Larry D. Curtis, as part of the team at TheOneRing.net, has been comprehensively covering the works and adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien for more than a decade, making the not-for-profit site the leading source about The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings for fans and film makers world wide. Curtis is one of the lead content producers for the site and represents it at conventions and press functions. You can read his The Hobbit Countdown here at Movies.com every other week. You can reach him at MrCere@TheOneRing.net.
One crazy thing about the two Hobbit movies coming out the next two Decembers: it has one giant cast. Sure Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films had a Fellowship of nine to deal with, but they were different races (elves, dwarves, men, wizards and hobbits), and there were fewer of them while these new films are stuffed with mostly dwarves! And, the Fellowship splintered near the end of the first film, allowing us to cut from one group to another. (And to be honest, some viewers confessed to being occasionally confused between Merry and Pippin.)
Audiences for the newest Middle-earth films will have 13 of these bearded dwarven fellows to keep track of and they will nearly always be together. Making each a distinct character is a big challenge for Jackson and company and the images released so far make it clear that the design team went to great lengths to help the audience tell at a glance which of the revenge-minded adventurers is which.
That doesn't mean readers will need to wait for the films though because Movies.com has you, and the collection of characters, completely covered. We know the difference between Bifur and Bofur and Fili and Kili and if you stick with us, so will you. But the dwarf who is most likely to become a household name is the more fully titled Thorin Oakenshield and we think not only will we have an unforgettable character on the first Hobbit day (Dec. 14, 2012, the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) but also the actor Richard Armitage will become a household name. While there are many who know and love the English actor, that day and the films, will change his career forever.
Thorin will be a stern and occasionally callous dwarf, but he comes from a royal lineage of kings and has very personal reasons to want to travel to The Lonely Mountain (often called Erebor) and kill the dragon Smaug. It was Thorin's grandfather, Thrór, who was King Under the Mountain when Smaug attacked and wreaked the kingdom, driving the dwarves away and into exile. Thorin escaped but the mark on his family is a personal one and if you watched the first Hobbit trailer released, you have already met his father Thrain.
That crazy gray bundle attacking Gandalf to add a little action to the trailer (and if you haven't seen it, do so now!) is, upon careful review, a dwarf and likely a crazed one. Poor Thrain went searching for his revenge against all things evil and eventually wound up imprisoned by The Necromancer in a wicked place called Dol Guldor. Gandalf meets him there and after an apparently physical confrontation, Thrain entrusts our favorite gray wizard with a map and a key to give to Thorin.
So when we see Thorin in Bilbo's house, he carries with him the physical remnant of his family's legacy: a map showing the secret entrance back into The Lonely Mountain. He also carries with him the failure of his fathers and the hope of his people. Like his father before him, he is taking his kinsmen and heading back — with a burglar and a wizard — to reclaim his kingdom. He will drive the dwarves, and the film, with this desire that may at times boarder on obsession. But hey, if a dragon burned and ate your family, lived in your underground castle (not the one that a balrog lives in during The Lord of the Rings) and slept on your pile of gold and jewels, you might obsess a little as well.
But, that isn't all there is to Thorin. Besides being generally serious and occasionally angry, his pride and bravery will be a big part of his character. He is intelligent, brave, a fierce warrior and, he can sing. It is his (or Armitage's) voice that leads the dark dwarven song in the trailer — ripped directly from J.R.R. Tolkien's text — that gives the short film / commercial its brooding mood. He is a king without a throne and a tragic character who will sometimes be at odds with our hero Bilbo, with Gandalf, men and elves, but he is only trying to do his best to meet his burden and return his people to their glory.
The Oakenshield portion of his name, comes from his improvisation with a tree branch as both a weapon and a shield in a war against goblins after Smaug attacked but before his father left to restore the kingdom. We know from the casting of Conon Stevens as giant orc Azog, that this battle will likely be used in at least flashbacks and it boggles the mind how cool that could be.