Not one to do things by halves, Peter Jackson arrived in San Diego with a fellowship of friends – Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Philippa Boyens and Andy Serkis, plus Elijah Wood, who happened to be at Comic-Con promoting Tron: Uprising – as well a whopping 12 and a half minutes of footage. (After the mixed reception to the film’s look at April’s CinemaCon, this time Jackson opted for 24 frames per second and 2D.) Though the sequences were mainly drawn from the first Hobbit movie, An Unexpected Journey, there were also plenty of snippets from Part 2, There And Back Again.
The reel opened with a fun scene at Bag End, with the 13 dwarves taking advantage of Bilbo’s hospitality while discussing plans to invade the Lonely Mountain and take back their long-lost gold.
“There is no way into the mountain,” grumbles Balin (Ken Stott). Gandalf begs to differ, producing an ancient key that will open a hidden door and explaining that, “The task I have in mind will require stealth and a great deal of courage.” He suggests they take Bilbo along as a sneak-thief, and after some bickering the dwarves agree, handing the Hobbit a lengthy contract so he can peruse the terms and conditions (which include funeral arrangements). This leads to the funniest moment of the sequence, as a disconcerted Bilbo reads the small print: “Laceration? Evisceration? INCINERATION?!”
Warm and funny, the scene (with several call-backs to The Fellowship Of The Ring, including the group getting a room-darkening telling-off from Gandalf) also sets up the perils nicely. The quest will be arduous and the dragon Smaug will “melt the flesh off your bones in the blink of an eye,” one of the dwarves tells a not entirely happy looking Bilbo.
Many of those perils were then showcased, as the sizzle reel flitted around Middle-earth: Snotty trolls and Weta’s new-look goblins, squat, pale and more agile than those we’re used to. Gandalf being hunted around stone ruins and then jumped by a feral-looking figure. Bilbo and the dwarves facing down what appears to be a hefty monster hewn of rock. No sign yet of those pesky Mirkwood arachnids or Smaug himself.
We did get to see a few of the new human characters. Eccentric wizard Radagast the Brown, as played by Sylvester McCoy, not only has a pet ferret but some birds that hang out in his hair. Red-haired elf maiden Tauriel, created specially for the films and played by Evangeline Lilly, is evidently pretty handy with a sword, as she spent her brief screentime balletically slaying goblins.
All this, plus glimpses of Legolas – drawing his bow on our company of undersized heroes – Saruman and Galadriel. But the big pay-off was an extended preview of the Riddles In The Dark sequence: think Catchphrase but with Gollum instead of Roy Walker and a much danker studio. “What has roots as nobody sees… is taller than trees… up, up it goes, and yet never grows?” asks the slithery villain. Bilbo thinks fast as Gollum moves in for the kill, before blurting out the correct answer: “Mountain!” But the game has just begun…
All in all it was something of a triumph for Jackson and his crew, with screaming from the crowd throughout and Justin Bieber levels of hysteria greeting the Smeagol reveal. The director heads back to New Zealand tomorrow for ten days of additional photography, which will include the filming of his cameo for An Unexpected Journey. “This time,” he promises, “I’ll be hard to spot.”