Thursday, December 22, 2011

THE HOBBIT trailer considered

Here, courtesy of Richard West and Kristin Thompson, is a better link to a good site to see the new trailer on:

Now that I've had a day or two to mull over things, and move beyond the don't-disturb-this-moment feeling, here's my take on this first trailer.

I've seen most of the little teaser mini making-of documentaries, which have done a great job of engaging the audience from the LotR films into this new project and laid a lot of the wilder rumors to rest. But this feels different: the first whiff of the real thing. They clearly want to do a lot in one short piece.

Foremost among them: to convey to fans of the LotR films that this is more of the same. That it's not just another Tolkien movie, but deeply and directly connected to the first. Thus we get to see McKellan's Gandalf, and Blanchett's Galadriel, and above all hear the sinister whispers of Serkis's Gollum. Even small details, like a glimpse of the shards of Narsil, are included -- something really not v. important for Bilbo's story, but no doubt included for the flashback to the moment between Aragorn and Boromir (and Aragorn and Arwen) in the first film: comfort food, so to speak, for the fans of the first film.

Just as important (or, for me, even more important) is establishing the new cast of this new story. We get to see a lot of Bilbo, and get used to the idea (after the initial shock, and some inner resistance) of seeing Freeman's face rather than Ian Holm's. And all thirteen dwarves are thrown at us in rapid succession, so that the full roster of Thorin & Company is presented right away.

Speaking of the dwarves, it looks like there'll be two contradictory things juxtaposed here. Their looks are quite silly (with the old silent-movie beards and moustachios), yet they turn into experienced killing machines in combat. There was some of that in the first films' Gimli; looks like there'll be even more of it here (To be fair, there was some of this in the original Tolkien too).

The exception is Thorin, whose look and behavior seems locked permanently in the serious battle-mode. In the book it comes as quite a shock when Thorin succumbs to dragon-sickness and becomes Bilbo's enemy. In later writings like THE QUEST OF EREBOR and THE 1960 HOBBIT, Tolkien anticipated those developments by including hints that Thorin was going bad, or at least had the potential, all along: anticipating the end result by drastically rewriting the character (and thus unfortunately losing the shock value of the original ending). I suspect that's what's going on here: Dark Thorin isn't the result of the character's going mad in the end but the essential character all along. I suspect he's this film's Boromir.

Which ties into an observation Janice made: this looks more like THE 1960 HOBBIT than it does THE HOBBIT itself.* There are no hints here of the whimsy of the original story, in which the dwarves bring highly impractical musical instruments along for the Unexpected Party, only to apparently abandon them forthwith, given that none of them are ever mentioned again. Jackson & Co. need not be borrowing directly from Tolkien's unfinished re-write, but they're clearly trying to achieve the same goal: recast THE HOBBIT into the style of LotR.

This ties into a point David Bratman made on his blog,** in which he suggested that Jackson is presenting THE HOBBIT as the prequel to LotR. So far as the films go, this is perfectly correct: most people who go see THE HOBBIT in theatres this time next year (and again the year after) are fans of the three-film Jackson trilogy and expect this movie to be just like the earlier films they know and love. That naturally imposes some audience expectations and means the films will probably be quite different from what they might have been like had they been made in chronological order.

---the biggest surprise: no dragon. To have a dragon and not show it is an exercise of restraint I'd not expected.

---the biggest twist: a brief tender moment between Galadriel and Gandalf.***

---the standout moment: the beautiful dwarf-song. Tolkien said Bilbo found it moving; Jackson has found a way to move the audience with it as well. Score One for Team Jackson.****

--John R.


*Richard West made much the same point in an email today, in which he points out how Tolkien's book famously starts like WIND IN THE WILLOWS and ends more like NJAL'S SAGA, as C. S. Lewis observed long ago; here it's saga all the way through.

***this is a good example of the kind of unanticipate-able element Jackson likes to throw into his films.

****it's clearly based on the king's song Aragorn sings at his coronation which, if I remember rightly, was Mortensen's own composition; hope he gets a royalty here!


grodog said...

Thanks for your thoughts, John! I had a fairly favorable impression of the trailer as well. One of the other Tolkien-oriented gamers I know commented that

"A Tolkien scholar posted on one of the mailing lists that “this trailer was hastily made in three days and immediately released (someone slightly involved in the project told me so, but I can't say anything more, and actually I don't know much more than this; she does but obviously she must keep the secret on what hasn't yet been released) ; I think a fair part of the post-production is still absent and the definitive movie will look better than this.”"

I haven't been following the development of the trailer, so it sounds like---based on your familiarity with the trailer teasers---that the trailer isn't perhaps as thrown together as the above comment makes it sound?


Merry Christmas to you and Janice :D


Necropraxis said...

I was also surprised and pleased by the lack of Smaug in the trailer, but then a friend pointed out that this is a two-part movie. I'm sure the dragon will be all over the previews for part 2.

Anthony N. Emmel said...

Actually, I think there may be more of the dwarves's whimsy. there a flash scene in the trailer of them rolling plates and stuff at each other in Bag-end. I'll assume they're singing "Chip the Glasses" at that point.

What we hear of the Hobbiit score in the second half or so of the trailer I like as well. It hearkens back to the LotR score, BUT it sounds heroic without the mournful sacrificial tones in the LotR ones.

David Bratman said...

Well, the trailer begins with Bilbo saying he's going to tell Frodo the story of his adventures, so the trailer is already cast as a prequel. That's where I got the notion from.

I think you're quite correct that Jackson's intent is to remake The Hobbit more into the mode of LotR. This would fit in with Jackson's known characteristic of "flattening" the story out and making it feel redundant. (What do we need another LotR for? The Hobbit is its own kind of story.)

Unfortunately, if the two films do divide up the story, we'll have to wait till the following year to know if you're right about how Thorin will be depicted in the end.

Anthony Hopper said...

It will be interesting to see how Jackson's team fits the Dul Goldur narrative into the overall movie. I could see the first movie ending with an action scene (perhaps a battle) at Sauron's fortress as opposed to a scene from the book itself. One another note, I think the trailer blended whimsical/light moments with serious, dark moments quite well. For instance, the dwarves look and act silly at points but their song is mournful to say the least (and borders on depressing). The trailer also includes several scenes in which darkness predominates, ie. Gandalf with sword and staff, the attack on the trolls, the fight between Gandalf and the mad king.

Jason Fisher said...

the biggest surprise: no dragon. To have a dragon and not show it is an exercise of restraint I'd not expected

This came as absolutely no surprise to me. First, as some have already commented, why tip your hand with one of the biggest reveals in the second film — which won't be for another two full years? Second, and more importantly, I don't think they have a dragon yet. I think the effects probably aren't ready. Just as Peter Jackon only "teased" Gollum in Fellowship because they weren't finished figuring out how to make him as good as could be (and the teased Gollum in Fellowship is clearly inferior to the final one), the same is probably true of Smaug. Better not to tease him at all if they aren't ready. He might be teased during the run-up to part one, but they still have a year to work on him. I'm wondering whether the first film will end with what is effectively a trailer for the second, teasing Smaug at last.

the standout moment: the beautiful dwarf-song

Oh yes, I agree! This gave me chills watching the trailer. Funnily enough, I always loved the melody of the dwarf song in the Rankin/Bass cartoon, and this far exceeded that.

N.E. Brigand said...

Jason's comment inspired me to finally have a look at this trailer. The song is good! Nearly as fine as the Rankin-Bass version (by Maury Laws), which I hold in very high esteem. I'm not too sure about the rest.