It’s time to head back to Middle-earth once again as Peter Jackson’s second instalment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel gets the trailer treatment. The Desolation Of Smaug hits screens on December 13 this year and the first full trailer is now online. As is traditional for this sort of epic, we’ve cast our eye over the promo to see what tidbits of plot and character we can spot. Some spoilers for those who have yet to read the book may follow...
“Truly, the tales and songs fall utterly short of your enormity, O Smaug the Stupendous.” Bilbo’s voice is, appropriately enough given that he’s the eponymous Halfling, the first we hear in this trailer. He’s pictured inside the Lonely Mountain, creeping through Erebor and timidly conversing with an as-yet unseen Smaug. Now, if we’re going by the book Bilbo should be wearing the Ring at this point, to make himself invisible and escape Smaug’s usual reaction to guests (namely, flame-grilling them). The fact that we can see Bilbo, therefore, may be a sort of cinematic trick and he may in fact be wearing the Ring
Here, the company of dwarves (with Bilbo trailing, hidden by the Ring; minus Gandalf, who has naffed off on his own mission) are marched across a bridge under the golden leaves of Mirkwood, into the stronghold of the Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace). It’s interesting to note that the multi-level interior of that palace is very reminiscent of Erebor itself; is that a deliberate echo of the Hall of the Mountain King (if you will) and a reminder that elves and dwarves have more in common than they might like to admit? The difference here, of course, is that those columns are trees rather than stone, making this a sort of visual (and, we suppose, geographical) halfway point between Lothlorien and the Lonely Mountain.
“We are the dwarves of Erebor. We have come to reclaim our homeland,” says Thorin (Richard Armitage). “I offer you my help,” replies Pace’s Thranduil – but there’s a slight rising intonation on that last word that implies conditions - unsurprising since we know that Thranduil is an isolationist and wants no part of other peoples' conflicts. This is a new scene added for the film; in the book, Thorin is taken by the Wood-elves after stumbling into the midst of one of their outdoor banquets, but refuses on interrogation to tell them about his quest or why he’s in the forest of Mirkwood. The rest of the dwarves, captured soon after, are similarly reticent. In the book, the King just throws them in the dungeon until they feel more loquacious.
We wonder, a little, if these two quotes actually fit together. The next bit, where Dwalin (Graham McTavish) asks Thorin, “How do we know he won’t betray us?” and Thorin answers, “We don’t” doesn’t seem to fit with Thranduil at all. Given that they’re in a boat at the time, it’s far more likely that they’re talking about either someone from Laketown or Bilbo himself at that point.
There’s the Lonely Mountain itself, as the Company rows down the Long Lake (from Lake-town, in a boat supplied by its leaders) towards their goal. But in voiceover, Legolas is sceptical of their chances. “There is no King Under The Mountain, nor will there ever be,” he says. Thorin, however, is looking all heroic and has his hair blowing in the winds of his home, and seems disinclined to listen to any such nay-saying.
Here are scenes entirely invented for the film. Wood-elves scamper gracefully along branches above a rushing river (perhaps in pursuit of the company of dwarves?) and then Tauriel slashes some bad guys. “It will not end here. With every victory this evil will grow,” says Tauriel, presumably of the goblins (AKA orcs) that we see her fighting – apparently in Mirkwood itself. There’s also another look at Manu Bennett’s Azog, still apparently out for Thorin’s blood. This is another change from the book; the goblins of the page avoided that part of Mirkwood, reluctant to tangle with the elves or other denizens we’ll see a little later.
It warms the cockles of our heart to see our favourite of this particular race of Wood-elves, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) back in the wig and the contact lens and the action. All present and correct: the twin swords, the bow, the intense staring. “Legolas is grown very fond of you,” says Thranduil to Tauriel. “Do not give him hope where there is none.” What’s this? A doomed romantic subplot for Leggy? Something more political? If it's a romance, either Tauriel just doesn’t see the attraction (seems far-fetched) or her heart belongs to another (a dwarf?) or Thranduil���s manipulating events for his own ends (seems possible).
This is a new character, Luke Evans’ Bard The Bowman, who’s the finest hunter in Lake-town – the nearest human settlement to the Lonely Mountain and one where the dwarves pitch up after escaping the Wood-elves. Bard is highly critical of the dwarves’ plans and worries that they’ll arouse the dragon’s wrath. In the book he’s described as “grim-voiced and grim-faced, whose friends had accused him of prophesying floods and poisoned fish, though they knew his worth and courage”. A sort of Cassandra then, whose warnings of disaster are ignored.
“You have no right to enter that mountain,” Bard warns Thorin. “I have the only right,” replies Thorin, defiant. Gosh, the whole world is really against him this time, aren’t they? And everyone is taller than he is. You’d think Bilbo’s short stature alone would endear him to the dwarf leader.
After a few shots of Bilbo fighting giant spiders (on which more below) we get to the serious business of seeing what Gandalf is up to. The wizard will break from Thorin’s Company during this film, just as the dwarves enter Mirkwood, and head off on his own urgent mission – as hinted last time in his discussions with Elrond, Galadriel and Radagast.
“We’ve been blind. In our blindness the enemy has returned.” Gandalf has figured out that the sinister Necromancer, lurking in his fortress of Dol Guldur at the southern end of Mirkwood, is none other than Sauron. And so, like any horror movie victim, he heads off alone to reconnoitre. UH-OH!
After he lost the One Ring to Isildur (cast your mind back to the opening of The Fellowship Of The Ring), Sauron lurked non-corporeally for a thousand years as he regathered his strength. In An Unexpected Journey we saw the shadow of a man-shape at Dol Guldur when Gandalf investigated the creepy fortress; now we get a full-on glimpse of the flaming Eye Of Sauron. Cue Gandalf trying to poke his staff in it, as goblin armies march on... somewhere.
There's a question mark whether this shot has any place in The Hobbit; Sauron should be in man-form at this point, just as he was at the opening battle of The Fellowship Of The Ring. We're pretty sure this is just a flashback (flash-forward?) to remind people who they're talking about, and to link the Necromancer to Sauron. It's doubtful the flaming Eye will get much play here.
“I found something in the goblin tunnels,” Bilbo tells Gandalf, as we see him pick up the Ring again from a forest floor. “What did you find?” asks the wizard. “My courage,” says Bilbo, slipping the Ring into a pocket and chickening out of admitting to it. He continues to hide it – something that Gandalf notes, in Fellowship, is very out-of-character for the frank hobbit. File this under “foreboding” as regards the Ring’s influence on its owner. Gandalf, however, replies with an even more ominous, “Good. You’ll need it.” Not comforting, dude.
Arachnophobes, look away now. These things are human-sized, capable of speech and fond of eating anyone they come across. In the book, they catch the dwarves napping (actually, knocked out by Elvish magic) and wrap them up to be tenderised for eating. Only Bilbo is missed out, as he wakes up and manages to stab his attacker with Sting, his Elvish blade.
It’s then up to the little Hobbit to face down all the eight-legged freaks and free his companions. No problem, right? Oh, and these monsters are – according to The Lord Of The Rings – descended from the awful Shelob, who, in turn, was the daughter of the even-awfuller Ungoliant, the most terrible spider of Middle-earth's pre-history. By the looks of these monsters, the eight-legged apple doesn’t fall far from the pug-ugly tree.
You can barely make it out here, but we’re pretty sure that this is a great bear racing out of the trees, or to be slightly more accurate, it’s a shapeshifting “skin changer” transformed into a great bear. Played by Sweden’s Mikael Persbrandt, Beorn is a moody and rather dangerous character who provides friendship and hospitality to the dwarves near the start of this instalment as they run from the goblins and wargs of the Misty Mountains.
Beorn and his now-dead race were driven from the mountains by the goblins eons before, so he rather bears a grudge (no pun intended), but is also suspicious of strangers, meaning the dwarves and hobbit will have to step lightly. Look out for a reappearance by the towering figure at a crucial juncture in the third film as well; in the book, he joins the Battle of Five Armies and plays a major role, personally slaying the goblin leader Bolg.
Remember that huge banner produced for An Unexpected Journey that showed the dwarves floating down a river in empty wine barrels? That came before two films became three, but here’s where the first instalment would have ended, with the dwarves sneaking out of the Elvenking’s palace in empty casks that they could ride downriver to Lake-town and, ultimately, the mountain. Here they are jumping into the casks. We’ll say this for the film’s company: they have it better than the book’s dwarves, who are sealed into the barrels for the whole journey downriver, with only Bilbo clinging to the top of one. Bilbo catches a nasty cold from his part-immersion in the water, but the dwarves had it worse in the book's account.
Here we see the dwarves hiding behind stone pillars from flames – so it’s a fair guess that they actually get inside the Mountain in this film, and that Smaug is in a less-than-welcoming mood when they do attempt to take him on. “Dragon fire and ruin: that is what you will bring upon us!” says Bard to a still-irate Thorin. “He cannot see beyond his own desire!” Looks like he’s not far wrong – and as though Thorin’s quest causes yet more ruptions this time.
Quick shots now: we see Tauriel and Bard both brandishing bows, Bilbo falling in water somewhere, Kili kicking a goblin, elf warriors lining up and drawing swords. Some sort of siege engine (a ballista?) fires and a building – which looks like part of the town of Dale in the shadow of the mountain – explodes: was the dragon responsible? Is this a flashback to Smaug's initial attack or is there more fighting at the mountain? Do the dwarves take on their scaly enemy again?
Then Legolas spirals down a rope into darkness (is this somewhere deep in Mirkwood? Does he follow them to the mountain already?) and someone (Kili? Thorin?) leaps out into a void to escape the flames behind him (another hint that the dwarves fight the dragon as they do not in the book). In summary: have no fear that this film will lack action.
Somewhere inside the mountain, Thorin bars Bilbo’s way with his sword. “I will not risk this quest for the life of one burglar,” says the increasingly fanatical leader in voiceover. “His name is Bilbo,” says Balin (Ken Stott), Bilbo’s best friend among the dwarves and Thorin’s number two (in what looks like a different scene). Huh. Seems like the rapprochement between Bilbo and Thorin that they reached at the end of the last film will break down somewhat in this – which is not surprising.
In the book, too, Bilbo is the voice of reason as Thorin grows increasingly hard-line in his attempts to safeguard his long lost home. It’s also worth noting that, in the book, the dwarves only enter the mountain en masse after Smaug flies away on a fateful trip to Lake-town. Could it be that we will only see the dragon in one film, with the whole of the third instalment given over entirely to the build-up to, and fighting of, the Battle of Five Armies? Or will there be changes here that see a bit more back-and-forth between Smaug and the dwarves?
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek Into Darkness cast mates joke that he has the voice of a god. Certainly here he has the voice of a dragon down pat; they’ve clearly fiddled about and added some rumble in the lower registers, but that’s recognisable his super-smooth tones providing Smaug’s shiny menace. “Well, thief, where are you?” he asks Bilbo. “Come now, don’t be shy. Step into the light.” Both this and that outrageous flattery of Smaug that the trailer opens with are taken close to verbatim from the book; the pair have a strange sort of banter as Smaug tries to figure out where Bilbo is and Bilbo tries carefully to ensure that he does nothing of the sort. What we can make out here shows that Smaug is red, as is proper, but we can't help wishing that he would "step into the light" instead of asking it of Bilbo.
You might think that, had Smaug caught Bilbo here and succeeded in flaming him thoroughly enough to damage the Ring, that the rest of the Lord of the Rings adventure would never have happened. But Gandalf reckons that even Smaug’s fire wouldn’t have been hot enough, so let’s assume it all worked out for the best.
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is out on December 13.