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