An entire year before we get the finished version of An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson treats us to a rich taste of what he has been doing this past year. From the familiar bucolic harmony of The Shire through Trollshaws, Rivendell, The Misty Mountains, and the vestiges of Mirkwood, we are right back in that world. A Middle-earth both instantly familiar and comforting, and alluringly new.
To set the scene, we are in The Shire, chronologically somewhere between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings with Ian Holm’s elderly Bilbo Baggins admitting to Frodo (Elijah Wood) he hasn’t been wholly forthcoming about the events of his own adventure. “I can honestly say I have told you the truth,” teases Holm’s Bilbo, “I may not have told you all of it.” Wood and Holm will form a framing mechanism for The Hobbit movies (notice how he's back at the same writing desk as seen in the extended version of The Fellowship Of The Ring). It’s also a mark of Weta’s prowess at matching real-life and studio work — Ian Holm’s scenes were shot entirely at Pinewood and included no exteriors. The connective tissue with the Rings films is made immediately explicit.
A cut across the years, from Holm to Martin Freeman’s Bilbo puffing contentedly on his pipe, casts the appropriate spell that this is most definitely the younger version of the famous hobbit. Gandalf in classic grey garb is attempting to entice the habitually lethargic halfling with the concept of adventure. We cut to a montage of antic images of how ill-equipped Bilbo is for the great outdoors (struggling with a pony, his mix of debonair velvet jackets, scampering after the departed dwarves). The Hobbit’s ribald comic tone is set, with Gandalf announcing the arrival of the dwarves at Bag End, the height differential between wizard, hobbit and dwarf is so sublimely achieved (via a slave mo-cap — Ian McKellen filming separately on a larger-scaled green-screen set) we barely even register it.
Via Gandalf’s smoky voiceover, the band of 13 dwarfs are introduced, each with a clear headshot from a different context. Stephen Hunter’s stout Bombur even gets his own sight gag (what could be a fine Rivendell table collapses beneath his weight). Slowly, a hum begins in the background, deep voices beginning to sing in unison.
Led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), and seated in Bag End, the dwarfs sing of the loss of their homeland, each slowly standing. It is set against a grave montage of faces, the mood switching in a trice from comic to epic with a tincture of melancholy. The lyrics are taken directly from Tolkien, and where we might have feared The Hobbit’s propensity for song might trigger sniggers now feels like a strength. Carried by Armitage’s impressive basso, the trailer shifts up a gear, and a sense of the scope Peter Jackson intends for his two films becomes clear. We are back in Middle-earth in a big way.
Amongst the ensuing images is a shot of Gandalf, Glamdring drawn, in an insalubrious ruin throttled by massive vines. We presume this is the fastness of Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood, where the wizard has come to uncover the Necromancer, who he fears is a disguise for a far greater evil. Later we get a shot of Gandalf using his staff to light his way along a thin ledge toward a doorway in a Moria-like dungeon that could also be Dol Guldur. The section of The Hobbit films adapted from The Lord Of The Rings’ appendices.
There are several shots from the tranquil station of Rivendell. Bilbo discovers the shards of Narsil (another ‘forward echo’ to Fellowship), and a lovely wide-shot of Gandalf and Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel, framed by waterfalls, cuts to a close-up as she lifts a tuft of hair from his troubled face. They are evidently discussing the potential danger represented by the Necromancer, planning their mission into Mirkwood.
In the lush, wooded glen of Trollshaws, Bilbo unsheathes the recently discovered Sting, a moment cross-cut with Armitage’s increasingly impressive Thorin whispering to Gandalf that he is unable to guarantee Bilbo’s safety. “Nor”, he growls, “will I be responsible for his fate”. Spine-tingling stuff. Then, to what must be a stirring introduction to Howard Shore’s actual Hobbit score (initial reaction: spot on) we cut to wide shots of New Zealand as Middle-earth, expertly recalling Fellowship’s sweeping vistas. Inserted between the landscapes is shot of elven rider encircling the tiny band at the gates of Rivendell.
At the business end of the trailer, Jackson starts drip feeding the action juice. First, we catch sight of Gandalf losing a battle with a terrifying-looking old man, who appears some kind of freakish splice of wizard and Uruk-hai. Could this be the Necromancer himself? Over to the dwarves taking on the three trolls around their camp fire complete with massive cauldron. Shot from dwarf level, so far we only catch sight of the trolls’ knees. And are yet to hear them speak.
As the trailer reaches a crescendo, the emphasis switches back to Bilbo, including the dwarves crashing through his front door, the madcap plate-tossing (as opposed to dwarf tossing) party, and Bilbo vaulting a Hobbiton fence. The shot of Bilbo in his armchair offers an intriguing forward-looking motif: sewn into the chair’s throw are what appear to be miniature ‘eyes of Sauron’. Just a thematic nudge? “Can you promise I will come back?” asks a nervy Bilbo of Gandalf. McKellen fills his reply with every gram of the gravitas that elevated Rings to the level of serious drama: “No... and if you do, you will not be the same.” Do we sense the hand of a puppet-master in a much bigger picture?
Well we might, for as Gandalf speaks the image cuts to the paths beneath the Misty Mountains, a lost Bilbo, and the Ring itself awaiting him. After the title card, some familiar business — Gollum’s dank, dark cave. Cast in shadow the wretch himself. And we exit on a note that carries across five whole films of an almighty saga: “What is a Bagginsses, Precioussss?”