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The Hobbit trilogy: connecting the dots and filling the blanks

November 23, 2012 at 8:00 am by thomasmonteath  - 

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Film III: There and Back Again

This shirt artwork for the Hobbit might be an indicator of Smaug’s appearance.

The second film will most likely end with the conclusion of the battle of Dol Guldur and the Dwarves emerging into dragon-free Halls of Erebor. The real point of contention is whether Smaug’s attack on Laketown will be shown as the climax of the second or the beginning of the third. Let me explain.

Having Smaug’s death at the beginning of the third film would set up the politics of that movie, in particular the context of Laketown’s claim on the mountain’s wealth, following Bard’s slaying of the dragon, and the destruction of the town. It would also ensure that a certain sense of dread accompanies the Company’s cautious entry into Erebor at the end of the second film.

On the down side, it would likely leave the audience somewhat confused as the curtains close on the second film – what happened to the dragon? Having Smaug’s death at the beginning of the third film would also distract from the central focus of the third act of the story, which is Thorin’s character arc, as will be discussed below.

Thus having Smaug’s attack on Lake-town at the end of the second film would provide closure to that arc of the story, allowing the third film to focus Thorin’s fall and redemption, and the build up to the Battle of the Five Armies, not to mention the scenes that are essential to dovetailing with LotR.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the filmmakers choose the latter option, There and Back Again might begin with the suggestion that some weeks have passed. This allows for a sense that the Company settled themselves into the empty halls of Erebor, and the implication that Thorin’s character has begun to change, with traces of avarice, a sense of entitlement (and concomitant lack of empathy for the men of Esgaroth despite their sacrifice) and a delusional belief in the strength of the dwarves’ bargaining position now that they are ensconced in their ancestral halls.

The third film will likely centre on the two main characters, Thorin and Bilbo, reaching their denouement via a conflict with each other. Whereas the first film centred on Thorin’s doubt of Bilbo, and the second on Bilbo’s triumph over such doubt, this third could trace how that faith in Bilbo is almost lost through Thorin’s pride before the fall, and its ultimate restoration as Thorin lies on his deathbed, an act that rehabilitates Bilbo and redeems Thorin.

The third film will be a test of Thorin’s Oakenshield’s character.

Gandalf will also have the resolution of his key interest in the Company’s quest, which is the retaking of the Mountain, and the crushing of the Goblin armies. This is because, as noted, Gandalf’s interest in bringing the Lonely Mountain back under the control of the Dwarves was so that Middle Earth could not be flanked from the North when it came to the final showdown with Sauron.

The film could thus begin with a ‘dream sequence’ flashback for Thorin, much as RotK began with such a sequence for Gollum. The sequence opens from the perspective of a young Thorin, leading a band of other young, foolhardy dwarves, being mischievous in Erebor, gleaming in all its pre-desolation splendour. The camera then follows them through the great halls, bustling with industry, commerce, culture, and then out through the front gate onto the side of the Lonely Mountain. Thorin and his comrades scramble up the mountainside, perhaps hunting, and while joking amongst themselves, Thorin suddenly sights something on the horizon, high against the sky.

Slowly, as it gets closer, Thorin begins to feel a sense of horror and dread creep over him. It is the coming of the dragon. He watches, helpless, as Smaug descends on the mountain, smashing through the front gate. The sequence then picks up pace, quickly cutting to scenes of slaughter as Smaug routs the Kingdom, laying Erebor to waste: scenes of him scything through battalions of dwarves forlornly scrambling to defend their Kingdom; rampaging through the halls and darting under arches, smoking out those in hiding; driving all before him. The sequence could build to a terrible crescendo of death and destruction, fire and flashing talons, and suddenly the dragon turns and seems to breathe fire straight into the camera….and Thorin wakes up with a start.

It was all a dream. A recollection of what befell the mountain all those decades before. Thorin looks around, and finds himself sitting in the ruins of one of the great halls of Erebor. Having been there several weeks, the dwarves are now somewhat settled into the sorry remains of their old kingdom. Thorin slowly stands up, and the camera pulls back to reveal the charred halls, the great doors broken from their hinges. It still has the reek of Smaug. Sloughed dragon skin is all about, coiled in corners, draped over ancient beheaded statues of dead Kings like some hideous gossamer.

Such a ‘dream sequence’ would play an important role in the film: it would establish, aside from Bilbo himself, Thorin as the central character of film three, as the film follows his arc from a descent into despotism through to his reconciliation with Bilbo and redemption in death. The scene will remind the audience of why he is unwilling to parlay with the Lake-men, and why he proves so covetous of his Kingdom, terrified of losing it all over again. It establishes the tragedy and humiliation that defines him, and which hardens his resolve into obstinence now he is re-ensconced in his ancestral halls. It would also illustrate the tragic decline of the kingdom from its glory days before the coming of the dragon, compared to its ruin now it has been retaken: it shows what the dragon has wrought.

This scene would also allow the director to begin film three with a high-octane action sequence, one that would have the added benefit of giving Smaug some more screen time, even though he will have been killed at the end of the previous film. For these scenes of Smaug’s conquest of the mountain could not have been shown in much detail at the beginning of the first film, in Hobbiton, as what Smaug looks like is likely to be the big ‘reveal’ of film two, and thus little of him will be shown in film one. Such an action sequence will be necessary as the rest of the first act is largely about diplomacy and the drum-beats of war.
The third film would then intercut with ‘re-establishment’ scenes of all the other protagonists.

Smaug’s hoard will exert a malign influence on Thorin.

Bilbo could be seen wandering the halls of Erebor, fingering the Arkenstone in his pocket, and observing the dwarves as they go about tidying up the kingdom, explore nooks and crannies, and rebuilding the barrier at the front gate. As for Gandalf, his first scene in the film could be set immediately following the battle of Dol Guldur, accompanied by Radagast.

Radagast could perhaps suddenly hear, and being a ‘birdtamer’ understand, the cries of a flock of birds flying south as they pass overhead, and deduce from their calls that the dragon beneath the Lonely Mountain is dead. At this, Gandalf grows grave, and hastens northwards, riding for the Erebor as quickly as he can.

On leaving he could also dispatch Radagast to summon the Eagles, to call them to the Lonely Mountain (giving Radagast, like Beorn, a role across all three films). Gandalf will know that the goblins will also hear of the death of the dragon and spare no time in marshalling their forces.

With regard to the Goblins, there could here be a scene showing them leaving the Misty Mountains. Azog could receive word that not only is the dragon dead, but that also his son, Bolg, is dead at Dol Guldur. This will whip him into a blind rage, and he calls forth all goblins from the mountains. The scene could cut to Goblin Town emptying, and the armies of goblins making their way to the Lonely Mountain.

However, such a scene would also have an interesting consequence: it would facilitate Gollum’s escape from the now unguarded backdoor of Goblin Town (he could not have escaped without the ring when the guards were still there). His escape from the Misty Mountains could be shown as a consequence of all the goblins leaving Goblin Town on their way to the Battle of the Five Armies at the beginning of the film. Thus throughout There and Back Again, there could be short scenes of Gollum’s travels and travails, across the landscapes of Middle-earth.

The scene could then cut back to Lake-town, and the arrival of the Wood-elves to help the men rebuild the town. Bard could be shown agreeing to an alliance with the elves in exchange for a share of the treasure. And thus the rest of the first act are set in play: the political machinations; the failure of diplomacy and the blockade of the mountain; Bilbo’s handing over of the Arkenstone some days later (allowing time for Gandalf to have arrived at the Lonely Mountain); the subsequent drama of his betrayal and his casting out by Thorin.

At this point it is possible the film-makers will make a minor yet significant break from the book. We first must note that it is known that they have written Balin’s character to be Thorin’s closest adviser, while also being the foremost sceptic of the Quest to reclaim the mountain among the Company.

It is also important to remember that, in the Hobbit, Balin was the first dwarf to gain respect for Bilbo when the hobbit snuck past Balin, who was on lookout duty, following the Company’s escape for the Misty Mountains. Later, he was the only dwarf to accompany the hobbit half way down the secret passage to Smaug’s lair. In short, he is Bilbo’s strongest ally among the Dwarves.

Of all the dwarves, Balin becomes Bilbo’s strongest ally.

Furthermore, remember that in FotR, the fellowship discover Balin’s tomb in Moria (in the books, Balin left the Lonely Mountain some 50 years after the events in the Hobbit to establish a new colony in Moria). Also bear in mind that the film-makers want the Hobbit to lead directly into the LotR trilogy.

Now assuming the second film will end with the death of Smaug, the third film will centre on Thorin’s growing paranoia and selfishness, and his refusal to parlay with the men of the Lake, which leads to the mountain being besieged. Thorin’s narrow-mindedness and intransigence leads to Bilbo giving the Arkenstone to the Elvenking and Bard. This of course leads to Thorin banishing Bilbo from the mountain.

Yet it is undoubtedly the case that some of the dwarves will themselves have doubts about Thorin’s short-sighted approach. Chief among these would be Balin. This is because a) he is being written as a sceptic of the Quest, but comes along out of loyalty, and b) because he holds Bilbo in high regard. Thus the film-makers might be planning on Bilbo’s banishment causing a schism in the Company, with Balin (with perhaps Oin in tow) choosing to depart the mountain. Refusing to take sides in the coming conflict, they make their way to Moria instead.
Doing this would accomplish two things.

First, it would link up with the fact that the fellowship discover Balin’s tomb in Moria in FotR (doing this would of course constitute a break from the source material, as Tolkien states that Balin sets out for Moria some 40 years after the events of the Hobbit, but such a break would be a relatively minor one).

Second, Balin’s departure would heighten the drama and sense of a brewing tragedy around Thorin, who is described in the books as growing increasingly erratic and paranoid once he is de facto King Under the Mountain again following the death of the dragon. The loss of the confidence of his closest confidante would be a blow to Thorin, and play well dramatically.
It is also worth bearing in mind that a reference to Moria in the third Hobbit film, in the context of Balin breaking ranks and leaving in disgust, would not be entirely out of the blue. This is because Moria will already have been established in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, when Elrond recounts the history of the swords the Company discover in the trolls cave.

The first act of the third film will then also feature the coming of the Dwarves from the Iron Hills, and some indications of the Goblins amassing, under Azog, from the Misty Mountains (perhaps Gandalf, during his conversation with Bilbo following their reunion at the allies camp and the handing over of the Arkenstone, could tell Bilbo that on his ride north he – Gandalf – witnessed at a distance bands of goblins moving in open country, and that war is at hand).

This first act thus reestablishes what is at stake, the main characters, and begins to inexorable slide towards the Battle of the Five Armies.

The Battle of the Five armies is fought on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain.

The second act of film three is the battle itself, which – as a visual spectacle – will likely dwarf (pardon the pun) the Battle of Pelennor from RotK, for the simple reason of geography: Pelennor was a flat plain, whereas the Battle of the Five Armies occurs on the slopes and scree fields of a mighty mountain, and thus the fighting will occur over three dimensions, thereby being something utterly different from any other battle in the LotR trilogy.

This battle could easily last for a long time on screen, with so many armies involved, so much ebb and flow: the initial skirmish between the alliance and the Iron Hill dwarves; the sudden darkening and the arrival of the orcs and wargs; the initial exchanges; Thorin and Co. bursting from the gates in full armour; goblins scaling the mountainside to gain the advantage; the arrival of the eagles (perhaps bearing Radagast); and of course each of the Company will have their moment of glory.

Intercut with this battle could be another scene of Gollum: having now reached lands we recognise as Mordor (the distance from the Misty Mountains to Mordor is roughly the same as from the Misty Mountains to the Lonely Mountain, and thus his journey would take the same amount of time as the goblin’s journey to the Battle of the Five Armies), he is captured and tortured by Sauron’s agents. This would establish for the viewer that Sauron not only escaped Dol Guldur, but is re-establishing himself in Mordor. Gollum could be shown being tortured in Barad-dur, and screaming ‘Shire!’, and ‘Baggins!’, before being released. This could work, as in FotR there is no suggestion, in the short scene of Gollum screaming these words, that they occurred at the time. By showing Gollum’s torture as happening contemporaneous to events in the Hobbit, it would allow for the suggestion that Sauron had been searching for the Shire for 50 years.

With regard to the Battle of the Five Armies, the climax will be the fight with the leader of the Orc army. Whereas in the book the leader is Bolg, son of Azog who was killed at Azanulbizar, it appears that in the films Bolg will be jailor of Dol Guldur. Thus what is likely is that the Orcs at the Battle of the Five Armies will be led by Azog, who somehow survived the battle of Azanulbizar. In the appendices, it is said that Azog, at Azanulbizar, is killed by Dain Ironfoot (who will appear at the Lonely Mountain at the Battle of the Five Armies in There and Back Again, and is played by Billy Connolly. Although this may have been a joke, Connelly has claimed that the character will be rocking a mohawk). Dain decapitates Azog, and puts the purse of money in his mouth. It is therefore likely that the film-makers are transferring this scene to the Battle of the Five Armies. This would also help legitimate Dain as the new King under the Mountain, which he becomes in the book.

The third act is thus first of all the aftermath, most obviously Thorin’s death scene, which rehabilitates Bilbo and redeems Thorin. But this third act of film three would also require a wrapping up of those character arcs that are relevant for the events in LotR.

First, the films would have to show, perhaps in montage, Bilbo’s journey back via Lake-town (with the skeleton of Smaug lying on the lake-bed, easily the most evocative image in the book); the return journey, via – briefly – the Wood-elves; Beorn’s house; Rivendell; and finally Hobbiton. The point of this would be to establish the origins of the perception in Hobbiton that Bilbo is an odd chap.

Gollum Unexpected Journey character poster

Will Gollum appear at the end of the third film?

Second, the final act will have to explain why Radagast is not in LotR, and illustrate Saruman’s turn to evil. Whether Radagast appears at the Battle of the Five Armies (perhaps riding an eagle) is a mystery. However, I would wager that whatever happens, at the end of the film he will be murdered by Saruman. It is worth bearing in mind that in FotR (the book), following the Council of Elrond scouts are sent out to find Radagast, among others, and he is not found. Tolkien makes no further mention of the character, which leaves open the possibility that he was murdered by Saruman.

This would not only explain the character’s total absence in the LotR trilogy, but it would make sense because, in the books, Saruman views Radagast as a fool, and manipulates him. Given that Radagast will likely be Saruman’s proxy at the Battle of Dol Guldur, it could be that at the end of the third film he is seen visiting Isengard to report back to Saruman. Radagast could innocently reveal some information that Saruman realises could – should it reach the ears of Gandalf or the elves – undo his carefully laid plans for power. To foreclose on this risk, Saruman somehow murders Radagast in Orthanc.

The death of Radagast, who is clearly portrayed as a warm, whimsically loveable character by Sylvester McCoy, would also symbolise an end of innocence, a key theme of the Hobbit, and help transition to the darker, more urgent tone of the LotR trilogy. The murder would also act as the tipping point that sets in motion Saruman’s descent into outright evil, as evident in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The scene of Radagast’s murder could be intercut into the montage of Bilbo’s return journey, as it would occur during that period, and also would break up the montage.

Third, at the end of the There and Back Again, it could cut back to Gollum, suddenly finding him at the base of the Misty Mountains again outside the East Gate of Moria, a location familiar from the flashback to the Battle of Azanulbizar at Rivendell in An Unexpected Journey, and also from the fellowship’s escape from Moria in FotR. The placement of this scene following Bilbo’s return to Hobbiton would allow for the indication that this is perhaps some years later.

To cleverly link up plot points, this scene could actually show him as a hidden witness to Balin emerging from Moria and being shot and killed by Orcs – possibly survivors of the Battle of the Five Armies – hiding in the rocks outside. Illustrating in this way that Balin succeeded in recolonising Moria, following his split from the Company on the casting out of Bilbo, would save having to show the re-colonisation itself, the details of which are irrelevant to the plot of both the Hobbit and LotR trilogies.

Having been witness to this, Gollum could then be shown slinking into Moria behind the invading orcs (bear in mind is that Gollum’s first clearly contemporaneous appearance in FotR is through a cameo in Moria). The invasion would therefore not have to be shown, because the result and aftermath of it is self-evident in the FotR Moria sequence.

With regard to the shooting of Balin, it could in fact be done by a character who has been established previously. The figurine descriptions describe a goblin called Grinnah, who is ‘the interrogation specialist of the goblins’ in Goblin Town, and ‘although cunning and vicious, he is…basically a coward’. Now this would make sense for several reasons. First, as a coward, he is likely to have survived the Battle of the Five Armies as he would have found a way to escape; second, shooting Balin from behind a stone outside the gate is a cowardly act; third, an image published on 4 September 2012 of a goblin who serves the Great Goblin bares a remarkable resemblance to the ‘grinning’ goblin in Moria from the Fellowship of the Ring (the one who grins just before the Balrog appears).

Grinnah the goblin.

The name ‘Grinnah’ is perhaps a clue to this connection. This then suggests that the Moria goblins that surround the fellowship in FotR are the very same ones that killed Balin, and who also fled the Battle of the Five Armies, and before that which entrapped the Company in Goblin Town.

Much like the sequence of Saruman murdering Radagast, this scene would also portend the darkness that – despite the victory at the Battle of the Five Armies – is inexorably descending on Middle-earth, which is the tone of the LotR trilogy.

By this reckoning, which appears to be consistent with everything publicly known about the films, as well as the ability and perfectionism of the director and scriptwriters, not to mention Tolkien’s source material itself, the notion of a Hobbit trilogy makes perfect sense. However, it only makes such sense when we see it as part of a broader project to do Tolkien’s world more justice.

The crucial point is to get away from thinking that the primary villain of The Hobbit is Smaug. He is the main antagonist in the second film, and the main focus for the Dwarves themselves in the context of the Quest throughout films one and two. But from the broader perspective of Gandalf, Bilbo and the broader sweep of Middle-earth, the main antagonist of the Hobbit trilogy is actually Sauron, who emerges – through the proxy of the Orc host, led by Azog, at the Battle of the Five Armies – as the primary villain in film three, not to mention a feature of films one and two as well.

In other words, the story structures of the LotR and this Hobbit trilogy will be almost identical, with similar character arcs, similar story beats, and similar secondary antagonists (Saruman; Smaug), and the same primary antagonist.

The Hobbit is ultimately about ‘setting the board’ for LotR, in which, to quote Gandalf himself, ‘the pieces are moving’.

Posted in Green Books, Headlines, Hobbit Movie, The Hobbit on November 23, 2012 by
Key to Erebor