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 represents the site at conventions and events around the US including New York Comic Con in October. You can read his The Hobbit Countdown here at Movies.com every other week.
Evangeline Lilly has been talking Hobbit – a lot. The actress is a good catch for any media outlet at a red carpet event, but from the video segment and text stories that are seemingly everywhere, she mainly just talks about the Peter Jackson two-part film that is still more than one year away.
I have put this off for far too long, but the question really must be asked: Just what the hell is she doing in the movie in the first place?
She told Access Hollywood she was scared of fan reaction.
"I am scared. I am very scared,” she said and then looked right into the camera, “Be nice to me.” "My character is not actually in The Hobbit (book). My character is an invention. So either, fans are going to love her or fans are going to despise and be bitter towards her because she is not authentic. ”
Well, she is right of course, her Tauriel is invented and perhaps she is right to be scared. Many may not remember the internet backlash when Liv Tyler’s Lord of the Rings character Arwen was discovered to be a major part of the film trilogy action sequences, including scenes with her leading forces in the battle at Helm’s Deep. The internet dubbed her “XenArwen” after the then-popular Lucy Lawless character Xena and fans were furious -- not at the name but the Warrior Elf Princess aspect of the character.
Pardon the momentary geek history lesson but the original idea - perhaps to satisfy the studio demand for an active love interest for Aragorn - was to have Elrond (Hugo Weaving, also in The Hobbit) in Lothlórien convincing Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, Hobbit again) to send a troop of Elves to Helm’s Deep and then have Arwen using her bow-like female Legolas skills. If you carefully watch the Warriors of Middle-earth segment on the DVD extras, you can see an Arwen stunt double hacking away in the background. Plenty of fans have sworn to me she is still visible in a background shot in the film, although I haven’t seen it.
There is also plenty of footage of Liv Tyler walking red carpets in interviews being very nervous about fan reaction to her and her role as a hangover effect from the era when the interwebs nearly caught fire with XenArwen. There are plenty of in-film leftover clues with structure and conflict surrounding Aragorn and romance that there is no doubt this was not only scripted but went in front of cameras. (And for the record, Tyler was positively radiant as Arwen and turned in an excellent performance as an immortal.)
Of course, nobody on the record, to my knowledge, has admitted that fan fervor changed anybody’s mind on set, but I personally have absolutely no doubt about it. Fans were a powerful influence on an in-production film at the studio and production level. Plenty of interviews talk about fan influence and pleasing fans in those days as well.
Keep in mind, Jackson back then wasn’t the director of Lord of the Rings and King Kong, but had just made the studio-mangled The Frighteners and was known for gore fest Dead Alive. So when New Line Cinema reportedly bet the farm on three LOTR films, they just couldn’t afford to fail and the Jackson name didn’t have the same weight as it does now. Today he has the good will and trust of fans and studios alike.
So Lilly is right to be scared because fan backlash can have career ramifications, even if it isn't her fault. Her character is invented and Jackson didn’t bring her in to deliver a few lines and look woodsy. He and his co-writers (Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens) have plans for the character, else a big-name actress with the baggage of Lost and a romantic past with former Hobbit Dominic Monaghan wouldn’t be part of the proceedings.
Speculation about what her role might be has ranged from her efforts as a princess warrior in Mirkwood to perhaps one of the captors of the Dwarves. My own pet theory suggests she will be sympathetic to a locked up Bilbo Baggins and take on some sort of role as a jailor and play a part in the barrel escape. All of this only lends gravitas to her appearance at The Battle of Five Armies where we will recognize her and empathize immediately. While I wouldn’t call myself a purist, her whole presence is a bit troubling. Just as Arwen showed up in the LOTR films to rescue Frodo after the flight to the ford, I fear Lilly’s Tauriel could end up robbing Bilbo of his own character-defining moment.
The geek lore continues as we recall that move when Arwen replaced book Glorfindal in the aid of Frodo getting safely away from the Názgul on Asfaloth the horse. After crossing the Ford of Bruinen, book Frodo turns around and defies the Black Riders, showing that despite his injury and 17 years owning the One Ring, he is able to defy its evil power as well as the blade tip moving toward his heart. In contrast, movie Frodo is helpless and the defining character moment belongs to Arwen: “If you want him, come and claim him!”
Now, this didn’t damage the film for me. In fact, Jackson’s masterful visual representation of an Elf as a creature of light to an injured Frodo and Tyler’s dignified beauty made for great film and a great adaptation. But, no defiance from Frodo at the ford was a loss and this is germane to The Hobbit because Tauriel could similarly take an opportunity from Bilbo to come into his own.
We know Jackson’s writing team doesn’t introduce a character without purpose, conflict, and, if they are significant enough, a character arc. Tauriel is there to either oppose Thorin and Co. or oppose her own Elven kingdom of Thranduil (Lee Pace) and Prince Legolas (Orlando Bloom, as if you didn’t know) and their imprisonment of strangers in the ever darker Mirkwood forest. And that answers the question posed 800 words ago. That is why there is a Tauriel: The writing team felt another character was needed to enhance the conflict in the bit of Elves vs. Dwarves + Bilbo. Well, and, to put another female in the male-heavy cast.
It is difficult to be opposed to the writing team that did so much right in the original trilogy. But, recall from a book-reader perspective, they fundamentally changed the relationship between Frodo and Sam and Gollum in Return of the King, delivered a Faramir that behaved completely out of character towards Frodo and the One Ring in The Two Towers and almost inflicted Arwen the Princess Warrior on us. They made tremendous movies that were beautiful and rewarding and accessible and set standards for epic films that are still unapproachable, but they aren’t infallible and, unlike a decade ago, they have no need to listen to an internet audience.
The crowd and the studio has already won over the fans, and even the introduction of a jarring new female character has caused only a tiny ripple in the wide ranging audience. J.R.R. Tolkien may have written one of the most beloved children’s stories of all time, but almost nobody is bothered that Jackson is taking liberties with it. (The purists and many Tolkien scholars have likely long ago given up.) Still, Lilly is talking so much about her role that one can’t help but wonder if the studio is encouraging her to use her charm and girl-next-door appeal to spread the word that changes are afoot so nobody can be surprised in December 2012.
In the same interview as before, she goes on to defend her character.
"Although I believe she is truly authentic because Tolkien refers to the woodland Elves he just doesn't talk about who they are specifically. All those people, Pete, Fran and Phil, they know that world so well that they aren't going to create a character that is not true to Tolkien's world. ”
She was on with Jay Leno (who still can’t resist making Keebler Elf jokes when it comes to Middle-earth ... sigh) describing how she was once a flight attendant and intentionally broke wind in a passenger’s face. Somewhere around the three-minute mark they talk a little Hobbit too, but the effect is the same. Lilly lets viewers know that she is a real, approachable everywoman, and there are changes in The Hobbit.
If this is accidental or just a product of having to constantly explain a made-up character, the effort still seems to be working. The Hobbit, for now, has unshakable fan good will. Peter Jackson could announce tomorrow that he will introduce Elf Ninja and Orc Pirates (awkward for Bloom) at the Battle of Five Armies and fans would likely take the same wait-and-see approach.
HOBBIT SCREENING?: TheOneRing.net received images of a Bilbo Baggins - uh - bag from a trade show in Cannes, France. The annual event is a showcase for television, film and digital entertainment for licensing and international distribution. Word is, some Hobbit minutes were screened. Read the details here.
NEW YORK COMIC-CON: Popculture worms its way into the Big Apple this week and TORn, including this author, will be there. Look for us in dark alleys getting Hobbit secrets from men in long overcoats. We also have a party on Friday night, details here. But, that isn't all. You can visit us at booth 2813 and we will present an audio-visual extravaganza about the Hobbit Saturday evening from 8:45 - 9:45 p.m. (it's the city that never sleeps after all!) in 1A03.