The Hobbit Countdown is really in the countdown stage now. The Hobbit, once a distant event that was slated for the day after forever is now just more than 90 days away.
Only a handful of weeks.
Just around the corner.
A whole slew of “serious” cinema with horror mixed in is scheduled for the megaplex but as far as genre films go, all the tentpoles are gone — save one.
A new app hit iPhone users this week and it is packed full of brand new images, dozens of them actually (see a gallery of the best here). While Warner Bros. was once content to release a picture here or there, or make a big splash with a single shot of each dwarf in the party, now they come tumbling out. There are so many that fans are past the point of savoring each one. Now it is more like when characters in a film find a pile of treasure and they pick up the gold and let it run through their fingers because they enjoy the sensation. That is the kind of photo wealth the app delivered, enough to drip through the fingers.
But it delivered something else as well. It sprung, besides just the spoiler images, a pretty detailed plot outline of what to expect from the first Hobbit film. Oh and all three film titles are now confirmed along with the release dates:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — December 14, 2012
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug — December 13, 2013
The Hobbit: There and Back Again — July 18, 2014
But back to those spoilers. Just before Comic-Con this year, the publicity machine for the studio handed off an interactive scroll to Entertainment Weekly that showed major plot points from the book and what they might look like in Peter Jackson’s films. It revealed about as clearly as it could have, where the first film would end: dwarves and Bilbo escaping from an elvish prison in barrels.
Just weeks after the release, as we discussed in the last Hobbit Countdown those two films based on the 75-year-old book by J.R.R. Tolkien, became three films and that scroll became old news.
But the app contains a beautiful new scroll and users (who at the moment must be Apple users with no word if it will be available for Android), with no spoiler warning at all, have the ending of the first film dropped before their very eyes. If you keep scrolling down, this will happen to you as well. Nobody at Warner Bros. and nobody from Peter Jackson’s production have officially declared THIS IS THE ENDING OF FILM ONE! But they might as well have. It would be hard to be more obvious without a press release.
Read no further or you too will know the ending.
There is beautiful imagery on the scroll that presents moments from the story, all but one directly from the book: Gandalf in front of Bilbo’s door; Thorin and the company of dwarves around Bilbo’s table; a large cooking pot suitable for trolls; the company marching through mountains; a non-cannon image of Elrond with Gandalf and Galadriel in the background suggesting a meeting of the wise; Gollum in his cave looking curiously at a new riddle opponent and then flaming trees including the one Bilbo has climbed; wolves, Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield and descending giant eagles. And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the ending of our first Hobbit movie.
It is as I predicted on August 1 at TheOneRing.net:
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, will end (at least in my mind until the cinema shows me otherwise) at the conclusion of a major conflict and a narrow escape. You can see it on the chart above. My conclusion is that it goes something like this: Frodo frames the story for Bilbo. After a good deal of setting the table in Bag End (savor that pun), the journey begins. We meet trolls. Before long bad luck and goblins show up, combat mayhem ensues, Bilbo is lost, he Riddles in the Dark, by luck he joins Thorin and Company again but pursued by goblins and wolves, they get out of the frying pan and into the fire. The rescue from there makes a grand film ending for me, grand indeed. Audiences will feel satisfied but also hunger for more. The first six chapters of The Hobbit, along with considerable historical background make for — at least in my mind — a really strong trilogy opening.”
Eagles will swoop down and rescue Bilbo and dwarves from a hoard of goblins and wolves and a burning forest. Cue Howard Shore score brilliance and we wait another year to see Smaug in all his glory.
There has been some angst from fans over three films expanded from two; complaints have been heard from a vocal segment that there can’t possibly be enough story to go around, that things are going to be spread too thin. I happen to disagree but the sentiment is as valid for a Hobbit-loving fan as any other response. But there is more to this movie than meets the eye.
Showing the full plot points of any film, even one based on a book as beloved and well known as The Hobbit, might seem a little foolhardy. Warner Bros., a big studio with big-time experience, big-time history and big-time business sense, is anything but careless or foolhardy. They don’t leave marketing a film to chance but instead they execute a plan and with great care and financial backing. This was not an accidental release; this was carefully planned. They are saying to book fans: WE HAVE BEEN FAITHFUL TO YOUR BOOK! YOUR BOOK IS COMING TO THE CINEMA AND IT LOOKS COOL!
But they have something up their sleeve. What could it possibly be? Why the rest of the story of course! Between those visual slices of the book, between those iconic images that speak to book readers worldwide on Warner Bros.’ free app, lurks the rest of Jackson’s film.
We already know to expect an opening scene with Bilbo telling his favorite nephew Frodo (remember him from Lord of the Rings?) something about his adventures. The knowledge of Elijah Wood in the films, despite their predating his story by a few Middle-earth decades goes back years and even the suspected device of bookending the tale as part of the Red Book of the Westmarch that we see being written in Jackson’s Rings trilogy seems fairly obvious.
Oh but there are so many more possibilities!
Jackson, like any good filmmaker, wants to show rather than tell. He wants to put a scene before an audience rather than have a character talk about it. Remember the rousing opening of LOTR: The Two Towers? Jackson couldn’t resist showing Gandalf fighting the Balrog of Moria as they fell into the depths of the earth. The opening turned out to simply be a dream of Frodo’s but it didn’t serve a strong storytelling purpose. It was nice to remember Gandalf’s fall from the previous film and it introduces us to the possibility that he yet lives, but it certainly wasn’t essential. Jackson couldn’t resist showing bits of that battle and audiences loved it and never again would the chance present itself for us to watch a near deity in the form of an old man fight a demon from a forgotten age as they plummet into the deep places of the earth.
When Thorin Oakenshield sits at the table of Bilbo Baggins in the Shire and he relates the tragic history of his family to the company gathered, it isn’t going to feature much of Richard Armitage just talking. As talented as the actor is, the film demands, and the audience wants, to see the downfall of the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain. We will know it is important to Thorin, but Jackson wants it to be important to the audience. We must know the terror and despair of the ruin of the dwarven kingdom of Erebor. We must feel the loss and the anger and the personal helplessness as an entire race is exiled from its own home by a terrible dragon. (Which, incidentally, we will probably not see at all in the first film.)
Likewise, Ian McKellen’s Gandalf isn’t going to chatter on about how he obtained the key and the map that Thorin so prizes and that gives the gathered company some hope of success in its quest. In fact, in public materials we have already seen Ian McKellen in dark and spooky environments that surely must be the dungeons of Dol Guldur where he found Thorin’s father, Thrain. Now few would dispute that McKellen can tell a story but instead of Gandalf talking, we will see Gandalf talking to the dying and mostly crazed Thrain, not to a bunch of feasting dwarves around a table. The evidence is visible in the single Hobbit trailer we can see so far and it just makes a better film. (Expect a new trailer on September 21, a celebration of Hobbit Day in the real world and Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday in Middle-earth.)
Around that same meeting in Bilbo’s house, we may also hear other stories. Some of the dwarves gathered there, particularly the older ones, bring history to the table. Bifur for example, the one with an ax in his skull, will not, according to the app, have the ability to speak. How does a filmmaker portray a mute character? Perhaps by showing how the injury happened and once again, this would be more compelling to show than tell. It isn’t difficult to imagine the creation of a deeply sympathetic warrior in a single stroke. The troll sequence may have further surprises as could the non-book scene of Elrond looking troubled with a sword on his table (a morgul blade?) while Galadriel and Gandalf communicate in the background. It smells like Jackson setting up the conflict and sub-plots of further movies and creating a more epic feel.
Besides hitting us over the head with the ending of the first film, the release of such a bold outline of the material should be viewed as confirmation that under the mostly straightforward surface of these Hobbit films, there are whole other monsters lurking.
For better or worse, Jackson has not chosen a simple, direct translation of the book. He has chosen a more complex and epic tale that comfortably contains The Hobbit inside it and at this point nobody should be surprised. But despite how much we think we know, December will hold some surprises for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey viewers. Count on it.