When we left Bilbo, Thorin and his band of dwarves they were perched on top of a cliff after Gandalf dialled 1-800-EAGLE. The next stage of their adventures sees them tackling vengeful orcs, a helter-skelter barrel ride and a fire-breathed dragon bastard called Smaug, before careering towards an apocalyptic finale at the Battle of Five Armies. Only five armies, you ask? Well, there’s more to the story. A lot more – and much of it never appeared in Tolkien’s original novel. Here are ten things to prepare for.
The original Grizzly Man, Beorn plays a key role in the dwarves' journey through the tangle of Mirkwood. But on screen the shapeshifter, who lives a reclusive life away from men, orcs and Werner Herzog’s camera crews, will also gets his paws dirty dealing with some orcish miscreants. “I started with a severe torture scene,” explains the man who plays him, Mikael Persbrandt, a Swedish actor best known from Susanne Bier’s In A Better World. “It was awkward and embarassing.” The set-up involves the quizzing of an orc for information that may or may not be followed by a Jack Nicholson-style “You can’t handle the truth!” for the benefit of liberals in the room. It’s Zero Dark Fur-ty.
As they venture deeper in Mirkwood, Bilbo and posse will need to brace themselves for the kind of arachnophobia even John Goodman can’t help with. The forest’s giant spiders await. They’ll speak in a form of “psychic communication”, promised Peter Jackson in December’s Empire edition, so “only Bilbo hears them”. Evidently, possession of the One Ring grants Bilbo the kind of psychic powers usually commanded only by Jonathan Cainer himself, although how the spider-chat manifests itself remains to be seen. Let’s hope it’s not the spider equivalent of a Vulcan mind meld, leaving Bilbo chasing flies and scurrying about under a table for the duration.
The tetchy relationship between dwarves and wood elves comes to a head early in The Desolation Of Smaug when the ‘good’ folk of Mirkwood incarcerate Thorin’s company in Elvenking’s elvenprison. Fortunately, like a Prison Break meets Keith Floyd omnibus, Bilbo sneaks them all into the wine casks and the elves unwittingly shove them downriver. The Hobbit, though, has to travel the old-fashioned route. “I’m in the water, hanging onto barrels, clinging to rocks and stuff,” remembers Martin Freeman of the scene. “The waterline comes up to your chin. You properly get carried along, into rocks, into other barrels – I’m saying the bloody obvious here, but you’ve got to concentrate.”
“I’ve got a bald cap and a really bad comb-over wig, and this wispy moustache, wispy beard, horrible blotchy skin and disgusting fingernails.” That’s how Stephen Fry described his character in The Hobbit — the Master of Laketown — when speaking to Digital Spy in 2011. Down in New Zealand to pen a Dam Busters remake with Peter Jackson, Fry ended up being recruited to play the greedy and grotesque politician, who makes up for with belly what he lacks in backbone. And by all accounts, the character has given Jackson the chance to gleefully hark back to his icky early work. “[The Master] is an opportunity for sheer grossness,” says Fry. “Peter had me eating testicles.”
While talking to Empire in September, Ian McKellen hinted that the White Council’s assault on Dol Guldur, in which Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel and Radagast take on the Necromancer’s foul forces, might not end well for the Grey Wizard. Obviously he won’t expire, but could he be taken out of action for a while? “There was a mocked-up doll of Gandalf that Cate [Blanchett] was carrying — she obviously couldn’t carry me — and we decided to call it Michael Gambon,” McKellen said. Well, as Galadriel said in An Unexpected Journey: “If you ever need my help, I will come.” Sounds like she keeps her promise.
An Unexpected Journey didn’t feature a single human character, let alone one as chiseled as Aragorn. That’s set to change as Luke Evans enters the frame, playing master-archer Bard the Bowman. The role, which pits Evans against Smaug the dragon in a massive, flame-filled face-off, was as physically demanding as it sounds. “It was really difficult to do, and took a long time,” the actor told us recently. “And it was really weird to go from shooting a bow and arrow and galloping in a field on a stallion to driving fast cars for Fast Six.” So who was a tougher foe to take on: Smaug the Terrible or The Rock? “Well, one’s breathing fire and God knows how big,” laughs Evans. “You’ll have to ask me that again when I’ve seen what Smaug looks like in the flesh!”
A terrible bastard at the best of times, city usurping devil dragon Smaug dominates the second instalment with his a reptilian uber-brain. If An Unexpected Journey flashed us a little scaly thigh, Part 2 gives us the whole dragon, as Smaug comes face-to-face with his Hobbit nemesis. “Smaug doesn’t engage with [Bilbo] the same way Sméagol does,” explains the man who voices him, Benedict Cumberbatch. “He’s on much more of an ego trip. He likes to feel dominant at all times, and often because of what he’s capable of, he is.” Will the dragon’s arrogance and vanity be his Achilles’ scale? Watch this space.
Azog (“The Pale Orc” to his minions, “Dr. Hook” to his friends) is the most sinister albino baddie since Paul Bettany in The Da Vinci Code. But if you thought he was bad, wait ‘til you meet his son Bolg. “He has very brutal and damaged facial features,” says Richard Taylor, “so he’s come up with a very unique way of keeping it all together. A little bit of Mordor surgery, let’s say!” Just as Azog didn’t appear in Tolkien’s book, Bolg is a new character but plays a big part, leading orcs, wargs and bats into the Battle of the Five Armies. Will Azog get taken down sometime early in The Desolation Of Smaug, making his grotesque nipper thirst for revenge? And will we get to see a scene back at their Orc-house, with Azog shouting at his son to turn his music down?
Yes, you read that right. It appears that Dain Ironfoot, the tougher-than-tungsten lord of the dwarves of the Iron Hills, will rock up to the Battle of the Five Armies astride a combat-hog. “I ride into war on a wild pig!” Billy Connolly told Vulture last year. Richard Taylor seemed to confirm this while speaking to Empire shortly before Christmas, when he said, “It’s been great fun designing a dwarfish army - what they might wear, what they might ride into battle, all that stuff.” The fact he’s sat on the back of a war-ready oinker won’t be the only eye-opening thing about Connelly’s Dain. “They’re broadening me, making me wider,” added the actor. “I have a mohawk and tattoos on my head. Let me say, this guy will terrify the life out of you.”
If anyone was wondering why God gave us five fingers, it’s to keep count of the participants in The Hobbit’s climactic battle. Forces of humans, elves, dwarves, eagles, and a category we’re just calling ‘the bad guys’ (orcs, wargs, bats, COBRA, Thanos, Dick Dastardly and Muttley) make up the Battle Of Five Armies, with a sky-based skirmish a likely standout. In it, explains Richard Armitage, the eagles get to prove that they’re more than just Middle-earth’s taxi service. “There’s a manic fight in the air,” he told Empire, “in which eagles are fighting vampire bats.”