I can’t have been the only one who laughed when, at the end of ‘An Unexpected Journey’, the company act like they’re only a few miles away from the Lonely Mountain and when the shot cuts to it it’s so far away you can barely see it.
Also, during the ‘Misty Mountains’ song over the credits, one line is ‘We’ll be there soon’ and I said out loud “You poor eejit, you have no idea,” and then I realised I was talking to the soundtrack as if it was a real person and that this, this was what this film had done to me.
Still, I have actually doubted at times if they’re going to get to Smaug even by the end of the second film, let alone kill him off. And I know that sounds pessimistic, but consider that we’ve still got a shed load of stuff to get through:
1. Getting to Beorn’s house and staying there for a while,
2. Getting to Mirkwood and Gandalf leaving,
3. Trying to get through Mirkwood and not having much success in that area and generally implying the passing of time. Seriously, they spend about a month in there, maybe more. Also possibly the stream that Bombur falls into which makes him lose his memory, although whether they’ll include that is still unclear. The same with the Elves feasting and trolling them when they try to approach,
4. Getting captured by spiders and Bilbo coming to the rescue, though not before he’s fought off his own spider and named Sting,
5. Getting caught by the Wood Elves,
6. Being imprisoned by the Wood Elves,
7. Escaping from the Wood Elves,
8. Dealing with the process of escaping from the Wood Elves i.e. nearly getting drowned in rapids, from what I can tell from the behind-the-scenes footage,
9. Getting to Lake Town,
10. Interacting with the people in Lake Town,
11. Getting to the Mountain,
12. Getting into the Mountain,
13. And, in addition, finding time to show whatever wacky hijinks it is that Gandalf and the White Council are getting up to.
This is all before Bilbo even comes face to face (you know what I mean) with Smaug. Probably it doesn’t sound like too much laid out, but it all adds up. And this is just the bare bones of what happens; there’s a lot more that can be added on, considering the messages, plot threads and Chekov’s Guns that need to be gotten across to the audience.
Let’s start with Beorn. Beorn is possibly my favourite character in the whole book. He lives on a farm with many highly intelligent animals; in my pet-bereft childhood, I thought this was the greatest thing ever. Even if I now look on most living creatures with a cautious eye and run like heck from bees, the concept of living with dogs, sheep and horses who can actually set the table is still a fascinating one. He only eats milk and honey, which reminded me of both Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit. He’s tall enough for Bilbo to run between his legs without his head brushing the hem of the guy’s tunic. He’s that tall. He’s gruff and blunt and doesn’t take any nonsense and was pretty much my first experience of sarcasm, but underneath he’s rather sweet and jolly when he’s in a good mood, and he calls Bilbo a bunny. He storms into the Battle of the Five Armies to save the day. No, really, if it wasn’t for him it might all have gone tits up.
And he turns into a bear. No reason, no long tedious explanation, no full moon or curse or bite or anything. He just turns into a huge black bear, deal with it.
If there is any justice in the world, Beorn and his home are going to get at least twenty minutes of screen time, from the company’s approach to his house to him bidding farewell to them on the edge of Mirkwood, after stalking them in his furry form, possibly killing some goblins in the middle of all that. If nothing else, Jackson will want to establish him enough so that, when he shows up in ‘There and Back Again’, people aren’t going to go ‘Wait, whut?’ when he arrives and fursplodes and turns the tide of the battle.
Plus, you know, the aforementioned dogs, sheep and horses setting the table thing would be perfect material for a musical sequence akin to ‘Blunt the Knives’.
Plus again, the film will need to remind us that, yes, there are still orcsafter the company, as well as some now rather pissed off goblins. Azog will have a minute or so to rant and snarl.
So, the company gets to Mirkwood, let’s say about forty minutes in, Gandalf says farewell in what will probably be a prolonged scene, and rides off. They enter Mirkwood. The film’s going to have to show at least a few days passing, as well as the nights, in order to set the atmosphere and let them get weary and scuffed up. They’ll talk, have discussions with each other. They’ll get grouchy. They’ll get scared. Possibly Bilbo will climb the tree to look above the canopy. I’d be surprised if they didn’t do that, it’d make for a beautiful shot.
As I’ve said before, there’s no certainty that they’ll use the stream or the Elves feasting, so possibly the company just gets ambushed in the dark by the spiders. Bilbo gets knocked out, wakes up to being wrapped up for storage by a spider, kills it, hyperventilates but gets over it, names his sword, and mans up. (Even though this whole bit has already been undermined by his killing of that orc in the first film, but eh. You can always stand to man up a bit more.) He sees the Ring where he obviously dropped it – good image from the trailer – and the metaphorical light bulb will switch on and the ‘One Ring Theme’ will play, no doubt.
Now, here’s where it gets hazy and – hoh boy, also marks the appearance of those two people who’ve caused such debates among the fandom.
Certain promotional material (and LEGO, we’re pointing the finger at you) would suggest the Wood Elves are the ones who rescue the dwarves from the spiders, not Bilbo. And there was much howling. I like to think – again judging by what I’ve seen of behind-the-scenes footage on The Hobbit blog – that Bilbo does manage at least to free the dwarves from the webs, and draws the spiders off while his friends try to escape. Inevitably some of the spiders come back, the dwarves are surrounded, all looks as if it’s lost and then whooo! Here come the Elves, who beat the spiders, hurrah!!!
And then proceed to take the dwarves prisoner. Hurroo.
To be fair, this is all conjecture. The Elves could be introduced fighting orcs in some other bit of the forest – orcs who went in after the dwarves, perhaps, tying plot threads together for the win – and just happen to pick up the company on their way back to the ranch. We know they definitely nab them while the latter are still covered in webs, judging by that shot of Gloin in the trailer, which suggests the company hasn’t had an opportunity to get the stuff off yet.
So, the Elves would take their prisoners back to Thranduil’s halls, with plenty of shots of the place as they go through it, as if to say ‘Don’t you wish you could live in a place like this, even if you’re claustrophobic!’ Also, there will be opportunities to show the racism of the two species towards each other, as well as possible interaction between Kili and Tauriel and the establishment of any admiration he might have towards her.
Yes, I went there.
They’re brought before Thranduil. Thranduil recognises Thorin, of course. No doubt if Thorin’s looks could maim, Thranduil would be a pretty silver leaf crown nestled atop a pile of mince. Possibly this could be a call back to the prologue, only now it’s Thorin coming before Thranduil. A big tension filled scene will possibly ensue, with Thranduil somewhat regretful because I’m sure that, however arrogant he is and however much he was justified, he still recognises that Thorin has every right to be pissed off as all hell at him, and this will be reflected in his performance. Surely it will.
Even after much grilling on Thranduil’s part, Thorin and his comrades will not talk, so they are all imprisoned and Bilbo has to sneak around to save them, and really, who knows how long this section could take? There could be prison scenes with the dwarves hitting the bars with their mugs. There could be extended sequences of sneaking about on Bilbo’s part. There could be discussions between Thranduil and Legolas about the dwarves, possibly with a flashback. There could be cuts to whatever Gandalf or Elrond or Galadriel or Saruman or Radagast or Azog or the Necromancer or even Beorn might be doing. There could be bits with Kili flirting with Tauriel and her remaining oblivious.
Or even reciprocating.
Yes, I went there again.
My point is, all this is probably going to take a while, quite likely so as not to make it seem too easy when they actually do manage to escape. Let’s not even begin to discuss whether Tauriel helps them bust out or not; in that way lies madness.
So: barrels. Rather than be sealed inside, it looks like they’ll be riding them like the most insane water ride ever. This bit will likely be fraught with peril and such, and fill up at least five minutes or so. They wash up on a bank that is probably not anywhere near Lake Town. They still need to get to Lake Town.
During all that has just passed, we’ll likely be cutting to Gandalf in Dol Guldur. Because, come on, you know he’s going to be in Dol Guldur, the trailer said so. The Necromancer will also be doing his thang, so Benedict can collect that second pay cheque.
When the company do get to Lake Town, they need to interact with the Master of Lake Town and Bard, so that Bard doesn’t come out of flaming nowhere as he does in the book. Probably he’d be down by the docks, being all gloomy about the fish and stuff. (Just an aside; Jackson, how could you give Stephen Fry a comb over?!?!?) They need to get their stuff together and get to the Mountain. Supposedly the Master has this sneaky servant that he’s going to plot with, which adds another plot thread. Thranduil probably hears of all this and glares. They actually do get to the Mountain – hey, they actually could make it before the end of the film, I have proved myself wrong! (Pats self on the back in congratulatory manner.)
Another light bulb moment with the thrush knocking, Bilbo would go down into the Mountain, with lots of lovely shots of all the lovely golden things…as well as a glimpse of the Arkenstone, per chance? Foreshadowing. He steals the cup, Smaug wakes up and goes crazy. Bilbo would nip down again, be confronted by Smaug, leading to many many many squees as Bilbo and Sherlock are reunited again in Middle Earth. Yeah.
Or possibly Smaug would catch him, for a given amount of catch, on the first go. Anyway, Smaug would then go crazy some more, burn Lake Town and be killed by Bard as the big finale of the second film. Judging by the poster for the film with the giant lizard raining the fiery death upon the land and all, to say nothing of the title, this might well be how it goes down.
That could work.
Will it work, though?
This is still sinews over bare bones. The meat of the film is going to be lots of talking, lots of expositing, lots of scenery shots, and lots and lots of fighting. And…dare I say it? Yes, yes I do: probably at least one flashback. We’re going to need to see what Radagast and the orcs are getting up to, if I’m any judge. We’re going to need to see what Gandalf does when he drops out of the book for however many pages. We’re going to need to establish the Necromancer as an actual, legitimate threat, not just a shadowy thing that stands in ruins and does something that shall henceforth be known as the whisper-scream.
All of which takes time.
Far from being pondering if they’ll actually reach the Mountain in the next film, I now ponder if Smaug will be revealed but not be given enough time to do him justice. We’re only going to see Smaug three times, so to speak; he will need to have enough of a presence in the film that it’s impressive and satisfying when he cops it. Can the second film give us that?
Alternately, Jackson might actually do a ‘Two Towers Ending’ and move Smaug’s death to the start of the third film, and instead have the major climax of the second film be the White Council’s defeat and driving out of the Necromancer…or whatever they’re going to do to him in this version, since he doesn’t actually have a stronghold in Dol Guldur, he’s just being shadowy, whisper-screaming and summoning his undead servants to hide in statues.
For some reason.
(Also, according to the word on the internet grape-vine, keeping Thrain as a prisoner, the evidence for which is rather convincing, but we shall have to wait and see.)
I’m undecided as to which would be better; if Smaug dies in the second film, we’d spend most of the third film gearing up to the Battle of the Five Armies, with Gandalf et Co fooling around down south doing whatever to Sauron, and Bilbo and the dwarves just holed up in the mountain while everyone else gathers at the gates and plays the waiting game, getting more and more tetchy until Bilbo can’t take it anymore and breaks the stalemate by betraying his epic bromance with Thorin.
(What? You know that’s how we’re all going to paint it.)
Whereas if Smaug dies in the beginning of the third film, it starts with a bang but again we’re playing the waiting game up until the Battle of the Five Armies. Also, there’s a rumour that Sauron’s going to show up at the battle as well, please god let that only be Benedict Cumberbatch losing track of stuff, I love Sauron but not nearly that much.
Where was I going with this again?
All right, so through not so careful analysis I’ve accepted they’ll almost certainly get to the mountain by the end of the next film, despite earlier scepticism. Thorin and Thranduil will share smouldering glances, Bilbo and Smaug will be giffed to high heaven, and Kili may even score.
Yes, I’m still going there.
But, after all the padding in the first film, I can safely say we’ve got a hell of a way to go, and how much time they give Smaug, to say nothing of precisely when they’re going to off him, is going to be a source of much pondering over the next few months.
Next trailer pleez, Jackson? xx