obviously Ian Holm could not join the hunt for Smaug’s treasure, what with the event taking place sixty years earlier in the timeline in addition to the decade of Earth time that has passed since the filming. But I think I’m going to like Martin Freeman as the younger Bilbo. His facial expressions in a couple of the trailer shots remind me of Billy Boyd as Pipkin.
2. The Dwarves. The Dwarves look very different from what I was expecting. This is probably partly due to my faulty imagination refusing to remember that Tolkien’s hobbits are actually shorter than his dwarves. But I always kind of pictured them as being a little more bumbly and stocky or something and not quite so grand and warrior-ish. Especially Thorin Oakenshield. Since I was twelve years old Thorin has lived in my head as a short but powerful, beefy, gritty kind of guy, and not the tall, lanky guy in the trailer… you know, less like animated Attack-of-the-Clones Obi-Wan Kenobi and more like Mr. T or something. But hey, it’s been three years since I last read the book so my imagination’s probably a little off even before figuring in Jackson’s adaptive spirit. I’m sure I’ll learn to love these guys, especially those prosthetic dwarvish noses and whatnot.
3. The Setting. The world in the trailer clips feels just like the Middle Earth we all fell in love with ten years ago, right down to the color palette. The vibrant green of the Shire, the subdued brown of Bag End, the cold blues of the outside world at night with Gandalf’s robe, beard, and staff pointing the way… The continuity of the world is impeccable – not that we had any doubt with this being in Peter Jackson’s hands. Any quibbling about altered plot has always been more than excused (in my opinion) by the exquisite representation of the world in which the plot takes place. Jackson’s Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings breathes like Tolkien’s, and it looks like The Hobbit will do the same. And yet… there’s something a little funny about it all too, since Jackson’s doing it backwards, and the Middle Earth of Tolkien’s The Hobbit wasn’t quite the same Middle Earth as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I don’t mean that it’s discontinuous, but the world wasn’t so dark and epic yet, and it looks like Jackon is turning the epic-ness to the max on this one. It might not quite be the simple, light-hearted tale of a bumbling hobbit joining some dwarves on a little adventure. But, after all, there is danger. Spiders. Dragons. War. Why not make it as epic as possible, right?
4. The Plot. Speaking of dragons, I didn’t notice a single hint of Smaug in all those frames. Maybe his CGI costume just isn’t ready yet (anybody else excited about LOTR-style graphics plus the last ten years of computing advances?), but I didn’t notice any Battle of Five Armies either. Unless I missed something obvious, I think the trailer suggests that the film really will trace approximately the first half of the book, putting to rest some Internet speculation over the years that the second film would cover some other section of Tolkien’s Middle Earth history. After all, its official title is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, to be followed by The Hobbit: There and Back Again.
5. Galadriel. It should come as no surprise that Jackson wanted to bring back as many original LOTR actors as possible to maximize the continuity and the tie-ins. So when you hear that Orlando Bloom is reprising Legolas and you know that Bilbo and the dwarves end up hanging out with Legolas’s father Thranduil, well, that’s not too much of a stretch to stick him in there, I guess. But Cate Blanchett as Galadriel? She’s not in The Hobbit book at all. But she’s in the trailer. At least twice.. including one clip where she’s disturbingly fingering Ian McKellan’s white hair… OK, Jackson. I’m no Tolkien purist. You got me to swallow pretty much everything you did in LOTR (though I’m still really, really, really, really glad you never ended up bringing Liv Tyler to Helm’s Deep). Now I’m willing to cut you a lot of slack with The Hobbit storyline to smooth out complicated backstory for unfamiliar audiences and whatnot, but you better have something really good going on with Galadriel here. Really good.
6. The songs. Now if you’re getting too distraught about the potential shredding of the sacred plot, take a moment to revel in the song we see the dwarves singing. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is full of the main characters singing songs while they’re resting and while they’re traveling and while they’re doing pretty much anything; Jackson’s is almost song-less. I don’t really begrudge that too much; it’s pretty comical to imagine Orlando breaking out into song in the middle of the films’ intense sequences, and the songs that do exist – like Billy Boyd’s performance before King Theoden – are downright brilliant. But it is incredibly encouraging to see Thorin and the dwarves singing one of their songs in Bag End, and the subdued, a capella minor melody (it’s almost Jewish in flavor) fits the mood perfectly. I’m hoping the cheeky kitchen-cleaning song will make it into the film too (Chip the glasses and crack the plates… That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates…) but I’m not holding my breath! (Still, there’s always the extended versions…)
7. Three dimensions. One final thought… In the last frame of the trailer I see the notation “Experience it in IMAX 3D and Real 3D.” I had hoped that the film might escape what I consider to be a silly and hopefully passing fad involving annoying glasses that must be worn for two hours to experience five minutes’s worth of moderately exciting visual enhancement. But that’s just my opinion; I’m sure a lot of people out there like 3D movies. Hopefully the 3D part of this movie will exceed my (low) expectations. Hopefully I won’t have to spend $15 on a ticket by the time this comes out… if there’s a non-3D option near me, I might take it. But we’ll see.
Anyway, those are a lot of words for a mere one hundred and fifty one seconds of motion picture. I am sure I will have many more as the next year unfolds. Until then, we will simply count down to December 14, 2012…
(If you feel the need to rejoice over every new rumor or leaked still shot, yes, TheOneRing.net still exists!)