Speculation continues about 'Hobbit' movies


When I read two months ago that the upcoming “Hobbit” film was going to be split from two into three parts, I almost got as angry as Smaug did when Bilbo Baggins stole a small part of the dragon’s treasure in the Lonely Mountain.
 
I originally thought that stretching a tightly written, 272-page story into two films was, well, a bit of a stretch. But after reading again the classic fantasy tale by J.R.R. Tolkien, I thought director Peter Jackson could pull it off. There’s enough exposition and epic action in it to make for two thrillers. I wrote a blog about it last year on how I thought they would be split up. In short, I theorized that the first would end with Bilbo and the dwarves arriving in the lake town of Esgaroth after escaping the spiders and the elves. Then the second would incorporate the treasure/Smaug/Esgaroth fight, ending with the terrible Battle of the Five Armies.
 
With the surprise announcement of a third film, my theories appear to be burned up. At first, I was not happy. It seemed preposterous to stretch a beloved children’s story into a third film, in what seems to be a grab for more box-office cash, merchandising opportunities, etc. I was sure such a plan would ruin a terrific story. Then I read public statements from Jackson about how he and his writers (nearly the same group from the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) have culled material from the appendices of “The Return of the King,” which top 100 pages. The appendices flesh out the world of Middle-earth, including the rise of the evil lord Sauron. Jackson has had the rights to the appendices for many years and even included some of that material in his Oscar-winning trilogy.
 
Now that I’ve calmed down a bit, I’m more hopeful that Jackson and his team know what they’re doing. This could be another case study in how to adapt a richly layered novel into epic cinema. Jackson & Co. did it the first time, and they certainly have the talent and know-how to do it again.
 
After re-reading the book, here are my revised theories on how “The Hobbit” storyline is going to be told over three films:
 
“THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” (release date: Dec. 14)
 

Expect a long exposition at the beginning, similar to “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Even though this is a prequel, Jackson needs to tie into the previous films and explain Middle-earth. The news that Elijah Wood and Ian Holm (the actors who played Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, respectively, in the “Rings” films) are in the movie suggest Jackson is going to do just that. Then, I think the film will follow the book pretty closely, with the 13 dwarves meeting Bilbo and Gandalf at Bilbo’s house and beginning their perilous journey to reclaim the lost treasure at the Lonely Mountain.
 
I still believe the film is going to end with Bilbo and the dwarves, minus Gandalf, escaping Mirkwood Forest and arriving in Esgaroth. It’s a natural break in their long journey, and Jackson likes to end his films in a big, heart-pounding way. The group’s battle with the spiders and subsequent escape from the wood-elves should be an appropriate climax. However, recent promotional artwork suggests the story may end a few chapters earlier, right after the group’s fight against the wargs and goblins. This is a logical scenario, because soon after that battle, Gandalf breaks with the group right before they enter Mirkwood. It’s an emotional moment, especially after they recovered from their wounds at the home of the man-bear Beorn. I imagine the movie fading to black as Bilbo and the dwarves enter Mirkwood’s gloom. This could happen.
 
But I think this is an unlikely scenario. Frankly, the escape from Mirkwood is more thrilling and directly leads into the next phase of the group’s journey. And imdb.com now backs me up. The unofficial movie description for the second film now reads, “After encountering dangers and obstacles in Mirkwood ...” Hopefully, I’m right.
 
“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (release date: Dec. 13, 2013)
 
By just reading this title, I conclude that Jackson is going to end this second film with the battle between Smaug and Esgaroth, with Smaug getting killed and destroying Esgaroth in the process. It would be a fitting climax, and gives Jackson plenty of room in the third film to build up to an even bigger smackdown, the Battle of the Five Armies.
 
In the book, Tolkien doesn’t spend much time exploring Esgaroth, and it appears that Jackson will spend a lot more time here, maybe a quarter of the film. Then the rest of the story will be about Bilbo and the dwarves traveling to the Lonely Mountain and trying to reclaim their treasure from the dragon.
 
In this movie, I expect to see some backstory about Smaug. I imagine Jackson including some scenes from Chapter 2 in the book, where leader Thorin Oakenshield explains to Bilbo about how the evil dragon stole the treasure from his family and the dwarves. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw some of this story in the first film, which would help establish why the group is going on the journey in the first place.
 
Where exactly Jackson ends this film will be interesting to watch. Does he finish with the wood-elves helping rescue the Esgaroth residents, followed by the elves and men combining forces and heading toward the mountain? I imagine the movie ending with the men and elves staring at the mountain, vowing to claim the treasure, while Bilbo and the dwarves are a few steps ahead of them. They've already claimed it and are ready to protect it at all costs. It’s a setup for a major conflict, bigger than anyone can imagine.
 
“THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN” (release date: July 18, 2014)
 

Thankfully, the wait time between the second and third films is only six months. I don’t have to guess to see how this film is going to end. It’ll be the epic Battle of the Five Armies (which Jackson will probably blow out to Pelennor Fields proportions), followed by Bilbo’s journey home. Does Jackson end it just like the book, with Bilbo handing Gandalf a tobacco jar at his home at Bag End in a happy, restful moment? After all, “The Return of the King” ended just like the book. My guess is that Jackson will do so.
 
But a big mystery surrounds the sudden creation of this new movie. Assuming my scenarios about the second film are correct, what’s the story gonna be for at least half of this movie? My feeling is that Jackson will make the wizards fight with — and eventual victory over — the evil Necromancer at his dark lair of Dol Guldur in Mirkwood a significant but secondary component of the film. Remember, in the book, Gandalf doesn’t come to the Lonely Mountain until right before the battle at Lonely Mountain. As readers discovered later, Gandalf spent several chapters spurring the White Council (including Radagast the Brown and Saruman) to take on the Necromancer, the spirit form of Sauron.
 
I think that Jackson will try to bridge this film to “Fellowship of the Ring” by exploring the wizards and the Necromancer. This would help set up “Fellowship,” which happens 60 years later when Sauron is extremely powerful and Bilbo gives Frodo the One Ring.
 
It’s clear that, from the new trailer, that Radagast is going to make an appearance in "An Unexpected Journey," likely with the other wizards. Perhaps Jackson will introduce moviegoers to the council and the beginning of their quest to drive out the Necromancer. I can see that storyline extending throughout all three films. While telling this portion of the story, Jackson could include the rise of Sauron, which is written in the appendices. That could make for a compelling narrative.
 
FINAL THOUGHTS
 
In a press statement, Jackson said that he plans to conduct “a few weeks” of extra shooting next year in New Zealand to flesh out “The Hobbit” story. By doing it next year, and facing tight deadlines for the second film, it seems that these new scenes would be added into the final film, which doesn’t come out until the summer of 2014. I’m guessing Jackson is going to explore some “Hobbit” subplots, including the dwarves battle with the goblins in the Mines of Moria, which Thorin Oakenshield briefly talks about in the book.
 
With all the possibilities created by adding a third film, Tolkien fans are almost guaranteed that these two riveting side stories will be told over the course of the trilogy: the wizards’ battle with the Necromancer and the rise of Sauron.
 
Truth be told, I’m only scratching the surface of what could happen in the upcoming “Hobbit” films. As a lifelong fan of Tolkien (and his writing cohort C.S. Lewis), I’m looking forward to see how Jackson & Co. are going to tell these stories in the fantastical world of Middle-earth.
 
Be still my beating heart. My anger has subsided. Now, I can’t wait until the midnight showings on Dec. 14.