In December last year, I declared the first trailer a study in character.
Introducing and differentiating thirteen different dwarves to a wider audience most likely unfamiliar with the Hobbit and its ultra-beardy cast was critical for Peter Jackson. So Jackson used an entire trailer for the task.
But, because that trailer was so light on plot, we’ve been wondering ever since what degree of fidelity the story will possess and exactly how it might unfold.
The EW storybook addresses this at a single stroke. EW isn’t calling it a storybook, but that’s what Jackson has created. A gorgeously illustrated storybook that guides us through the key points of The Hobbit.
Read on for a spoiler-filled scene-by-scene review of The Hobbit — storytime with Peter Jackson!
Using a storybook at this point is a master-stroke. It’s just perfect.
What better way to convey the core story of the adaptation of a favourite fairytale than through something that in itself resembles a children’s storybook? The only thing it doesn’t do is pop-up.
The good: in the broad-brush it’s full of reassurance for readers who love The Hobbit! The not-so-good: occasional inconsistencies over details and puzzling questions about the Dol Guldur sub-plot.
It makes me think that, as much as the trailer was for people who don’t know The Hobbit, this storybook is for the people who DO.
And it makes me think of a quote from EW’s magazine article, though perhaps I am slightly misusing the context here.
“It will all make sense,” director Peter Jackson promises Tolkien purists.
That’s still a bit optimistic right now, but what are the elements that give us cause to feel reassured that there will be significant fidelity in the adaptation?
For starters, the EW storybook progresses very fluidly from beginning to end, almost exclusively following the events of Tolkien’s The Hobbit up until the end of chapter 9, Barrels out of Bond.
As we break-down each scene you might also like to grab this mega-large, 8,800-pixel-long version for your desktop (warning: 2.5mb file) from Cinescopia.
Scene 1. Bag End.
Bilbo’s grand adventure, of course, begins at Bag End when Gandalf shows up one afternoon and scribes a mark on Bilbo’s “beautiful, green door”. The pipe is a nod to the smoke rings that Tolkien uses as a prop for the opening scenes.
Some details are askew: Gandalf stops for a pipe; the door has a G-rune carved on it; and that’s almost certainly Glamdring that his right hand is resting upon. But the stormclouds and Gandalf’s frown are like a metaphorical marker that Bilbo’s world is about to be turned upside-down.
Scene 2. The Unexpected Party.
Pies, cakes and pastries galore and huge mugs of ale. And in the middle, Bilbo looking like a proud homeowner at being able to serve up such a feast at a moment’s notice.
I’m minded of a line from Gandalf to Thorin from Unfinished Tales: “Food is perhaps at present [Bilbo’s] main interest. He keeps a very good larder, I am told, and maybe more than one. At least you will be well entertained.”
Scene 3. Roast Mutton.
Thorin and Bilbo are the last ones standing when the company tries to procure a bite to eat from a trio of trolls. Note some of the dwarves trussed up around a giant steaming cauldron. In the background, three trolls ready an ambush. Gandalf is nowhere to be seen.
Detail: Thorin is armed with his “dwarven” weapon, not Orcrist. It’s a good hint that he’ll claim the famed sword of Gondolin from the troll-hoard. I wonder if he’ll still grab a burning branch to defend against the trolls in the end, though.
Wacky bonus theory with no support whatsoever: the Morgul blade that becomes a key driver of the Necromancer sub-plot could be found in the troll-hoard.
Scene 4. Over Hill and Under Hill.
Here, things become a little bit of a puzzle. For although the trollshaws of Rhudaur are hilly, they’re hardly important to the plot. So I conclude that this is the company starting the long climb into the Misty Mountains.
Detail: no ponies. What gives? We saw them start out with shaggy ponies in an early production video. Have the elves eaten them? Also, whether we may see giants hurling around boulders is still an unknown.
Scene 5. Rivendell and the White Council.
Elrond is holding the map of Thror, examining it under bright (moon?)light. A crescent moon would be consistent with Tolkien, but recall the full moon of the previous frame. In front, on the table is that Morgul blade. So here we have the two key items that drive each sub-plot forward. Why this frame is placed after the climb into the mountains is something that doesn’t entirely gel with my storybook concept.
Detail: Behind Elrond is another angle of the Gandalf and Galadriel scene we saw in the trailer. Is Galadriel about to send Gandalf (again, because he already had to go once to get the map, right?) to Dol Guldur to find out for certain what’s going on there? Many unanswerable questions here.
Scene 6. Riddles in the Dark.
Back on firmer ground, Bilbo is using the dim orc-glow of Sting to find his way through the underground caverns of the Misty Mountains. In the foreground, Gollum is drawn toward the unexpected light. Riddling will ensue, and a lot of angst for Gollum.
Detail: Is Gollum fishing?
Scene 7. Out of the Frying-pan, into the Fire.
Bilbo climbs for his life to escape a pack of howling, angry wargs. The hyena-like wargs of Lord of the Rings looked very poor, a rare visual mis-step from WETA. These ones are much more lupine. It’s way better. In the air, the eagles of Gwaihir the Windlord circle, drawn by the forest fire Gandalf has inadvertently begun.
Detail: Tolkien writes that Thorin orders Dori to give Bilbo a boost into the fir tree. Presumably the dwarves and Gandalf have already climbed out of picture.
Scene 8. Queer Lodgings.
Beorn the skinchanger! Well, knock me down with a feather! That’s something I didn’t expect to see this side of the film’s release. Apart from his physical bulk, his fierceness is impressive.
Puts me in mind of this bit from the book: “A goblin’s head was stuck outside the gate, and a warg skin nailed to a tree just beyond. Beorn was a fierce enemy.”
Detail: Is that the famed Carrock that Gandalf and Beorn are standing on? Tolkien writes that Gandalf follows bear tracks as far as the Carrock in the night.
Scene 9. Flies and Spiders.
In the dimness of Mirkwood, Bilbo has only his own resources to draw upon.
“Somehow, the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark, without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach…”
Detail: Sting glows in the presence of spiders? Hmmmm, well Gondolin of old was close to Nan Dungortheb, the Valley of Dreadful Death, and home to the descendents of the arch-spider Ungoliant. So it’s not an impossible stretch that Sting could have been imbued with powers to shine in the presence of giant spiders.
Scene 10. Barrels out of Bond.
There are two parts to this scene.
The first: the company crossing the bridge across the Forest River into the Halls of Thranduil. All 13 dwarves. Thorin is bringing up the rear, I think. And, seemingly, they’re alone.
The second: the company floating down the forest river to freedom. On the extreme right, Bilbo is the barrel-rider!
Detail: Notice how weathered the bridge is. It’s stood there for long, long ages. Notice also, the complete absence of Sindarin and Silvan elves. Have they been removed from the bridge to strengthen the photo’s impact? Finally, in the far distance, could that just be the Lonely Mountain beckoning?
I’m just as thrilled about the flow of this storybook as I am puzzled and intrigued about the little details, changes and omissions.
The absence of the elves here is a particular puzzler. But here’s a thought: the Cinema-con mess was a bit of a setback for the marketing campaign. Maybe, to avoid spooking any more horses, the role of the elves at the pointy end of An Unexpected Journey is being minimised for the nonce.
Or maybe they’re still keen to focus on the key characters.
Either way, it’s food for thought.