Face-to-face conversations about The Hobbit with fans across the U.S. and New Zealand, and online from around the world, often lead to the same place: Where will the films break? Despite being on the minds and spilling out of the mouths of real people in real conversations, little has been written about it.
The production and the team adapting the book can’t be blamed for playing things close to the vest; the book, written by J.R.R. Tolkien, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is so well known that they need to keep their secrets so film fans can be surprised by something when they head to the cinema this December for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. With that in mind, there are speculative spoilers ahead and you have been warned.
The media, while writing a lot about the films, haven’t looked at the structure of these films too carefully. Today’s digital media environment often gets more clicks from a new still photo than it does from more complex content that requires more patience and so topics at the very core of these two films often get glossed over and ignored.
But not here in The Hobbit countdown! Here we skip past the catch phrase and empty headlines and peer a little deeper into news, rumors, lore and subterfuge to dredge up the best speculation and theory about just where the two films might break, a question that comes up in nearly any Hobbit conversation.
Here are five of the most common and best-defended theories:
1. Ring Bling
The best promoter of this idea was a staffer at TheOneRing.net with an excellent grasp of the dramatic. He is an actor, author and filmmaker and he felt pretty strongly that Bilbo finding the One Ring and matching wits with Gollum in the depths of goblin caves would make a fantastic emotional, dramatic exclamation point to end the first film. He is right about that but it seems pretty early in the plot to break the films.
He pointed out that the first film could contain a lot of the content that will be taken from the Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings books, which are history notes Tolkien included with that publication that gives extra insights into the goings-on of Middle-earth. Director Peter Jackson will want to rev up the tension and raise the stakes and he could accomplish that through a history of wars, the story of the downfall of dwarves and Gandalf getting a map and key that are part of the dwarves' plan, all before he ever gets to Bilbo’s house and gives them to Thorin. The film could also spend time and explain how and why these 13 dwarves think they can and should go expell Smaug from their former home.
2. All About Bilbo
I have long been a proponent of the theory that this is Bilbo’s story and therefore the films will follow a character arc all about him. We know from the glimpses in the trailer that Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is something of the everyman that we all identify with and through his point of view, all this crazy stuff with goblins and dwarves and dragons happens. So, I theorized, the first film is about Bilbo growing up. While he is an adult Hobbit in the film, he accepts major changes by leaving his home in The Shire and accepting a job as a burglar. But he is a stumbling, bumbling liability and the dwarves, and Bilbo himself, are not too sure if he is competent.
The moment this changes in the story (or the most dramatic one) where Bilbo becomes The Man, . . . er . . . The Hobbit, is as he saves the dwarves from their bitter rivals, the elves. Thrown in prison, the party of 13 is helpless while Gandalf is busy elsewhere and Bilbo is invisible and arranges an escape all on his own.
With all the craft of a genuine burglar, he manages to sneak his fellow adventurers out from behind bars and stuff them into barrels and dump them through a trap door and into a river that will carry them closer to the Lonely Mountain.
I could envision a movie-ending shot of triumphant Bilbo hatching the escape that gives the audience both the satisfaction of a movie with an ending, a complete character arc for the main character and plenty to look forward to in December 2013. Sounds perfect. Except, I have changed my mind.
3. Smaugy Skies
Smaug the Golden, Smaug the Terrible, Smaug the Magnificent. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, this winged wizard must be cinematic magic. He must succeed as a character and must rise above the standard of any dragon yet put on film. With special effects group Weta (LOTR, Avatar) designing him and putting this digital creature on screen, there is a good chance that just as Gollum was held back for the second LOTR film, Smaug will be preserved as film-two bait.
Imagine, if you will, Bilbo, Thorin (Richard Armitage) and company surviving trolls, spiders, goblins, Gollum, wargs, elves and politics and we journey with them until they finally reach The Lonely Mountain. Then, using map and key, they send our hero Bilbo inside with his clever invisibility ring. Awaiting him is a creature that drove away a kingdom of dwarves, burned a town of men to cinders and now sleeps on a pile of gold.
He is more terrible and dangerous than even the balrog that dragged Gandalf to the deep places in the earth. The camera follows Bilbo creeping through piles of gold illuminated from the internal fires of the “great worm.” We watch the little hobbit’s face, glowing yellow and orange as it registers shock and awe as he at last sees this magnificent monster. And then, to torture audiences for 12 months, cut to black or, a quick-cut extreme close-up of the scaly face as an eyelid slowly opens in its majestic malevolence and then credits roll.
This idea has great potential and for the next film leaves Smaug conversing with Bilbo and then destroying Laketown in fire before great political conflict between all the races complicates matters, finally climaxing in a giant battle of five armies with lots of Gandalf and the White Counsel thrown in. That sounds like a Jackson-esque film two. We also get to linger on a post-battle Bilbo and his efforts to heal the conflicts of Middle-earth with his good heart and reminding the audience that the days of the Lord of the Rings are not far in the future. It could happen.
4. Two Movies, Two Battles
If we think about these films in terms of conflict, we can simply divide them by the villains they feature and the armed conflicts needed to defeat them like they do in action movies!) Viewers need to feel like there is a threat, a bad guy looming later in the film to engage them and then after things are resolved, help us feel like we went through a story beginning, middle and end.
The Hobbit book features Smaug as one blatantly obvious baddie, but where is the second? Why it is Sauron of course, the same guy wearing a ring and swinging a mace in the LOTR prolog and later featured as a great, flaming eye.
This time he will be in a different form and known as The Necromancer. Smaug, as the book is structured, is required for the late stages of the whole story, setting up the greater conflict for dwarves that stretches over two films and is required to be towards the end of the 2013 Hobbit. That leaves Cumberbatch voicing the not-yet-fully-strong evil presence growing in the south of Mirkwood (the forest that houses the elves.) Gandalf will be busy talking and fighting this growing evil to drive him from the forest. With Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman and new wizard Radagast involved, that could make a pretty great cinematic battle indeed.
To simplify: An Unexpected Journey could be the battle of the White Council, including Gandalf, against The Necromancer with Bilbo and 13 dwarves getting into trouble at the same time.
Then There and Back Again will focus mostly on the party and feature Smaug and the eventual epic Battle of Five Armies. There you have it: Two big movies, and two big battles without sacrificing the story of Bilbo. Not a bad theory.
5. The Right Answer
I was talked into this theory at DragonCon in Atlanta by TORn staffers and must give credit where it is due. They changed my mind and I am now convinced that Bilbo will save the dwarves from spiders in Mirkwood and then, right at the end, be captured by elves. These elves may or may not include Legolas (Orlando Bloom), but since it’s his father that throws the captives in the clink, I would almost bet on it. Also likely to be included, so the theory goes, is invented female elven princess warrior character Tauriel, filled by Evangeline Lilly. (At least one staffer believes she will feel great affection for Bilbo are perhaps aid in the escape.)
The royals show up to toss our dwarves into prison and my imagined final moments of the film pan up from bearded faces to reveal elvish arms, shoulders and then the golden-haired good looks of Bloom. Then BOOM, roll credits. That would be a powerful fan-girl moment, wouldn’t it? It would leave audiences lining up for tickets as fast as they could get to the box office wouldn’t it?
What's more, it fits the earlier stated need to have a story arc for Bilbo. Instead of coming into his own inside the jail, he manages the same thing sparring with spiders to rescue the dwarves from blood-draining death, except they get into more trouble immediately after. It also serves as an excellent bridge to a new set of characters that can kick off the next film. Perfect. Unexpectedly providing fuel for this theory, Lilly spoke to Entertainment Weekly very recently about her character and all but confirmed it, connecting the dots:
“She’s not in the first film very much. She comes into the first film near the end, and has a very small part to play. Her role in the second film is much more involved,” she said.
In my opinion, case closed.
However, until we sit in that theater for the first time, nobody will know for sure, which is why it is fun to count down.
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.