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 the San Diego Comic-Con. You can read his The Hobbit Countdown here at Movies.com every other Monday.
Peter Jackson has always understood how the popularization of the internet changed film. Since the beginning of his pre-production on The Lord of the Rings he was available to fans, sometimes against the wishes of studios, as he included potential ticket buyers into the process of film production.
With Facebook covering all of web land and growing into every demographic possible, Jackson has seized that new platform to remove the big and sometimes slow publicity machine studios have in place and instead speaks right at fans.
After a series of leaks last week (genuine loose tongues or a planned information release to Deadline?) confirmed Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon Smaug and Luke Evans as Bard The Bowman, Jackson took matters into his own hands on his own keyboard Monday morning to announce two more significant roles.
Evangeline Lilly, Kate of Lost fame, will play the role of a character definitely not in Tolkien’s cannon. Yes, one of The Fellowship from LOTR, Dominic Monaghan (Merry), will see his former girlfriend play a female wood elf, a relative of Legolas’ in all probability. How significant of a part Jackson isn’t saying, but with such a name actress it is difficult to imagine it as a small walk-on.
“Evangeline Lilly will be playing a new character—the Woodland Elf, Tauriel. Her name means 'daughter of Mirkwood' and, beyond that, we must leave you guessing! (No, there is no romantic connection to Legolas.)”
Well, that last part is a relief of course. An added Legolas romance would be a nightmare so Jackson headed that bit of speculation off at the pass, but readers doing a head scratch and not remembering Tauriel might be horrified to know there never was such an elf. In fact, The Hobbit, as penned by Tolkien, didn’t contain any female characters at all. The adaptation that will greatly enhance the conflict between goblins and dwarves and delve into some of Tolkien’s lore regarding Gandalf’s pals on the White Council, which includes the female Elf Galadriel, will no doubt contain more women.
Making the scope of the film more epic and less a band-of-brothers-in-a-road-trip movie is acceptable but inventing significant characters and risky casting decisions will definitely set off alarms for many who knew Middle-earth long before it was a LOTR Burger King tie-in toy.
No doubt Jackson has earned a free pass from many fans and is more likely to get a benefit of the doubt from others, but still others will wonder why the writing team (which includes Guillermo del Toro, Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh) felt it was important to insert characters into a film with a significant cast already.
Some are speculating on TheOneRing.net’s message boards (or at least wondering) if this is the same character as the previously rumored Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) “Itaril” role. If it is the same role with a new name, the production should be credited for using a moniker in line with Tolkien’s invented Elvish rather than one that sounds like a writing team made it up!
If both roles are in play, it could mean more than invented characters in established Hobbit settings. Instead it could involve a minor Elvish subplot. Either way, it sounds like Jackson wanted to establish and explain the colony of Elves that Bilbo and the Dwarves encounter in the forests of Mirkwood. In print, the forest dwellers act as jailors and antagonists to the Dwarves until Bilbo engineers an escape from merciless clutches. They next appear near the climax of the episodic book to get involved in the Battle of Five Armies.
While that works fine in a children’s book, keeping the intelligent and Middle-earth-loving race on the sidelines until they are suddenly needed may feel like a cinematic deus ex machina, giving the hopeless Dwarves a chance to overcome the orc masses that threaten to win the species war permanently.
So Legolas may gain a sister, but whatever Lilly does in the films, expect extra scrutiny.
Also announced by Jackson, the very talented Barry Humphries will take on the role of the larger-than-life Goblin King “in much the way Andy Serkis created Gollum.” These two films will be filled with goblins, it seems, but Humphries will have the chance to create a memorable villain.
Jackson glossed over two news bits on Facebook that are certainly among the most pivotal supporting roles in the film.
Deadline.com finally confirmed last week, after weeks of speculation, that Cumberbatch was voicing the iconic dragon Smaug. Many thought -- and place me in that camp -- that Cumberbatch was going to be Bard, the excellent archer of Laketown. But, after Martin Freeman let slip in an interview that his Sherlock Holmes mate was part of the production, nobody doubted that Holmes and Watch would share a Middle-earth scene together.
The actor on the rise (and no that isn’t a stage name) does have some impressive pipes. He has a voice that has a depth and resonance without being freakishly low. More importantly, he not only has a nice instrument, he knows how to use it. He is adept at voices and is something of a mimic. One great sample available on YouTube is the young Brit imitating Alan Rickman singing Elton John’s A Candle In The Wind.
Word is out that Cumberbatch will not only voice Smaug, but do motion-capture for the dragon as well. A series of terrible talking dragons litters the wasteland of bad fantasy films, but this particular ‘great worm’ has a critical scene with Bilbo. It will be amusing on some level to hear the pair of BBC detectives trade barbed wit around a treasure hoard inside The Lonely Mountain, but hopefully that will be the last thing on viewers’ minds as the scene initially unspools at the cinema.
Also alarming is that Cumberbatch will be voicing the Necromancer. Why Jackson insists on one actor for two voice parts is difficult to figure.
Luke Evans (pictured right), although his career is still new, is no stranger to genre films. He played Apollo in Clash of the Titans and will show up soon in this year’s Immortals and The Three Musketeers. He is Welsh and a veteran of the stage. Rumors suggest the role was inexplicibly passed on around Hollywood, including by Clive Owen.
The role of Bard seems to have “star maker” written all over it and Evans may be to this two-film journey what Viggo Mortensen was to LOTR.
Speaking of, if you didn’t get or take the chance to see the extended edition of Fellowship of the Ring in theaters across the U.S. last Tuesday, don’t miss the chance this week to catch The Two Towers this week. Fathom events put the one-time only, consecutive screenings together but also was kind enough to feature a pre-film bumper for TheOneRing.net.
But the best reason to go see the re-mastered and color corrected extended edition films in theaters again is because these movies hold up and were meant to be viewed in theaters. Jackson recorded a message for the audience saying as much but while I may not watch the films nearly as often as some fans, they still had tremendous power to move me and the appreciative audience I was with. With almost 500 locations running TTT on Tuesday, it is likely one will be playing near you.