You’d think that 77 years after its pub­li­ca­tion, there wouldn’t be any spoil­ers left about The Hob­bit.

SFX - - The hobbit -

But Peter Jack­son’s epic adap­ta­tion has turned a lean chil­dren’s story into a three- movie marathon, poached char­ac­ters from The Lord Of The Rings, and added a whole new fe­male lead that JRR Tolkien never en­vis­aged. As we ap­proach the tril­ogy’s ul­ti­mate con­fronta­tion, can we take any­thing for granted at this point? For in­stance, what about the fact that in the book Bilbo gets knocked out and misses the tit­u­lar bat­tle?

“I can’t talk about it,” Martin Free­man says quickly, when SFX sits down with the ac­tor at Clar­idge’s for a nat­ter. Then he laughs: “See how many times I say that sen­tence. Ooh, but it’s ever so good. Any­one that’s read the book knows what’s in the story. But there will be bits that are not ex­actly the same as Pro­fes­sor Tolkien, as there have been with all the films. The screen­play is my bi­ble as op­posed to the novel.”

When we last saw Free­man’s character Bilbo on screen, he was gaz­ing down in hor­ror as Smaug the dragon – un­de­feated de­spite the Dwarves’ best ef­forts – rains fire down upon Lake- town. This new film, the third in the Hob­bit se­quence and the sixth in Peter Jack­son’s Mid­dle- earth pan­theon, will re­veal how Bard the Bowman de­feats the dragon, then re­luc­tantly leads the hu­man army into an almighty clash with other races, in­clud­ing the Dwarves led by a dragon- sick Thorin. Lit­tle Bilbo, the novel tells us, will try to in­flu­ence the Dwarves us­ing the Arken­stone, an heir­loom he swipes from Smaug’s hoard.

Free­man’s diminu­tive ad­ven­turer has come a long way and seen some ter­ri­ble things since he set out from the Shire. “Bilbo goes through an aw­ful lot of changes, a lot of light and shade,” he muses. “I wanted to know early on, when do I break through the in­génue thing? When do I break through the Stan Lau­rel wide- eyed ‘ What’s go­ing on?’ thing. I knew that wouldn’t be very in­ter­est­ing, to be a cute Hob­bit all the time.”

Elf and safety

He may not be able to tell us ex­actly what Bilbo ex­pe­ri­ences of the fate­ful war in this ver­sion of the story, but he is clear that the character is grit­tier now than he was in An Un­ex­pected Jour­ney. “I was al­ways chomp­ing at the bit with Pete: ‘ When can he go dark?’” con­tin­ues Free­man. “That’s my nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion, to just root around in the dirt. By this time he’s al­ready been in the dirt and he’s al­ready been ter­ri­fied and he’s al­ready killed things. He’s al­ready fought on their jour­ney.”

This chimes with Peter Jack­son’s vi­sion of the story’s pro­gres­sion, as he con­veys when he pops up at San Diego Comic- Con in July. “[ The Hob­bit] starts at a cer­tain point of in­no­cence and naiveté, almost child­ish. Now things are start­ing to get darker and darker, and the screws get tighter. That’s the tone of part three. It will be the most emo­tional, the most tense of the three. It’s got a nice ‘ thriller’ kind of pace.”

Much of that is go­ing to come from the bat­tle. You have to won­der how Jack­son will top the war seen in The Re­turn Of The King. “I’m sure in num­bers it’s not go­ing to be big­ger than pre­vi­ous bat­tles,” he says. “But it does carry our on­go­ing sto­ry­line. I don’t re­ally think of it as one bat­tle; it’s a sto­ry­line that ref­er­ences char­ac­ters all the way through it as they get into com­bat. The sto­ry­line is evolv­ing, it changes in the mid­dle of the bat­tle. A lot of ten­sion goes into it. The good thing with bat­tles is you can maybe kill one or two peo­ple... We do pos­si­bly have char­ac­ters dy­ing

“Bilbo goes t hrough an aw­ful lot of changes, a l ot of light and shade”

in this film. This is me try­ing to keep se­crets about that book ev­ery­one knows!”

Whether or not the con­flict has twists and turns wait­ing to sur­prise us, Peter Jack­son is happy to talk about Tau­riel, Evan­ge­line Lilly’s character, and why he al­tered The Hob­bit to find a place for this new Elf. “She came about in almost a sci­en­tific way,” he says. “In the book the sto­ry­line passes through the Wood­land Realm and they es­cape into bat­tles.

Tolkien writes a lit­tle about the Wood­land king and there are no other real Elvish char­ac­ters. That’s what our pri­mary source ma­te­rial was. It’s just an event that hap­pens along the way, but when we de­vel­oped our script treat­ments at the be­gin­ning, we wanted to cre­ate an Elvish sto­ry­line.”

Warm­ing to his theme, Jack­son dis­cusses how his writ­ers ex­trap­o­lated from there: “The best way to cre­ate a sto­ry­line is to have three char­ac­ters. You can’t re­ally cre­ate a sto­ry­line with two. So: Thran­duil, as he was sub­se­quently named, the Wood­land king. We also knew he had a son named Le­go­las, and that’s why he’s back in the movie. That’s an ob­vi­ous choice of two of the char­ac­ters, as king and son. But we needed that third. It was a very cold- blooded decision to cast a fe­male character be­cause there’s a lot of strength in women within the Elvish rank. We just wanted to have a re­ally great kick- ass chick, ba­si­cally. We needed to de­velop a sto­ry­line that em­anated from the Wood­land Realm and was able to carry on through the film, right the way through to the end. We knew three char­ac­ters was es­sen­tial to us.”

Oi, you’re Bard

A prom­i­nent fig­ure in the con­clud­ing act is Bard, played by Welsh ac­tor Luke Evans. Although Bard is nat­u­rally less wide- eyed than Bilbo at the start, he’s also a re­luc­tant hero, and his jour­ney is like­wise one of a man hav­ing to grow into a role thrust on him by cir­cum­stance. Heir of the kings of Dale and a skilled archer, we know he must de­feat Smaug and then lead Lake- town in the skir­mish that fol­lows.

“I sort of likened it to those peo­ple who saved oth­ers in 9/ 11,” Evans tells us. “There was a fire­man who just saved peo­ple, but no­body knew who he was at first, he hadn’t come for­ward. But on that day, some­thing went through his mind and he just be­came com­pletely self­less and did things, like go­ing back into that smoul­der­ing build­ing, know­ing it was go­ing to col­lapse. Go­ing to save other peo­ple in­stead of him­self. Bard doesn’t want to be the hero, I don’t think he’s in­ter­ested in be­ing a king. He wants to just fight for his kids. But through no fault of his own he’s put into a cir­cum­stance where he’s forced to think much

big­ger. He’s got all th­ese eyes look­ing at him. It’s a very hu­man emo­tion, and a very hu­man jour­ney he goes on. ‘ There’s no one else here; I’m go­ing to have to do it.’ He’s an un­likely hero, but deep down, maybe he’s the only man who could save them.”

Ba­si­cally Bard will be the leader of the hu­man army. “As much as he doesn’t want to be that per­son, he has to take the lead,” con­firms Evans. “It’s a man who’s hav­ing to pick up the sword. He’s a bowman, he comes from a legacy of bow­men. We’re just watch­ing this man be­come a hero. It’s a lovely thing.”

As a rel­a­tive new­comer to Jack­son’s Mid­dle- earth troupe, it has helped that Evans is a fan of the Hob­bit novel and loved the Lord

Of The Rings films. “It’s lovely to think I’m part of it,” he grins. “I’m fas­ci­nated at how cap­ti­vat­ing Pro­fes­sor Tolkien’s books are to the world. It’s very nice to be asked to join such a great group of ac­tors, and to bring to life a great character from a book. I’m orig­i­nat­ing the character of Bard on screen, so I have a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity and pride.”

The way Evans tells it, Jack­son and his team of writ­ers were re­vis­ing the ex­act sto­ry­line right up to, and dur­ing, film­ing it­self. “Peter loves be­ing in­volved in ev­ery­thing – from the aes­thetic of how you look, to what you say, to how you move, to how you fight,” Evans ex­plains. “And he’d be like, ‘ What about if you did a big tum­ble at this point?’ And you can see the stunt guys go­ing, ‘ Oh God, here we go. We’ve got to change it now.’ Every­body’s ready for that. If he has an im­pulse to change some­thing on set, he’ll change it, and I like work­ing like that. I’ve al­ways liked the im­pul­sive­ness of chang­ing some­thing on the spot or do­ing some­thing we hadn’t thought about. When it came to my character, there were a lot of things we could do – be­cause he’s hu­man, there’s noth­ing else we had to worry about. It gave a lot of free­dom and li­cense to try lots of things.”

Hob­bit form­ing

All mys­ter­ies aside, we know that the Hob­bit tril­ogy is com­ing to an end, and we know that Bilbo, Gan­dalf and friends go on to fur­ther ad­ven­tures in The Fel­low­ship Of The Ring. By in­tro­duc­ing the threat from Sau­ron ex­plic­itly into th­ese Hob­bit films and giv­ing us scenes with Gal­adriel and Le­go­las, the film­mak­ers are pur­posely weav­ing a seam­less sto­ry­line that takes th­ese char­ac­ters on a six- film jour­ney. We’re all get­ting ready for a 20- hour ex­tended view­ing fest, right? Jack­son again: “When you get to the end of [ the bat­tle], it’s go­ing to feel like the right time to hand over to The

Fel­low­ship Of The Ring. I was al­ways very much aware of it be­ing a six- film set; there was al­ways a sense that one day, long after this is all over, all that’s ever go­ing to ex­ist in the world is th­ese movies as a six- film se­ries. That’s how fu­ture gen­er­a­tions are go­ing to see it, be­gin­ning with An Un­ex­pected Jour­ney and end­ing with The Re­turn Of The King.”

“I’d prob­a­bly do it on a rainy Sun­day with loads of pop­corn and a big du­vet,” laughs Luke Evans. “I’d watch them all back to back. The fact Peter’s di­rected all of them will give it that ‘ con­ti­nu­ity’ feel. In a way, it feels right that he gets to fin­ish what he started – or start what he fin­ished when he started!”

“Stick what in my pipe and smoke it?” “I’ve writ­ten my own ver­sion of the book with you in it. Yes, it’s short.”

The Mid­dle- earth best mul­let com­pe­ti­tion was fiercely con­tested.

Peter Jack­son’s Gan­dalf pup­pet was re­mark­ably re­al­is­tic.

Ex­ag­ger­ated tales of fish­ing ex­ploits were common on set.

Have hair­dress­ing scis­sors yet to be in­vented in Mid­dle- earth?

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