Desolation of Smaug article in CINEMA Magazine – December Issue
[Translated from German by ArchedCory. Magazine scans from Bilbo-Babe on Tumblr. Spoilers ahead.]
Voracious giant spiders on the hunt, a dwarf in love, green guys in bodysuits and the fattest rugby team in the world: On set of Peter Jackson’s sequel to “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey” in Wellington, New Zealand, CINEMA dived into a bizarre fantasy world.
Waiting they stand there: Two eerie creatures in skin-tight green bodysuits. Their faces are hidden behind sock masks, only the eyes are visible through slits. Suddenly a command is heard and the spandex duo mutates into two beasts. Fast and without remorse they attack a dwarf and a pointy-eared beauty who fight back with sticks that have orange spots on their ends. After a few minutes of battle a relaxed “Cut” can be heard. Peter Jackson emerges from behind a screen with a cup of tea in his hand. He smiles and praises the attackers as well as his actors Aidan Turner and Evangeline Lilly for their timing – because of the scale differences between dwarves and elves they were recorded in the same hall but on two different sets in front of green screens and are later put together on the computer into the same scene. A little bit later he lets them repeat everything. Only with perfection can the threefold Oscar-winner shoot one of his big action scenes in his second “Hobbit” adventure: the attack of the giant spiders on dwarves, Bilbo and the elves of Mirkwood.
The horror insects [sic!] however are not visible on this frosty day in September 2011 in the Stone Street Studios in Wellington. Their part is played by the stuntmen in green outfits, later on they will digitally become arachnids. But the spider attack is by far not the only thing Jackson has prepared for his second “Hobbit” adaptation. Due to his decision to add elements from the appendices of “Return of the King” to the 300 pages of the original to his screen version, in “Desolation of Smaug” the viewer can now delve even deeper into the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Next to skin-changer Beorn also bowman Bard (Luke Evans) from Laketown Esgaroth and the elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace), whose dungeons Thorin & Co escape in wine barrels, will get more screen time. And when the White Council (Gandalf, Radagast, Galadriel, Saruman, Elrond) wields their staffs longer than the book suggests against the Necromancer alias Sauron, dwarf fans will be just as delighted as when they first encounter the fire breathing Smaug. However just as the battle of the five kingdoms [sic!] we will see the death of the dragon in the final film in 2014.
The complete design of the winged greedy creature voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”) is still kept secret. The only detail revealed in interviews is that the artists of effects company WETA have sought influence from real world reptiles. However they emphasize that not all anatomical peculiarities of reptiles can be depicted in large scale. Richard Armitage alias Thorin reveals that he imagined his nemesis developed on computer screens as a giant, black beast.
After the fashion of the “Rings” films Jackson uses a balanced combination of CGI and real locations for the realization of his “Hobbit” visions. So there are about 1900 digital effects used for “Desolation of Smaug”, part 1 had 2136 due to longer runtime. In contrast to that they built a bunch of sets, mainly built in the Soundstages of the Stone Street Studios including their outdoor area on an area of over 11.000 square meters. This vast area combines electricians, carpenters, tailors and a lot of other craftsmen under just one roof. Laketown Esgaroth – which was built in 12 weeks – with its nooks and crannies, arched bridges and 54 different houses is a masterpiece of film architecture. Let alone Mirkwood which is poisoned during the story by the witchcraft of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur and which was actually planted on two different production stages. Its colouration was chosen flashy on purpose to keep the psychedelic atmosphere of the undergrowth in the colour-swallowing 3D version.
However the almost impenetrable tangle of blue-green tree trunks and grey ooze is not only the source for fear and loathing. Winking humour and a bit romantic vibe should have their room next to all the gloom. After they save each other’s lives in the fight against the spiders, “pin-up dwarf” Kili tries to court the sylvan warrior Tauriel. A Mission Impossible.
The role of the impetuous wood elf Tauriel seems to fit perfectly to the athletic body of Evangeline Lilly. On set the Canadian moves gracefully and deadly at the same time in her dark green clothes and brown leather armour, as if her role has always been part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world. But in reality the seductive elf was invented by script writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, who wanted to compensate the surplus on smelly and sweaty orcs and dwarves from the book.
Preceding the films there was a lot of speculation on Orlando Bloom’s return as the ethereal Legolas – after all he doesn’t appear in Tolkien’s novel. To Peter Jackson however the Sindar elf is indispensable: “Legolas was already alive during the time of the ‘Hobbit’. My goal was to make all six films appear as a single story. So to create a continuity with the first three films Legolas was ideal. Also he was very popular.”
By that the “Rings” master definitely doesn’t mean dwarf Gimli, with whom Legolas fought in the previous trilogy and whose father Gloin he ironically meets after the spider attack. This scene is also planned for this 85th day of shooting and in it Legolas and six of his warriors come to the aid of the dwarves against the spiders, only to take them captive right after. When going through their belongings Legolas grabs a drawing of Gloin’s wife and Gimli. “Who is this dwarf that has a longer beard than you?” – “How dare you? That’s my wife!” This is not the way that new friendships are forged. Brotherhoods however are. These kind of funny moments seem to be an exception in the middle part of Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy. It is often compared to the gloomy “The Two Towers”, Jackson’s favourite film of the “Rings” trilogy.
It doesn’t happen often that a director competes with himself. But Peter Jackson is not afraid of comparisons with his “LotR” spectacles, after all his new trilogy has another, lighter tone according to the book. And even after 13 years in Middle-earth the 52 year old cinema junkie and prop collector (amongst others he owns the miracle car of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and the original skeleton of 1933 “King Kong”) may still come up with surprises.
“You can send him suggestions for the next day on the afternoon and at 3 am you get an answer with additional ideas”, says Richard Armitage. “That somehow makes you feel ashamed for your relaxed actor job.”
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The Venice of Middle-earth:
An important plot element in “Desolation of Smaug” are the events in Laketown Esgaroth which is built on poles on the Long Lake. There the surviving men of Dale have sought refuge. And also Bilbo and the dwarves will be welcomed after their flight from the wood elves. From Esgaroth – which was partially built in the Stone Street Studios – the company sets off to Erebor. In “There and Back Again” the town will feel the wrath of the dragon.
Group picture with the “fattest Rugby Team in the world”:
At the same time as the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, which the All Blacks could win against France, the shooting for all three “Hobbit” films took place in Wellington. Here number-one-hobbit Peter Jackson gathered the how he calls it “Cast from Hell” for a group picture. Dwarves have never looked happier and more peaceful!
Flight to the skin-changer:
On the borders of Mirkwood in Wilderland Gandalf the Grey, hobbit Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves seek refuge in the home of skin-changer Beorn – a solitary and grumpy hermit who lives with his animals far away from other humans and has the ability to change into a mighty bear.
[Image of what is likely to be a flashback to the initial meeting between Gandalf and Thorin in Bree -D.J.]
A journey into the heart of darkness:
On their odyssey to the Lonely Mountain, where the dwarves want to reclaim their treasure from the gruesome dragon Smaug, the defensible travel group comes also through Mirkwood in Rhovanion – where they will be captured by Thranduil’s elves and thrown into the dungeons, to the Long Lake on the foot of Erebor and to the home of the skin-changer Beorn.
New Zealand – the Mecca for all Middle-earth fans and hobby hobbits:
Fantasy fans who survived the 24 hours flight into the land of the Kiwis can expect numerous original locations of “Desolation of Smaug” and the other Middle-earth films. On the north island for example one should visit Waikato where wargs and orcs attacked the dwarves in film 1. On the south island one should see Mount Earnslaw – the “Misty Mountains” – as well as Pelorus River, where the spectacular barrel flight was shot for three weeks.
The “Hobbit” trilogy facts:
To bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s world to life once again in New Zealand, 99 studio sets, 7000 drawings of figures, locations, etc., 700 wigs were made and four tons of silicone used. During the shooting the crew drank coffee worth 234.875 Euros and flew 6750 times through the country. Only one percent of props from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy could be used again, such as some armour used in flashbacks.
New characters and old acquaintances – fresh blood for “Desolation of Smaug”:
Bard – Especially in film 3 the bowman played by Luke Evans will have a key role: Both in the fight against dragon Smaug as well as in the Battle of Five Armies his arrows will settle the fate of Middle-earth. Later Bard rules as king in the re-built city of Dale.
Tauriel – Not originally from Tolkien this female elf will be played by Evangeline Lilly. She is 600 years old, rebellious and an excellent warrior.
Master of Laketown – Narcissistic, cowardly, scheming: a perfect role for author and comedian Stephen Fry, who loves to make fun of snobs and opportunists.
Thranduil (Lee Pace) – the best sword fighter in Middle-earth and king of the wood elves. A suspicious man, who puts the well-being of his people above everything else.
Legolas (Orlando Bloom) – His son isn’t mentioned in the book, but was put into the plot by Peter Jackson, to build a bridge to “Lord of the Rings”.