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Even a year before the film premieres, Hobbitmania is in full swing.  Fans have been anticipating the showing of the teaser trailer for months, and for some, this is the ultimate Christmas present (well at least it’s better than that knitted cardigan your Aunt Hazel made for you).  Watching it last week confirmed that the faith I’ve had in the project for the past year was not misplaced, to put it mildly.  After reading numerous reviews, it appears to me that Peter Jackson’s vision of The Hobbit meets or exceeds fan expectations.  More art and soul have gone into making this two and a half minute film clip than many movies I’ve seen.  There are several places where I felt chills upon viewing (and hearing) these scenes, and many reviewers describe feeling a similar rush of emotion as they watch it.

Admittedly, it would be hard to fail given that the Oscar winning combination of composer Howard Shore, writers Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens, and Weta Workshop are at the helm.  The story and characters are already beloved in their literary forms, and in the case of a few, (like Gandalf and Bilbo,) their previous cinema incarnations have been warmly accepted.  The only thing that might hinder the sale of this tale to an audience clamoring for more Tolkien, is the inclusion of 13 squabbling dwarves, a possibility which Jackson took very seriously before signing on to direct the project.  But after initially viewing so may belligerent heroes as a drawback, he discovered that “their energy and disdain of anything politically correct brings a new kind of spirit to the film” (Total Film, February 2012).  Although smaller than average height, they have larger-than-life personalities, and the trailer promises viewers will have no shortage of characters to love!

The trailer starts out as everyone expects it should, with the opening music welcoming you back to Hobbiton, even before the first frame reveals the green grass, and homely holes of the Shire.

Bilbo and Frodo are chatting sometime before the party takes place in Fellowship of the Ring.  This cheery glimpse allows the audience to think they are on familiar territory, but the next shot of old Bilbo at his writing desk gives the first clue that there is something darker, holed up within the quaint confines of Bag End.  It is confirmed by the first closeup of Ian Holm.

Bilbo appears here, not as a satisfied writer putting the last flourish on a paragraph, but as a conflicted soul, debating choices made long ago, and agonizing over what he should, or should not, share.  People wondered how The Hobbit was going to meet the standards set by Lord of the Rings, when the story itself is less complex, and the dramatic stakes are not as high.  Solution: cast great actors!  Just because fewer acres of Middle Earth are in peril this time does not mean it will matter less to the participants in the quest.  I’ve no doubt the actors will show their emotional prowess at all the right times.

But between the dramatic bits, The Hobbit promises fun.  The mood brightens again when Ian McKellen’s Gandalf shows up, and it feels as if nothing has changed in the 10 years since Fellowship debuted.  Martin Freeman’s younger Bilbo (who manages to appear both freshly naive, and wisely pragmatic) tries to cope with 13 new acquaintances, a balky form of transportation, and an early departure time.

Bilbo’s future companions all appear to be quirky, yet endearing, as Gandalf dutifully runs through the dwarven roll call. But throughout the introductions, like a river flowing underground, runs a deep bass note, its source revealed when Gandalf at last introduces Thorin Oakenshield.  Peter Jackson has obviously been keeping this Thorin under wraps the whole year.  We have been given tiny glimpses in the video logs, and I have speculated previously about how the character will be portrayed, but nothing really prepares you for the full introduction.

When advance reports of The Hobbit trailer appeared, I had to wonder if the reviewers were being facetious about the rumored dwarf song being “a thing of beauty.” In one of Peter Jackson’s video logs we were given a taste of some out-of-character singing by Stephen Hunter’s Bombur and Graham McTavish’s Dwalin.  Although their death metal version of “Merry Old Inn” was amusing, it had me a little worried about what Jackson would choose to use in the film, especially since that song comes from Fellowship of the Ring.  It turns out my fears were groundless.  The lyrics chosen for the trailer are from one of the more dramatic songs in The Hobbit;

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old

The pines were roaring on the height,
The winds were moaning in the night.
The fire was red, it flaming spread;
The trees like torches blazed with light.

The voice of Thorin, deep as the bedrock from which the dwarves of legend came, rolls up to meet the challenge of obliterating the dwarf stereotype.  Although the song could have been interpreted very differently, here this quiet, and tremendously personal rendition, seeks to win viewer sympathy.  Conspicuously absent is any mention about reclaiming gold from dragons, but the song still functions as it does in the book, to suck outsiders into the world of the dwarves.  In The Hobbit, Bilbo feels its pull:

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”

“Far over...” Thorin intones softly. The harmony between his voice and the instrumental background sets up an auditory buzz that is replicated physiologically, as a prickle flares along my spine in response. It is reminiscent of Viggo Mortensen's soulful vow at Aragorn's coronation in Return of the King. But this time, you won't have to learn elvish to sing along!

The camera pans around the room, through the smoke of Fili’s pipe, to the face of Thorin.  Richard Armitage’s dwarf king appears almost trance-like, and sings with unexpected sensitivity.  It is an interesting choice for a character who is known for being loud, proud, and pompous. I feel those traits will have plenty of time to surface during the course of the film, but here, the director has given Oakenshield an introspective quality, establishing early on that this dwarf will not be one-dimensional.

But the gravitas is not limited to Thorin alone.  As Balin slowly rises, all the dwarves stand respectfully, voices gravely contributing.  While some may be comic (indeed Bombur is still eating in the hallway during the song) these are folk who have been displaced, and disgraced, and they feel sorrow—as well as a need for vengeance—over the wrongs that have been heaped on them.  The dwarves move slowly and reverently, as if afraid to chase away spirits summoned by the song.  The stillness of the scene is a perfect contrast to what one expects to find in a big action/adventure epic.  Making this slow dirge the centerpiece of the first trailer shows Peter Jackson has a refreshing faith in the maturity of his audience.

But there is adventure enough, never fear!  Intercuts to the map of Thror are used to great effect, showing us glimpses of a key prop, the route the Company will follow, and introducing the Lonely Mountain and Smaug without ever naming them!  There is the sound of wind rushing across empty spaces in dark places, and we see Gandalf with sword and staff, ready to face unknown danger.

We know not where he is, or why (though some may have a guess) but before we find out, we are given a vision of Bilbo at a private viewing of one of the most important relics of Middle Earth. All the while the song continues its journey through dream and nightmare.

Many of the scenes in the trailer were intended to be visual parallels with those in the trilogy, and much like a well-crafted musical refrain, they reinforce themes rather than play for mere nostalgia.

The glory of seeing Galadriel and Gandalf standing on a precipice in Rivendell, surrounded by a desperately beautiful palate of colors, is unmatched (especially in 1080p).  Her touch upon Gandalf’s hair may be read differently by each viewer, but can any deny how the slightest flicker across the face of the wizard conveys a tender return of affection and understanding?

The song comes to a close, and Thorin denies all future culpability regarding the hobbit’s life. For a second, Gandalf is surprised, but as the frame fades to black, the slightest nod of his head shows he accepts the risk.

And if that weren’t enough to engage you, the music ramps up, and we see elven warriors on horses menacing a cluster of dwarves, and those glorious wide angle shots of the full company crossing middle earth.

Next, it’s a jarring rush of action that reveals glimpses of events we might expect, like the “chip the glasses, crack the plates” scene of the dwarves washing up after dinner, as well as scenes we may not be familiar with yet, such as Gandalf fighting against an unknown enemy (see previous post).

Then Bilbo, point blank, asks Gandalf what is really on his mind, “Can you promise that I will come back?” And Gandalf answers, truthfully.

The last scene reunites us with one more old “friend”. It is a moment that fills one with dread, and also a sense of coming full circle.  When Gollum’s eyes shine out, a moment before the frame fades to black and gold credits, I feel the chills rush like wildfire all over again.

Can’t get enough of the Misty Mountains song?  Some very talented musicians have already deciphered the melody and presented their interpretations on Youtube!  Perhaps this will help tide us over until next December.

“Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold”

On Piano

On Violin