Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Extended Edition -- summing up

So, now that I've had a chance to watch the new/extended scenes, plus the whole movie over again to see them in proper context, plus all three extra disks' worth of 'making-of' documentaries, I thought I'd share a few final random observations.

--First, watching the documentaries vividly conveyed just how hard making this film was on the actors. It was physically grueling for the dwarves and even more so for the goblins, with costumes that were hot, heavy, and restrictive. Sometimes, when a scene required the dwarves to be water-drenched, their costume and gear weighed well over 100 pounds. For some scenes, at the end of each take those actors who were too exhausted to carry on were to raise their hands so a crew member could come and help them off the set for a few minutes' r-and-r.  The dwarven actors were particularly eloquent about 'The Epic of Scene 88', which is the bit with the dwarves running from rock to rock trying to evade the pursuing wargs and their riders: apparently this involved the actors playing dwarves, in full gear, running back and forth for three days --I think by this they meant a day each at three different (rocky, hilly) outdoors locations. Similarly, the actors in the goblin suits in the Goblin Town scene could barely see, and were so hampered in their movements that it reduced the menace they were supposed to project; after just one day's filming their headpieces were replaced with motion-capture gear, much to the relief of all concerned.

Nor was the misery involved purely physical: Sir Ian McKellan was reduced to tears by the second day of filming when he found himself all alone in a green room acting his part to be later inserted into the dinner at Bag End being acted simultaneously by Bilbo and the dwarves. Luckily this was alleviated by making the next day Ian McKellan Appreciation Day. Technically, though, there's no doubt of the amazing results -- as when Christopher Lee is inserted into the White Council scenes. You'd no more know that one of these four actors was never on the set with the other three than you'd know, listening to a rock song, that one of the key musicians was never in the studio with the rest.

Rather to my surprise, a lot of scenes I assumed were green-screened actually involved some tricky sets, such as the dwarves strung out on the mountain-path. Turns out the most dangerous scene to film, by far, as the Front Porch, where the floor of the mountain-cave collapses in pieces. They were worried the stunt men could really get hurt here, and did a lot of rehearsing and setting up the shot to minimize the risk. One touching little detail from this scene that didn't make the final cut shows Bifur, after the others have bedded down for the night, working with a little dragon toy, v. much like the dragon-kite we see at Dale in the opening of the movie. Nor is this the only little character-building scene with Bifur that got cut; another has him, when riding the eagle, standing up and flapping his arms like wings, much to the alarm of the other dwarf riding behind him. In short, there was a childlike innocence to Bifur's character that didn't make the final film.*

From a filmmaking point of view, it's interesting to learn that Jackson likes to do long takes, often lasting ten minutes or more, shooting a scene over and over in full to provide plenty of shots to assemble a final version from in editing. I suspect this is why he's so good at complex scenes, where there's a lot going on in the background among the other characters besides whoever's the main speaker(s) at the time.

And in the it-shdn't-surprise-me department, we learn that work on the film went right down to the wire. As in, literally done at the last minute: Smaug's eye, the final shot in this first film, still being worked on the morning of the premier.

So, what next? Here are a few spoilers, mostly derived from the extended edition documentary, specifically the penultimate entry in "Appendix 7" (disk four, track 14) called "Home Is Behind, the World Ahead". The first five minutes or so of this are on the final hectic days leading up to the film's release. But then it segues into preview of the next film: brief shots of Legolas, Tauriel, Bard, the Mayor of Lake Town and his sidekick, the Elvenking on his throne, spider-webbed dwarves, dwarves in barrels, the secret mountain-door, Cumberbatch acting out Smaug . . .  Elsewhere I've seen scenes of elves shooting at the barrel-dwarves, orcs and elves fighting in Lake Town, and (most intriguingly) what looks to be wargs attacking Beorn's steading.** In general, it sounds like they're inserted a lot of action scenes, just as with the first movie.

In the end it's simple: if you liked the version of the first HOBBIT movie you saw in theatres, you'll like the extended edition. If not, probably not.  For my part, having just rewatched this first movie I'm now really looking forward to the next film.

--John R.

current audiobook: Boswell's LIFE OF JOHNSON
reading: just finished GOBLIN SECRETS by Wm Alexander [recommended]
reading: just started IRON TEARS, an account of the Amer. Revolution from the British side (part of the subtitle is "Britain's Quagmire").

*One thing about Bifur that did make the extended edition is a brief bit explicitly drawing attention to his brain injury and its results, which was easy to miss in the theatrical release.

**Beorn himself does not appear, but I finally saw what he looks like on Sunday when looking at the movie tie-in HOBBIT calendar for next year.


David Bratman said...

"You'd no more know that one of these four actors was never on the set with the other three"

Actually, that explains a lot about the acting of that scene.

The Reeve said...

You are obviously a lover of Tolkien, as am I. I describe my love of the master in this blog post ( What I don't understand is that how you can be anything but appalled at what Peter Jackson has done with The Hobbit. The same feeling I had after his following up The Fellowship of the Ring with the disaster that was The Two Towers (with all it's fundamental misunderstanding of Tolkien's story - the conduct of Theoden, Faramir, Fangorn, etc.).

Do you just look at it in a different light and say to yourself: "Well, no one is going to replicate The Hobbit, so I'll be happy with this other thing."

grodog said...

Thanks for the summary, John.

If you have written a general take on the efficacy of the Extended Edition Hobbit compared to the LOTR extended editions, I must have missed that. Have you done so, and if not, would you give us your thoughts, please?---I'm just curious if the Hobbit extended adds as much to the storyline (and in many cases restores more adherence to Tolkien's original visions) as the LOTR ones did?