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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

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81 responses to “Why the Hobbit trailer is a test of character”

  1. AJ says:

    On his 111th birthday, Bilbo is in facts seen describing the trolls’ discussion of how best to eat Bilbo and the dwarves.  I think PJ will have them speak.  It’s an iconic piece of the book as well.

  2. Tim says:

    Deep down I was hoping trolls and spiders wouldn’t talk in the film(as well as Elves tra la la ing). Seeing the trailer I truly believe it now. I totally agree with your insight.

  3. Pablofrizan says:

    Damn right. I think in the same way. Its a character essay of 2.30 minutes. Very well executed. And emotive.

  4. MikeE says:

    No one has commented on the fact that the colors and tones on the clip where the dwarves sing look just like the illustrations from the Hildebrand calendars from 30 odd years back. Hit me immediately when the dwarves started to stand!

  5. estelgrace says:

    I like that closing, sir. I like it very much 🙂

  6. guest says:

    Good article. And I agree (and hope) the spiders and trolls won’t talk.

  7. Steve Miller says:


    MrCere, Senior Staff, Writer and
    Photographer at

    Dear Sir,

    As an Shakespearean actor, born and
    raised in Hollywood, I must agree with your insightful comments. I
    think (and have been trained) to see the spiders however as “Whispers
    in the Dark” i.e. telepathy, music or some such contrivance.

    First time reader and impressed,

    Steve Harold Miller

  8. Joe Shelby says:

    Actually, my impression at the lack of Sauruman and Elrond is more pragmatic – they hadn’t filmed their scenes enough for the trailer-editor to work with.  There’s lots of post-production work necessary to get the raw footage into a state they can work with and for those scenes there might not have been enough time.

  9. Glemli says:

    You really can’t name who is who yet of the Dwarves??? I was able to name all of them and which actor played which Dwarf by the end of all first pictures coming out ^^

  10. john says:

    I think you are going to be wrong about talking spiders and trolls. I also think if PJ was solely concerned with comforting lotr movie fans he would not have spent basically a whole trailer introducing new characters. The hobbit is not lotr  and PJ knows better than to make it so. This sounds like a screen writing lecture  by someone who has no emotional attachment to Tolkien’s work. Can’t name the dwarves and you write for torn??????? hmmm.

  11. AWS says:

    Well said. This trailer is just considered an “announcement trailer”, and it’s smart of them to focus on getting people to know the many characters. 
    The theatrical trailer is when we’ll start seeing the plot being set-up. That’s usually the way it goes. Teaser is about introducing characters and tone. Trailer is about introducing plot. 
    From what I know about what they’ve shot, they don’t have any Lonely Mountain footage yet. They may not even have decided how they’re gonna do the Lonely Mountain yet, whether it’ll be a location or if it’ll be CG like Mount Doom (not to mention it won’t even appear until the second film, and this trailer is just for the first film). And that’s naturally what you’d want to cut to when introducing Smaug. Just like how when they introduced the Ring and Sauron, they would always show Mount Doom. That’s probably the main reason they don’t speak of the destination in this trailer. There’s nothing to show of that yet, and just speaking about it without a visual to go along isn’t really a trailer-y thing to do. 

  12. Jaryker says:

    I have to wonder why they dispensed with the colorful dwarf outfits – would have helped substantially to eliminate confusion over 13 very similar-looking dwarves all dressed drabbily….

  13. PaintOnItYouCan says:

    As far as talking trolls, I wouldn’t put it past old Bilbo to embelish this a bit to build up his tale, especially if he were telling it to wide-eyed hobbit children.  Personally, I’d like the trolls to talk.  If Orcs have their own speech, why not trolls?

  14. Anonymous says:

    This is one of the best posts I have read in a long time, great job.

  15. Ripplesrepeated says:

    I agree with a previous commenter that to keep it consistent with Rings, the trolls will have to speak, as Bilbo mentions their argument during his birthday party.

  16. Reptilianhumanoid says:

    I think the trolls will probably talk and the spiders won’t. The troll scene is very important and iconic and Bilbo talked about it in FOTR. The spiders talking isn’t so important and are more animal like than trolls, maybe they’ll hiss something sinister, but I don’t think Bilbo will be calling them “attercop.”

  17. Melissa says:

    The trolls *have* to talk.  That part of the book is brilliant and iconic.  Clearly these are meant to be a different species of troll than cave trolls.  Just as Uruk-hai are more intelligent than the Moria orcs (who I don’t recall saying anything coherent in FotR), we can probably assume that the trolls Bilbo and the dwarves encounter are more intelligent than cave trolls who have spend their whole lives chained up underground. 
    Also, as AJ pointed out above, Bilbo tells the hobbit children about the trolls talking.  We can’t have Bilbo made out to be a liar or over-embellisher can we?

  18. Debba Sniderman says:

    And if they don’t, then it’s not The Hobbit.  Which is likely part of the reason why we will see two films telling one story. Originally, it was to be two movies:  one of The Hobbit, and the other encompassing the 65 year time period between the end of The Hobbit and the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring.  I suspect Jackson & Company didn’t get permission from the Tolkien Estate for that bit of business, so now it’s one story that will be stretched very thinly indeedy over two films.  Jackson made textual changes in the LOTR films, Christopher Tolkien didn’t like them and now he’s stuck doing it this way.  Again, if the spiders and trolls don’t talk, if the Elves don’t tra-la-la, it’s NOT The Hobbit.  Not no how.

  19. Debba Sniderman says:

    I also noted what was “missing”. Frankly, all that really told me was where Jackson planned to make his artificial cut, to split the story and continue it in the 2nd film.  It’ll happen after Bilbo finds the One Ring, but before the crew gets out of the Misty Mountains and get rescued by the giant eagles.

  20. Yayagal250 says:

    It’s going to be interesting to see how they pull off Smaug’s conversations, seeing as how Jackson seems so set against animals (and trolls) talking.  Telepathy?  Simple misdirection – we hear his voice but never actually catch him moving his mouth?  Smaug certainly can’t be made mute.  There’d be a riot!

  21. sharku says:

    “Cockney-accented trolls and talking spiders are elements of a whimsical fairy tale, not an epic fantasy.”

    ….and so ought to be dwarf tossing gags and cockney-accented Mordor orcs (“yeeeah – why can’t we ‘ave some meat?”).

  22. Zem says:

    The reason we don’t hear the trolls talk in the trailer is for the sake of simplicity and practicality. We only see the trolls for a brief second at best, and even then its in a quick shot which they are mostly out of frame and focus. Hearing the trolls speak in this instance would not make sense because not only is there not enough time for them to say anything, we as the audience would have no idea who or what was talking in the shot. The trolls? The dwarves? We would not know because no one in the shot is shown talking and we have not heard enough of the characters speaking to be able to assign voices to any one of them. The spider’s dialogue being cut I can definitely see being justified as the spiders speaking doesn’t contribute anything to the plot or story, (other then giving Bilbo a name for his sword) but I believe the trolls we have seen are sufficiently different enough from the ones in the original trilogy to be able to speak and not have it be jarring for the audience. They wear clothes, they have a cauldron over a camp fire where they are cooking food, and a horde of stolen treasures indicating they have a base understanding of the value of things. It would not be to difficult to believe they can talk.

  23. Jadajaehood says:

    Eh. I gotta be honest I don’t think your arguments for the spiders and trolls not talking is all that strong. Trolls never talked at any point of the LOTR books therefore neither were they doing any in the films. Same with the spiders. Shelob didn’t talk in the book nor film so why would she in the film?
    Now I do think the trolls will talk because Bilbo says at his party that 3 trolls were arguing on how they were going to eat him and his company. Plus, from an outside perspective it really wouldn’t make much sense for Smaug to talk but not have either of the above creatures talk either.

  24. Andy says:

    Of course the trolls will speak. What nonsense.

  25. Jeffagso2369 says:

    Does anyone else think some of the dwarves don’t look … dwarvish enough?

  26. B. B. says:

    I have sometimes thought that trolls and spiders could “speak” in their own appropriate sounds, whose meaning would be obvious from their actions and demeanor.  In which case, the trolls’ accent would more or less be from Bilbo’s imagination as he thinks what they must be saying (which, of course, would be pretty hard to show on film).  

  27. Ayla_me says:

        I loved the Hildebrand characters and calendar from “way back when”, also. I think P.J. ought to have utilized Mr. Hildebrand (if available) more. I love Alan Lee’s work…but, no one comes close to the lighting techniques of Hildebrand…except maybe Rembrandt, lol.
         But, personally, I really WANT to hear the “tra-la-la-la-lally’ !!  It was always so special to me and my daughters.  I think the trolls and spiders need to communicate their intentions, to us, and to each other, and to Bilbo.

  28. Deabras says:

    If those trolls don’t talk, I for one will be a Very Unhappy Bunny!!!

  29. Robbiebassman says:

    I hope you’re wrong about the Trolls not talking. That is one of my favorite and most memorable scenes from the book, and the scene wouldn’t work or make any sense. I for one, would be very disappointed if they change that. 

  30. Feor says:

    It’s Hildebrandt and there were two of them that worked together, twins Greg and Tim. Tim died in 2006 at age 67. I always thought their art would be great for The Hobbit.  

  31. Andy says:

    Many orcs had speaking roles in the LOTR films, and it wasn’t bothersome to me. I could at least see the troll-speak being subtitled over their grunting sounds…

  32. Jtsis2 says:

    The character of Bilbo is the most well rounded personality of Tolkien’s works.  I doubt that he requires being seen through the lenses of former LOTR charaters to make him interestering and certainly not to make him understandable.  He is, afterall, an Everyman.  His story was told first, and did not require LOTR embellishment. 

  33. Gamron says:

    No, it’ll still be after Flies & Spiders and before Barrels Out of Bond. They just don’t want to/can’t show the spiders in the trailer yet.

  34. Master of Chronicles says:

    As you have said, consistency is vital. It’s for that reason that I believe that the trolls and spiders will talk!

    1. Peter knows how many people will be disappointed if he just has them hissing and screaming, and he is very faithful to the books.

    2. And most importantly, if you recall, in FOTR Bilbo was telling those little hobbit children how he and the dwarves had to listen as the monstrous trolls TALKED about how they were going to cook them. So for the sake of consistency, yes the trolls not only will talk, they MUST talk!

    As for them talking being too fairytale instead of epic, the Orcs spoke in the trilogy and no one had a problem with that or felt all that sorry when Aragorn chopped their heads off. All Peter has to do with the trolls is make them more nasty.

  35. Curate says:

    I think the biggest problem in terms of consistency between these films and the original trilogy is going to be the effects of the RING.  The reason Bilbo can understand the Spiders is not whimsical at all it is because he is wearing the ring.  They are not “speaking” per se they are communicating in whatever way that evil intelligent giant spiders do.  The Ring gives Frodo the power to understand them and he wears it ALOT!  In Jacksons original trilogy, as you may recall, when Frodo put on the Ring he was plunged into a confusing world of blurry images and noise and the filmmakers went to great lengths to  emphasize how dangerous it was to wear for even a few seconds.  Tolkein on the other hand wrote that putting on the Ring gave one clarity.  You could see in the dark, hear much better, and understand other languages (even animals).  The negative effects were very subtle.  I don’t know how Jackson is going to solve that problem.

    On a side note…if talking trolls bother you what about talking eagles and ravens?  

  36. Jonjon says:

    A lot of comments regarding speaking/nonspeaking depictions of trolls and spiders.  In the end, its all interpretation – and we’re all bound to diverge at some point.   When we have expectations, we risk disappointment – when we make expectations of how Peter Jackson and team should interpret the Hobbit – we risk the same.  I offer my own expectations aware that he may go a different route. Personally, I don’t mind speaking trolls – but I feel the spiders are a bit more intimidating if they are comparable to Shelob – sinister and silent and intentional.  I have the same hope for Smaug – that the dragon will not be speaking audibly but will be depicted as communicating more with hypnotic eyes, gestures and facial cues that accompany a “telepathic link” with Bilbo – where we [the audience] “hear” what Bilbo senses from Smaug’s voice in his own mind.  But, in the end, I’m not the filmmaker and many will be glad that I am not, whereas others may embrace my interpretation.  We will see in 2012.

  37. Charrlie says:

    “I fancy Elrond’s parts could mostly relate to the White Council and offer similar complexity.”…. ?!?

    Elrond was Lord of Rivendell, a full character you can not just connect to one scene.

  38. Charrlie says:

    “I fancy Elrond’s parts could mostly relate to the White Council and offer similar complexity.”…. ?!?

    Elrond was Lord of Rivendell, a full character you can not just connect to one scene.

  39. Nathanael Molnar says:

    i think that the eagles, Smaug and the Trolls need to talk. however i wouldn’t mind if the spiders didn’t talk

  40. Jon Padgett says:

    With Del Toro as a screenplay writer there is literally NO WAY that the trolls and spiders (and eagles) won’t talk.  Demosthenes, I’m afraid you’re going to be proven wrong on that prediction.

  41. Auberttn says:

    Great discussion.  I agree with the character emphasis and necessity of a LotR tie-in to build audience connection.  Right along side of that I also believe that lack of Battle of 5 armies, River scenes, laketown, Smaug, Beorn, wolves, eagles, or even spiders may point toward an emphasis on the finding of the One ring as a climax to the first movie.  It would perhaps re-orient the masses to LotR Middle Earth in a way unexpected.  It could provide story for the “Necromancer” sensing that the ring is alive in Middle earth and tie in the white council’s attack on dol guldor.
    Of course the 2nd movie would be overkill on action, but it’s fun to theorize!

  42. Geo924 says:

    I think they didn’t talk in LOTR because they were cave trolls. The trolls in The Hobbit were stone trolls and talked a bad form of Westron. SO they may indeed talk in the movie.

  43. Ben says:

    I think Bilbo will be able to understand the spiders speech by virtue of wearing the Ring.  Just as Gandalf could understand the language of the Wargs but the others could not. 
    F/X for the eagles should be complete as they were seen in Return of the King.
    I’d expect some of Thorin’s flashbacks of Lonely Mountain being ravaged in the beginning of the movie as well.

  44. Kris says:

    Uh…with Cumberbatch or whatever his name is doing the voice of Smaug, doesn’t it follow that Smaug will talk?

  45. Baker1776 says:

    The whole scene as I remember is kind of dictated on the trolls talking, without it, wheres the scene? Plus in LOTR bilbo talked to those kids saying they “argued” meaning talked so idk, theres continuity. I think Bilbo is going to be portrayed differently this time around than in LOTR because hes young a looking for adventure and treasure. Doesn’t he want to steal something from the trolls? 

  46. mecano says:

    The same way I felt about Arwen putting her sword to Aragorn´s neck, or Faramir bringing to his father a mighty gift, or the B-horor movies orc Captain – I feel about the non beard dwarves – where are the long beards below their belts? Why so many of them don´t have berad at all? Why some of them looks like they shaved theyr beard? (Filli, Thorin) Why most of them look human, not dwavish?

  47. Targi says:

    Agree, not only they don´t look dwarvish enough, some of them don´t look dwarvish at all (Killi) not mentioning no dwarf would ever cut or shave his beard, they had beards below their belt…look at Elrond´s Council – those are Dwarves.

  48. Master of Chronicles says:

    Yes, I think they look very dwarvish. Peter had decided not to follow the trend and actually explore different looks and styles. Have you seen the seven dwarves on the new Snow White movie? I can’t tell them apart, because they all look the same!

    Mind you I can understand how some might feel that way, with almost every dwarf in existence looking pretty much the way Gimli did. Personally I say hurrah to Peter’s courage to go where no film maker has gone before. 

  49. widdershins says:

    well Benedict Cumberbatch is voicing Smaug so he’s definitely going to talk in some form… I believe when del Toro was still on the project they were working on figuring out what the mouth movements of a dragon, a distinctly non-human and non-mammal creature, would look like, but I don’t know what happened with that 

  50. Anonymous says:

    I think they look great. As ‘Master of Chronicles’ said, Jackson had the balls to experiment with looks and just go for it, giving us unique dwarves that I’m pretty sure are gonna have unique personalities too. It would’ve been extremely boring to have 13 dwarves that look like Gimli. Besides, in the book we only get to know well just like 4 of them, and that’s something that you obviously can’t translate in the same way to a film. Let’s just wait until we watch the movie and see how this characters relate to each other, I’m pretty sure their personalities are gonna be pretty dwarvish 🙂

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