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 filmmakers worldwide. Curtis represents the site at conventions and events around the US including San Diego Comic-Con. You can read his The Hobbit Countdown here at Movies.com every other Monday.
It is a common studio strategy to release photos of characters from films as a way to drum up buzz for a particular property or project. Once upon a time this (occasionally) happened in the fan press, and sometimes the images weren’t approved or ready for audiences. Spies inside of productions would leak images to fanboys, leaving the traditional media way behind the curve.
During the last two weeks, print media giants Entertainment Weekly and Empire Magazine were given exclusive content from the two-film The Hobbit that was definitely official and obviously meant to give fans first images of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. The publicity ploy worked perfectly, of course, with potential consumers gobbling up the shots and creating a hunger for more Hobbit content.
If the studio follows form, expect other images to be strategically released in the coming weeks as a public with movies on the mind looks 18 months into the future and, if things go according to plan, dreams of the day when they can finally sit and soak in cinematic Middle-earth again with Peter Jackson’s films.
To nobody’s surprise, the images are really quite good. From the moment it was whispered in TheOneRing.net’s ear that Martin Freeman was the production’s first choice to be Bilbo Baggins, it felt as though the writing team was headed in a solid direction. But seeing the actor (best known for his work on the original television series The Office, and for his turn as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) in full Hobbit gear was a pleasing experience. He looks familiar without being a retread and the backdrop of Bilbo’s Hobbit hole feels like a return to home.
While he does bear some resemblance to Def Leppard’s drummer Rick Allen, Freeman also brings Ian Holm’s Bilbo to mind from his brief-but-important turn in The Lord of the Rings. While it clearly isn’t Ian Holm, it looks pretty plausible as a younger version of him. Looking back, much of Holm’s performance went beyond dialogue and his work sticks with us through facial expressions of worry, fear, anger or wonder. (And if you haven’t looked back lately, treat yourself to an extended edition Blu-ray revisit.) Freeman has the on-camera talent to deliver the same everyman realism with a flavor of comedy that made Holm’s Bilbo so relatable.
The picture also features props from the films that actually indicate some possible plot threads and suggest a tone of at least the initial stages of the films. And if you keep reading, you are bound to find spoilers, but can a book that has been around for more than 75 years be spoiled? Either way, you have been warned.
A careful examination shows Bilbo looking carefully at a lengthy document with a rather concerned expression on his face. Meanwhile in the background, out-of-focus dwarves look on with what could be termed careful expectation.
Front and center is a dark-haired dwarf who can assumed to be Richard Armitage, cleverly hidden by a soft depth of field. But what is Bilbo examining while under such scrutiny from Thorn Oakenshield? The comic suggestions of the tone of the photo and the playful nature of the opening of the book suggest that the screenwriters (Peter Jackson, Philipa Boyen, Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro) may have carried the gag of Bilbo’s contract beyond the simple note left on the mantel in the source material.
In the book, after a long night of eating and drinking and singing, Bilbo almost talks himself out of going on the proposed adventure but a certain wizard and an informal contract detailing his potential sharing of profits manage to push him out the door of his comfortable Hobbit hole just in time to catch the company of dwarves.
The released image of Bilbo might signal a change in the script that leaves Bilbo wrestling with a long, comedic contract during the “Unexpected Party” chapter that opens the book. Bilbo is charmingly off-balance during the first part of the book, and it isn’t difficult to imagine Jackson and company using a device like a hopelessly complex contract to throw confusion into the simple Hobbit’s mind.
Or, as a TORn staffer suggested, it might also be a requested menu for the feast the company of Dwarves expect while they discuss the plans that brought them to Bilbo’s door in the first place. The image might be something else completely un-guessed, or it could easily be nothing at all from the movies other than a posed and lighted publicity shot meant to cause discussions and articles exactly like this one.
The return of Ian McKellen as Gandalf is the other focus of the publicity photos. Here Gandalf the Gray, present with viewing audiences only for part of The Fellowshp of the Ring before he returns as Gandalf the White in The Two Towers and Return of the King, makes his public debut here and it is a comfort to have him back. Perhaps a little darker of hair and looking more the rogue wanderer, Gandalf will carry much of the connective tissue that holds the LOTR trilogy and The Hobbit together in the cinema.
While the production gears up for a second batch of shooting around some key actors’ schedules, a lot of activity is going on to prepare for the next time cameras roll. Location scouts are busy, and the team at Weta Workshop is manufacturing all kinds of items to appear on screen. Sir Christopher Lee, too advanced in age to travel comfortably to New Zealand, will be shooting some of his key scenes in London during the break, which will probably require Jackson and likely some of the acting team as well. Readers would do well to keep eyes open for more potential images from Middle-earth via Warner Bros.