The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Sneak Peek – commentary
Want to relive what you saw this afternoon? Reflecting on some of the moments, and trying to remember what was what? Well, don’t forget that, if you missed the Peter Jackson hosted first look at The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, or just want to watch it over again, a modified version will be archived on the Trilogy’s official website www.thehobbit.com/sneak To access the footage, use your UltraViolet code on your copy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack or 2-Disc Special Edition DVD.
Meanwhile, staffer Rasputin the Evil Balrog shares with us some commentary on the footage:
After logging in and holding breath through a countdown, we are treated to the trailer from An Unexpected Journey to whet our appetites. Now we are welcomed to Weta by Jed Brophy (Nori), who introduces Peter Jackson. Peter greets us and remarks on our opportunity to time travel, as it is already Monday morning in New Zealand. He says, “Spoiler alert!” and tells us that tomorrow’s weather will be fine, and that New Zealand is currently beating England in an important cricket match, showing us the front page of the Wellington paper.
Peter then told us that we were visiting the post-production studios, and the pair walked us into the Motion Capture stage where two actors were creating a fight scene between Azog and another (smaller) orc under the supervision of a crew member named Christian (I’m speculating that this is Christian Kickenweitz, a Weta motion editor, but I could be wrong. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Christian Rivers). Peter commented that the orcs are more friendly in the studio, and Jed directed them to give us “a little more anger.”
Moving down the hall, the pair stop by a large format poster from the 1955 film The Dam Busters, and Peter explains that it is one of his all-time favorite films. Taking the piss a bit, Jed comments that someone should remake it, a reference to Peter’s widely reported ongoing efforts to do this remake. Peter gave him “a look” – and a wink at us! On down the hall we are treated to a discussion of more vintage film posters, Peter explaining that they used to be larger than today’s movie one-sheets and were hand painted. He has a whole collection of James Bond film posters down the length of the hall and says that Live and Let Die was the first Bond film he ever saw.
We enter the Pre-Viz department where Peter tells us they are doing some spider work as well as working on Smaug. Smaug! Hooray! Are we about to see him? But when we are shown the first computer screen, it’s one of the dragons from Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon. [The 'Monstrous Nightmare' - as shown in the image with this post!] A shot of a second monitor show the animator working on… a T-Rex with wings. Peter gently explains to the animator that those wings are far too small to lift the mass of that T-Rex.
One “real” thing we get to see in the Pre-Viz room, though, is some designs for a library in Rivendell that unfortunately, according to Peter, didn’t make it into the film.
Peter and Jed now move down the hall again to the editing room where they join Peter’s editor, Jabez Olssen. Peter mentions that it’s almost a bit of culture shock to transition from working with 200-300 people on set every day to “just two guys in a room.”Jed remarks on the 103-inch television, and Peter talks about how it’s essential for the editing process in order to get a better sense of the scale of the film as they work.
Another vintage film poster discussed – One Million Years BC. Peter says he had this one as a teenager, and when Jed asks about it, he says, “dinosaurs were cool, Raquel Welch was cool.”
Now we get a little more “meat” as Peter and Jed discuss the links between filming and editing. They show us a wide shot of the Dwarves on a boat on a green screen set with Luke Evans (Bard), explaining that this is immediately after Bard picked up the barrels in which Bilbo smuggles the Dwarves out of Mirkwood. Peter explains that this is the “master” shot – a wide shot of the full scene done first to give them the big picture to work from. They show a number of takes of Martin Freeman (Bilbo) delivering a line and talk about how Martin never delivers a line the same way twice, so they have lots of options to choose from. The line he’s delivering is, “I never should have left Bag End. That was my first mistake. You know, we have a saying in the Shire. You learn it from birth. You never venture east.”
Jed and Peter discuss the mid-shots and closeups that are done after the wideshots, using examples of the boat scene to illustrate. Jed refers to Aiden (Turner) as “the hot dwarf” and Peter also refers to “the hot dwarf” more than once. Bilbo’s line is delivered after he notes that Kili (Aiden Turner) is wounded, and Kili tells him “it’s just a scratch.” Bard responds to Bilbo’s proclamation by asking, “And why did you? Venture east?” and we see our first shot of Luke Evans as Bard of Laketown at the tiller of the boat.
This leads into a recorded message from Luke Evans greeting the viewers, including “the One-Ringers” (a shout-out to TORn!) and “hobbiteers.” Jed says to Peter, “Are you gonna tell him he’s not in the movie any more?!”
The first viewer question comes from “Chris in the United States,” who asks about the challenges of making the middle film of a trilogy, comparing The Desolation of Smaug to The Two Towers. Peter says it’s actually cool to be working on the second film because we get a chance to split into multiple timelines and follow more characters, giving, for example, the opportunity to reintroduce Legolas. This discussion happens while we are treated to a montage of footage of Orlando Bloom as Legolas doing a lot of fighting and shooting on Mirkwood green screen sets. Besides Legolas, Peter mentions Thranduil, and we see a shot of Lee Pace confronting Richard Armitage (Thorin). And finally he mentions the Master of Laketown and shows a number of quick scenes of Stephen Fry.
This segues into a recorded greeting from Stephen Fry (the Master of Laketown), who is then cut off by Peter to play another viewer question from fans in Beijing. They ask about Peter’s casting choices, using Orlando Bloom as an example. Is he similar to the character he plays? Peter says that in real life Orlando is much more relaxed and laid back, and funny, than Legolas.
And we segue into a recorded greeting from Orlando Bloom who also has a question for Peter: What moment is he most looking forward to seeing on the screen in The Desolation of Smaug? Peter says that he can’t wait to see the first confrontation between Bilbo and Smaug, calling it an iconic scene. We get to see a couple of shots of Martin Freeman in the midst of Smaug’s horde of gold.
Peter cuts back to Stephen Fry’s recorded greeting which is still going…
Then we take a viewer question from “Marina in Canada” who asks about the new characters that we will meet in the second film. Peter mentions Thranduil again and also Bard, and we are treated to several shots of Bard in Laketown and some action scenes that are quite reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. Peter says we’re going to particularly have fun with Bard as his character is enigmatic, and we’re not quite sure if he’s good or bad. It reminded me of Peter’s treatment of Faramir in Two Towers, giving him more dimension and depth than we see in the books.
Peter then talks about Tauriel, a truly new character who doesn’t exist in the books at all, played by Evangeline Lilly. He says she’s part of the “Woodland Guard” in Mirkwood, and we will be able to see that she’s from a somewhat lower status than Legolas. We get lots of shots of Legolas and Tauriel fighting orcs on Mirkwood sets, and Tauriel captures and threatens to execute an Orc.
The next question is from several young fans in Brazil who want to know what Peter’s favorite weapon is from the LOTR films. Peter says he loves Theoden’s sword, and he pulls it out to show everyone the horse design, explaining that it’s real steel and much heavier than you might imagine. He says the design is evocative of Viking or Anglo-Saxon designs.
And we go back to Stephen Fry who is still talking on his recorded greeting, saying that he has “a lot to live up to,” but that the films show “the sheer delight of the human spirit.”
Peter and Jed take another question, this one from Twitter, asking how difficult is it to stay on track during the film process? Peter says it’s very difficult to stay on schedule and especially to stay within budget. He says that the weather can be one of the biggest challenges and describes how, when they were filming in Nelson, the scene when the Dwarves and Bilbo escape Mirkwood in the barrels, they got flooded out. Police had to come and evacuate them because of a storm and they lost two days of filming. Peter described how he rehearses with the cast at the beginning of each day then plans out which shots they are going to work on, ranging from 6 or 7 per day to as many as 12 to 14, depending on how complex the shots are.
Another video question and this one is from Stephen Colbert! Colbert asks a very detailed question about the elves of Mirkwood (formerly Greenwood the Great). Will Peter be making any differentiation between Thranduil and Legolas, who are Sindarin, and the other Mirkwood elves who are Avari or Noldor – those who did not heed the call of the Valar and travel west to Valinor. Peter responds briefly, yes, but then says he has a question for Stephen. He gives a long explanation of how, when he was a guest on Colbert’s show a year ago, he was given a souvenir coffee mug, but that when he left, he also took the much larger mug which he was given on air with water while he was a guest. Apparently, the printing of the Colbert report logo on the larger mug washed right off in the dishwasher. Since it was pristine when Peter had it on the show, he’s forced to wonder, does Stephen ever wash that mug between guests?!?
Another Twitter question, does Peter always edit barefoot? A resounding yes, and he props his bare feet on the table in the editing suite to demonstrate. He says that, unfortunately, he has to wear shoes most of the time when he’s working on set due to safety regulations.
We get a recorded greeting from Lee Pace (Thranduil) who says he’s looking forward to the second film where he gets to have the Dwarves in his realm, on his terms.
A Twitter question for Jed, how would he choose to torture Peter? Jed says he’d opt for rotisserie over a fire. He and Peter discuss the scene in An Unexpected Journey where the trolls tie half of the dwarves to a spit over their fire. Jed comments that Mark Hadlow (Dori, and the voice of Bert the Troll) was particularly uncomfortable, and they say that even under his dwarf makeup you could see how pale he was. Peter says that much later, while they were editing, he realized you can just hear Mark saying, “Can we stop? I think I’m going to be sick…” but that they never heard him on set and Peter just told them to start turning them again!
We get a recorded greeting from actor Billy Boyd who asks Peter about what new wild lands we’re going to see in The Hobbit, pointing out that he and his companions in Lord of the Rings only made it to the Misty Mountains before turning south. Peter shows us some of the artwork designs for the forest of Mirkwood, which used to be the Greenwood but has become dark and fearsome.
We get a recorded greeting from Evangeline Lilly who says that when she was doing her ADR session, she saw a mockup of Thranduil’s realm, but it was unfinished, and she wants to know what will Peter’s vision look like? Peter describes the underground realm of the elves and shows us artwork by John Howe depicting the entryway to the realm reached by a bridge across a perilous river. (I was on the chatroom with TORn staffer Demosthenes while I was watching, and he showed me that this art is extremely similar to Alan Lee’s depiction of “Menegroth of the Thousand Caves.”). Peter says that he tried to make this cavernous realm still look elvish, but that it’s less “gentle and friendly” than Rivendell.
A recorded video from actor Dominic Monaghan asks Peter what is the best untrue rumor he’s heard about himself (and gives us a view of the backyard of Dom’s home, which he says is “wiiiiiild!”). Peter says that the wildest rumor he heard was that he was moving his family onto a boat to live twelve miles off the coast of New Zealand to avoid paying taxes. He said that besides the fact that he gets seasick, he’s “happy to pay taxes.”
A Twitter user asks if the Necromancer will play a greater role in The Desolation of Smaug? Peter and Jed deadpan respond, “Yes.” And that’s all they’re saying…
Peter then says, to our great disappointment, that they do not have a trailer for us yet, that it will be coming this summer, but they do have a scene to show us. He intros it by saying that it’s a scene based on information from the appendices of Lord of the Rings, building on the Necromancer/Dol Guldur story line and Gandalf’s consultation with Galadriel regarding the Morgul blade that Radagast found. Gandalf goes to what Peter refers to as “the High Fells” to investigate. The scene opens with Gandalf lighting the end of his staff at the top of a narrow staircase that goes around the inside wall of a square tower. He climbs down towards a door that’s surrounded by the mangled wreckage of an iron gate. Through the gate, he enters a narrow crypt with a sarcophagus at the end. The lid is broken and shoved aside, and as Gandalf slowly approaches, a bird suddenly flies out and into his face (in what will undoubtedly be a cheap thrill moment in 3D). Radagast appears in the doorway behind him and takes off his hat to give the bird access to its nest in his hair.
“Oh. You,” says Gandalf.
“Yes, it’s me. Why am I here? This is not a nice place to meet,” replies Radagast.
Gandalf tells him it was built by a nameless servant of evil – one of nine.
Radagast asks, “Who would break into such a foul place?”
“No one. These tombs were opened from the inside…”
The event was wrapped up with a fast-paced montage of sneak peek shots including:
- Bilbo levering barrels out of their large stack
- Dwarves wrapped up in spider silk (looking just like Frodo wrapped up by Shelob)
- An axe, presumably wielded by Beorn, chopping wood
- Legolas sliding down a green Slip ‘n’ Slide
- Thorin, fronting the company of Dwarves, in falling snow, facing the Master of Laketown, Bard, and others, and saying, “We are the Dwarves of Erebor. We have come to reclaim our homeland.”
- Lots of fighting with various orcs, elves, and dwarves!
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