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Why the Hobbit trailer is a test of character

December 28, 2011 at 7:24 pm by Demosthenes  - 

There are many cool things and great moments in the teaser trailer that finally came out just a week and half ago. But, silly lists aside, there’s a lot of interesting stuff at work in this trailer: for what it includes AND for what it omits. One of the things that struck me immediately was the emphasis on character. It’s enormous.

There’s some justification for that: Jackson and his minions need to introduce a core cast of 15. That’s a lot of different people that the audience has to invest in… and differentiate between. (Before you read on, I must warn you: this is inevitably a spoiler-filled discussion)

Thus we have the venerable-looking Balin, brawler Dwalin, the impish Fili, action-dwarf Kili, the accident-prone food-loving Bombur and the regal-looking Thorin. Just to name a few of the company.

On top of this, Jackson deploys the mournful dirge Misty Mountains Cold to emphasise familial bonds, dwarvish clannishness and an intense sense of shared purpose. For effect, it beats anything else in this trailer into the ground.

Still, could you identify each of the different dwarves in a line-up? I tell you honestly, I can’t yet… and I’m paying much more attention than a casual fan.

Expect the hard sell on the dwarves to continue right up to December 14, 2012.

To amp this emotional tug, we have returning characters: Frodo, older Bilbo and Gollum as well as Galadriel and Gandalf.

Four of those are our link with the film’s lead: the young Bilbo played by Martin Freeman. They are the lenses through which we begin to perceive and understand his personality. That the younger Bilbo so quickly resonates with us is as much the result of our pre-existing investment in those characters as it is due to Freeman’s fine acting.

You might wonder, though, where’s Saruman? And Elrond?

Well, to answer the first: Saruman immediately introduces complexity. After all, he’s the turncoat in Rings. Showing him on the side of good in a half-second snippet in a teaser trailer adds unnecessary complexity bound to confuse the casual viewer.

I fancy Elrond’s parts could mostly relate to the White Council and offer similar complexity.

And if you’re wondering why there was no glimpse of the Eagles, I reckon it’s because the f/x are either still to begin, or incomplete.

Returning characters brings me to my second point.

Consistency is critical

All this character consistency reinforces the link-back to Jackson’s adaptation of the Lord of the Rings.

There’s also a consistency in the feel. Could that be why there are so many Hobbiton and Bag End scenes in this teaser? The use of the same text. The textual reinforcement that it’s the director of The Lord of the Rings.

There’s a certain consistency of lighting too. The scenes we think could be Dol Guldur have a similar light to Osgiliath. Rivendell’s light has the same pink-gold sunset look. Seeing Narsil? All about creating consistency.

Because consistency is all about delivering familiarity and comfort. Challenged audiences are unsettled ones. Most people being don’t enjoy being unsettled. And though most consider both installations of The Hobbit a surefire hit, the movies will need to sell an awful lot of tickets to cover the truly enormous sum the studios have invested.

And this may allow us to finally venture a tiny bit of extrapolation:

  • Expect the orcs to look similar to those of Moria.
  • Expect the spiders to look similar to Shelob.

We can see this already at work in the resemblance of the Hobbit trolls to the cave troll we saw in the bloody battle over Balin’s tomb in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Okay, that was hardly going out on a limb. So here are two bold predictions:

  • The spiders won’t talk.
  • Nor will the trolls.

Again, it’s about consistency. And, maybe, about sympathy. You don’t want your audience feeling too sorry for the bad guys, right?

If you think about it, there’s another element from Lord of the Rings that these changes would reinforce. The Shire is bucolic and homely; everywhere else in Middle-earth is grand and epic. Cockney-accented trolls and talking spiders are elements of a whimsical fairy tale, not an epic fantasy.

There’s no place for plot in this teaser

Conversely, teaser time devoted to plot is negligible.

Consider that the mention of the quest is at best oblique: Gandalf and Thorin discuss a dangerous journey, but not a destination.

Consider that there’s no mention of the dragon, Smaug, nor of Erebor. Just words on a map.

And consider that the montage of short action scenes seem deliberately compiled to eliminate context. And, again, all the voiceovers — those of Thorin, Gandalf and Bilbo — do is reinforce the significant danger of the mysterious journey to come.

These things are not about detailing the course of their Quest. It’s all about establishing the heroic protagonists of the journey.

Thirteen very different dwarves drawn together by familial bonds and a common purpose; a reluctant but curious Hobbit; a matchmaking wizard.

There’s an exchange between Sam and Faramir in The Two Towers that I was reminded of as I was writing this. It goes as follows:

Sam Gamgee: You took a chance, sir.
Faramir: Did I so?
Sam Gamgee: Yes sir, and showed your quality: the very highest.

With this teaser, I think Jackson has committed himself similarly. It’s a test of character. And on that count, it’s looking quite promising so far.

Posted in Headlines, Hobbit Movie, Peter Jackson, The Hobbit on December 28, 2011 by