From Academy AwardÂ®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes âThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,â the second in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The three films tell a continuous story set in Middle-earth 60 years before âThe Lord of the Rings,â which Jackson and his filmmaking team brought to the big screen in the blockbuster trilogy that culminated with the OscarÂ®-winning âThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.â
âThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaugâ continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, on an epic quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
Having survived the beginning of their unexpected journey, the Company continues East, encountering along the way the skin-changer Beorn and a swarm of giant Spiders in the treacherous forest of Mirkwood. After escaping capture by the dangerous Wood-elves, the Dwarves journey to Lake-town, and finally to the Lonely Mountain itself, where they must face the greatest danger of allâa creature more terrifying than any other; one which will test not only the depth of their courage but the limits of their friendship and the wisdom of the journey itself - the Dragon Smaug.
Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey, with Martin Freeman in the central role of Bilbo Baggins, and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. The international ensemble cast is led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, and Orlando Bloom as Legolas. The film also stars Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Aidan Turner, Dean OâGorman, Graham McTavish, Adam Brown, Peter Hambleton, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, William Kircher, Stephen Hunter, Ryan Gage, John Bell, Manu Bennett and Lawrence Makoare.
The screenplay for âThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaugâ is by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Jackson also produced the film, together with Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner and Fran Walsh. The executive producers are Alan Horn, Toby Emmerich, Ken Kamins and Carolyn Blackwood, with Philippa Boyens and Eileen Moran serving as co-producers.
The creative behind-the-scenes team is led by director of photography Andrew Lesnie, production designer Dan Hennah, editor Jabez Olssen and composer Howard Shore. The costumes are designed by Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey and Richard Taylor. Taylor is also overseeing the design and production of armour, weapons, creatures and special makeup, which are once again being made by the award-winning Weta Workshop. OscarÂ®-winning visual effects studio Weta Digital is again handling the visual effects for the film, led by senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri. The hair and makeup designer is Peter Swords King. The conceptual designers are John Howe and Alan Lee. The visual effects supervisor is Eric Saindon, with David Clayton & Eric Reynolds serving as animation supervisors
Under Jacksonâs direction, âThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaugâ was shot in 3D 48 frames-per-second and will be released in High Frame Rate 3D (HFR 3D) in select theaters, other 2D and 3D formats, and IMAXÂ®. Production took place at Jacksonâs own facilities in Miramar, Wellington, and on location around New Zealand. Post production took place at Park Road Post Production in Wellington.
New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Present a Wingnut Films Production, âThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.â The film is a production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM), with New Line managing production. Warner Bros. Pictures is handling worldwide theatrical distribution, with select international territories as well as all international television distribution being handled by MGM.
From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the second in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The three films tell a continuous story set in Middle-earth 60 years before “The Lord of the Rings,” which Jackson and his filmmaking team brought to the big screen in the blockbuster trilogy that culminated with the Oscar®-winning “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, on an epic quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
Having survived the beginning of their unexpected journey, the Company travels East, encountering along the way the skin-changer Beorn and a swarm of giant Spiders in the treacherous forest of Mirkwood. After escaping capture by the dangerous Wood-elves, the Dwarves journey to Lake-town, and finally to the Lonely Mountain itself, where they must face the greatest danger of all—a creature more terrifying than any other; one which will test not only the depth of their courage but the limits of their friendship and the wisdom of the journey itself—The Dragon Smaug.
Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey, with Martin Freeman in the central role of Bilbo Baggins, and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. The international ensemble cast is led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, and Orlando Bloom as Legolas. The film also stars Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Graham McTavish, Adam Brown, Peter Hambleton, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, William Kircher, Stephen Hunter, Ryan Gage, John Bell, Manu Bennett and Lawrence Makoare.
The screenplay for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Jackson also produced the film, together with Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner and Fran Walsh. The executive producers are Alan Horn, Toby Emmerich, Ken Kamins and Carolyn Blackwood, with Philippa Boyens and Eileen Moran serving as co-producers.
The creative behind-the-scenes team is led by director of photography Andrew Lesnie, production designer Dan Hennah, editor Jabez Olssen and composer Howard Shore. The costumes are designed by Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey and Richard Taylor. Taylor is also overseeing the design and production of armour, weapons, creatures and special makeup, which are once again being made by the award-winning Weta Workshop. Oscar®-winning visual effects studio Weta Digital is again handling the visual effects for the film, led by senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri. The hair and makeup designer is Peter Swords King. The conceptual designers are John Howe and Alan Lee. The visual effects supervisor is Eric Saindon, with David Clayton & Eric Reynolds serving as animation supervisors.
Under Jackson’s direction, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” was shot in 3D 48 frames-per-second and will be released in High Frame Rate 3D (HFR 3D) in select theaters, other 2D and 3D formats, and IMAX®. Production took place at Jackson’s own facilities in Miramar, Wellington, and on location around New Zealand. Post production took place at Park Road Post Production in Wellington.
New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Present a Wingnut Films Production, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” The film is a production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM), with New Line managing production. Warner Bros. Pictures is handling worldwide theatrical distribution, with select international territories as well as all international television distribution being handled by MGM.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first film in “The Hobbit” Trilogy, was released in late 2012 and became a billion dollar success worldwide, inspiring fans from every generation and spawning renewed interest in the timeless masterpiece by J.R.R. Tolkien on which the Trilogy is based.
“The world of Tolkien is so rich,” says Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson. “It’s almost like you’re turning the page of a history book, going back into that world to a new chapter and seeing new characters, creatures, and places that you haven’t been to before.”
In adapting The Hobbit into three fully rounded motion pictures, Jackson and his screenwriting collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, along with Guillermo del Toro, found they had the freedom to avoid having to cut or condense the narrative of the book while also incorporating material from the 125 pages of appendices that Tolkien included at the end of The Lord of the Rings. With these extensive notes about the environment and politics of Middle-earth during the time of The Hobbit, Tolkien provided vital connective tissue between Bilbo Baggins’s journey and the ultimate struggle for Middle-earth chronicled in The Lord of the Rings.
For the filmmakers who a decade ago brought that three-volume opus to the screen with “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, “The Hobbit” Trilogy presented them with an irresistible journey of their own: to fully explore the mysteries and dangers both hinted at and fully described in both the appendices and The Hobbit, while not compromising the tone of what was essentially written as a book for young people.
“The challenge of making these films is remaining true to the spirit of the book while also transitioning to the flavor and style of ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ and we were very aware of the tonal differences,” notes screenwriter and producer Fran Walsh. “The Hobbit is a much more playful book, but in the latter half of the novel, some of the heavier and darker themes that Tolkien developed in the later trilogy are really coming into play—the nature of power and courage, of greed and sacrifice. So it felt natural that the second film would have that slightly darker tone.”
With the film’s 15 primary characters already introduced in the first film, Jackson and his collaborators were also able to embrace what Jackson describes as the book’s “breathless pace” in the second. “You can step straight into the story from where the first film left off, so there’s little need for exposition,” he says. “At the same time, with the second film, the challenge was to deepen the conflict and increase the difficulty for our characters. I wanted it to feel a bit like a thriller, as the events intensify and the stakes go up. That’s what’s so exciting to me about this film—it’s a continuation of the story but takes you into a whole new world. We travel to new places, meet new people, and, of course, we get to see the iconic Tolkien moment of Bilbo’s confrontation with the Dragon.”
The film’s title refers to the destruction and ruin left in the wake of the Dragon Smaug’s powerful and vicious attack on the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, a fallout zone of charred lands, ruined cities and desperate people. “Dragons love gold, and this particular Dragon, who was mean and hungry at the time, was called Smaug,” explains Philippa Boyens, the avowed “Tolkien geek” among the screenwriting team. “He came down unexpectedly upon the Dwarves, and destroyed not only the Kingdom of Erebor but the City of Dale, which lay at the foot of the Lonely Mountain. It was a day of such destruction that it literally scarred the earth for miles around, which became known as the Desolation of Smaug.”
As a young Dwarf Prince, Thorin Oakenshield witnessed Smaug’s devastating attack on Erebor, losing his family, his status and his home in its aftermath. But after decades in exile, Thorin’s passion to reclaim his lost Kingdom has been rekindled. His destiny has brought him East on the path to the Lonely Mountain, traveling with his Company of 12 Dwarves—Balin (Ken Stott), Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili (Aidan Turner), Bofur (James Nesbitt), Bombur (Stephen Hunter), Bifur (William Kircher), Oin (John Callen), Gloin (Peter Hambleton), Dori (Mark Hadlow), Nori (Jed Brophy) and Ori (Adam Brown)—and a “burglar” in the form of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman.
Guiding the Company on its journey is the wise and occasionally mischievous Wizard Gandalf the Grey, once again embodied by Ian McKellen. “Gandalf is always trying to control everything,” says the iconic stage and film star. “His critics would call him a meddler. But he has a paternal side to his nature and feels protective not only of Bilbo, but of Thorin, who does need looking after. Thorin is a Dwarf who has problems. He rarely smiles, and has a sense of his own destiny, which can be a bit alarming because it involves putting other people in danger.”
The first film in the Trilogy saw the Company gather in Bag End, Bilbo’s cozy home in Hobbiton. Embarking on their adventure East, they are targeted by Orcs and Wargs, fight off hungry Trolls, and encounter the Wizard Radagast the Brown, who alerts Gandalf to dark changes in his beloved forest, now known as the Mirkwood. After an uncomfortable yet enlightening stay with the Elves of Rivendell, Bilbo and the Dwarves venture into the Misty Mountains, where they are soon caught up in a clash of Stone Giants, chased through the Goblin Tunnels, savagely attacked by Orcs, and rescued on the backs of giant Eagles. As the second film begins, Gandalf, Bilbo, Thorin and the Company are shaken and exhausted ... but not broken.
Perhaps most changed of all is Bilbo Baggins himself. “I think, as the journey continues, Bilbo is able to look at the world a bit more square on,” says Martin Freeman of the Hobbit at the center of the tale. “He is still the person he was; he is still frightened. He’s not a fighter or adventurer by nature, but to be among different species that want to kill him or eat him ... it doesn’t need to be said how huge a change that is. And Bilbo finds a bravery that he didn’t know he had, and, more importantly, that none of the others knew he had.”
From his encounter beneath the Goblin Tunnels in the cave of the emaciated and conniving creature known as Gollum, Bilbo has emerged with something more than his courage. He has managed to steal Gollum’s “precious” ring with the power to make its wearer invisible.
“Bilbo is beginning to have a strange relationship with this gold ring,” say Boyens. “He’s beginning to have a sense that there’s something off about it. It’s a tough choice for him to put it on and disappear, and he takes it off as soon as he can. Having such a great actor as Martin Freeman helps you find your way through this idea that this is not just a magic trinket that turns you invisible. Not every choice he had to make was a good choice down in those holes beneath the mountain.”
Bilbo chooses to conceal this new information from Gandalf, and, for McKellen, Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo in this moment illustrates the art the actor brings to his performance. “Martin has a palette of subtlety, and it’s often unpredictable,” McKellen observes. “He doesn’t like to do the same thing twice in front of the camera, so with a multitude of takes, in every one of those takes, Martin will give you a different nuance, a different color, a different aspect of the character he’s playing. You don’t know quite what’s going to happen next, which makes your reaction all the more real. With each take, I discovered something new about Bilbo.”
Leading the Company is the Dwarf warrior and King-in-Waiting Thorin Oakenshield, once again played by Richard Armitage, who—in spite of being surrounded by his nephews, Fili and Kili, his advisor Balin, and the other loyal Dwarves—is in many ways painfully alone. “I think one of the defining characteristics of Thorin is his inability to trust,” Armitage shares. “He has inherited a quest of vengeance from his father, and that burden is quite a lonely thing to carry. He’s a proud and arrogant character, but his paranoia that he’s not a good enough leader weighs him down. At the same time, I think that he has the potential to be inspired.”
Thorin’s insecurity is only deepened by the presence of another leader in Gandalf, and as Bilbo’s acts of loyalty and courage mount, he finds his trust shifting away from the Grey Wizard and toward the Hobbit. Freeman admits, “The friendship between Bilbo and Thorin is pretty hard won. Anyone who is sensitive or empathetic, which I think Bilbo is, can see that Thorin is basically not very happy, and when you see an unhappy person lashing out, it’s not very attractive, but you also want to help that person. Bilbo trusts that inside Thorin is a decent Dwarf and a good man.”
Thorin’s Quest is anything but simple, and every step they take only seems to put them on more dangerous ground. “This solitary Dwarven Quest has attracted unwanted attention with a variety of agendas attached to it,” Jackson states. “They are tripping wires every step along the way.”
The Orcs continue to stalk them through the Anduin Valley, riding on the backs of giant wolf-like Wargs. Their relentless pursuit leads Gandalf to seek shelter for the Company within the home of the mysterious and dangerous Beorn—who can change his skin from a giant man to an even larger bear. A creature of contradictions, Beorn can turn from calm to threatening in the blink of an eye. “You have got to be very careful which aspect of him you’re going to meet,” suggests McKellen.
While Beorn is no friend to Dwarves, he has greater reason to hate Orcs, which hunted the skin-changers to near-extinction. “He’s the last of his kind left in Middle-earth, and is not on anybody’s side,” Jackson relates. “He can be enormously dangerous when he transforms into a bear, but his heart is gentle and he loves animals. So just how much control he has of himself when he’s a bear is a question that is, to some degree, unanswered.”
To play the complex role, the filmmakers cast Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt. “Beorn is a fantastic character and a very unique creation,” Boyens says. “Gandalf wonderfully describes him as being ‘under no enchantment but his own,’ so when we started thinking about how to make this character come to life, we thought of the great Northern mythologies, of people living out in the Wild. And from the moment we met Mikael, he was our Beorn.”
Though his character is dangerous and unpredictable, Persbrandt sees the pathos in Beorn. “His human side is not quite human,” Persbrandt attests. “He’s quite aggressive, and even in his human form, he’s not like you and me; he’s something else. There’s something dark, sad and wild about him that you can’t really understand.”
Persbrandt was invited to retain his native accent for the character, and worked with dialect coach Leith McPherson make subtle adjustments for the role. “The way he speaks is slightly antiquated, shaped in a way that is not casual,” McPherson notes. “What Beorn has to say is profound; he chooses his words very carefully.”
Because of Beorn’s affinity with animals, the costume designers wanted him to wear clothes without any animal-based fabrics, right down to his canvas boots. Says costume designer Bob Buck, “We had to keep everything very simple, but, because he is clever with his hands, he’s got beautifully carved pieces of wood for a belt-buckle, with its two adjoining ends expressing his shape-shifting aspect—on one end is the head of a bear and the other end is the head of a human.”
This duality is also prevalent in his make-up design. Hair and makeup designer Peter Swords King and his team devised prosthetics that would give Beorn’s face an animal shape and bear-like teeth while remaining recognizably human. King sourced horse hair and dyed it multiple colors to create a Mohican-style wig that runs all the way down the actor’s back on a spine prosthetic. “His prosthetic spreads out very wide to suggest that even in his human state, there are still attributes of a bear there,” King describes. “In a sense, his hackles are always raised, which suggests how dangerous and predatory he can be. He is always on the edge of changing, but, when he does change into a bear, we’ll always recognize the eyes as they are very distinctive.”
Jackson worked with the design team and Weta Digital to ensure that on either side of his transformation, there would be no doubt of Beorn’s identity. Senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri notes, “A lot of effort went into translating not only the physical resemblance, but the emotion and personality between the human and the bear. We wanted to give him a mythical, animal look and also show the age and determination in him, because he’s the last of the skin-changers.”
After a night in Beorn’s home, the Company is eager to continue East. But a massive obstacle still stands in their path—Mirkwood—and to go around the seemingly infinite forest would take twice as long. Gandalf can direct them to the safest path forward, but will not be able to lead them through. He has other urgent matters in Middle-earth requiring his attention.
“Gandalf is always on the side of Middle-earth—to alert Middle-earth to dangers and try to put them right,” McKellen comments. “And he can’t be in two places at once, much as he’d like to be. What makes Gandalf so interesting is that he’s got a twinkle in his eye and is always ready with a rather light remark, but he’s deadly serious and knows best. He gets impatient when people don’t immediately do what he thinks is right, but sometimes has to leave them to discover their own inner strengths and get on with their task.”
Where Gandalf’s own quest takes him is part of the expanded universe of The Hobbit that the screenwriters mined from the details Tolkien provided in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings. Jackson explains, “In the book, Gandalf disappears at various times and where he goes is not explained. But, many years later, Tolkien devised ways in which Gandalf’s absence is tied into events in The Lord of the Rings. In this film, we’ve been able to retroactively fill in those gaps, which was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.”
Gandalf believes that the mysterious Necromancer that has risen at the abandoned fortress of Dol Guldur is connected to the changes he senses in Middle-earth. The ancient sword the Wizard Radagast the Brown, again played by Sylvester McCoy, recovered at the Dol Guldur does not belong in this world and only intensifies Gandalf’s fears, as revealed in the first film. “He is starting to sense the return of a great evil to Middle-earth,” Jackson says. “He believed it was vanquished many thousands of years earlier, but now he’s starting to pick up clues and signs that that might not be the case.”K
Boyens explains that the seeds of Gandalf’s mission were set at the meeting of the White Council in the first film by the Elf Queen Galadriel, played by Cate Blanchett. “Galadriel said to him, ‘Something moves in the shadows, something hidden from our sight. It will not show itself.’ That very important insight she has is about how certain atrocities can exist in the world and how evil can rise unnoticed. It was true when Professor Tolkien was writing these stories, and it is true now.”
Dol Guldur stands at the southern end of the Mirkwood, and the tide of evil has washed into the forest and contaminated it. Once called Greenwood the Great, the forest has become diseased and is now a dark and treacherous trap for any travelers that wander into it—which Thorin and the Dwarves have the misfortune of learning first-hand despite being so close to their goal. Boyens notes, “There is a strong sense that the old forest has a will of its own. An evil lies upon it now that leads you astray.”
Its toxic environment clouds their minds and lowers their guard. “Once you leave the path in Mirkwood, it’s possible that you may never find your way out again, and you probably won’t survive very long anyway,” Jackson states. “There are things in that forest that are the stuff of nightmares, certainly my nightmares.”
In the dense tangle of trees, the Dwarves become easy prey for the Giant Spiders infesting the wood. They are fast, voracious creatures with large mandibles and sharp fangs, but Bilbo has his sword and makes the Spiders feel its sting. “Great Spiders attacking you can be viscerally disgusting, if you’re of that mind,” Freeman comments. “But, at that point, it’s literally kill or be killed, and he’s doing it to save his fellows. I call what he does pretty brave, really. There’s something visceral about spiders, and they will, I hope, be pretty scary for the audience. They certainly are to me.”
But Mirkwood holds even greater dangers for Dwarves ...
“MORE DANGEROUS AND LESS WISE” - THE WOOD-ELVES
While out patrolling Mirkwood, the Elves of the Woodland Realm come upon a disturbance and swiftly dispatch the Spiders, but not for any love of Dwarves. Described by Tolkien as “more dangerous and less wise” than other Elves of Middle-earth, the Wood-elves under the rule of King Thranduil attack with ferocity, skill and rapid-fire bows. Leading this band of warriors are Legolas, once again embodied by Orlando Bloom, and Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly.
Though neither character appears in The Hobbit, the filmmakers felt that including them was a natural fit for the expanded narrative being brought to life in the film. Legolas Greenleaf is a Mirkwood Elf, the son of the Elvenking Thranduil, overseer of the Woodland Realm in the novel. “When Legolas shows up in The Lord of the Rings, we learn that he’s Thranduil’s son,” Jackson explains. “So when we visit the Woodland Realm in this film, it seemed like a great opportunity to bring back Legolas, as we now have a full picture of Thranduil’s family tree. Elves are immortal, so the 60 years between the two stories doesn’t matter at all, and fortunately, Orlando doesn’t look as if he has aged a day in the last ten years,” the director adds with a smile.
Bloom was delighted to once again take up Legolas’s bow more than a decade after his work in “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy. “It’s amazing to be back,” the actor states. “‘The Lord of the Rings’ films were such a treasured experience for me, and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to return to this world and this character. And, better yet, I got into my old costume when I came back, and it still fit!”
When Bloom appeared on set styled in the hair, makeup and redesigned costume for Legolas, “It was like meeting a favorite character,” Walsh recalls. “It really is a most wonderful thing to have Orlando come back all these years later and be Legolas again. Seeing this character that we all loved back in Middle-earth gave us the strangest sense of déjà vu.”
Though initially concerned about Legolas’ place in the tale, the character’s relationship to the Woodland Realm, along with the presence of the 13 Dwarves—one of whom, Gloin, is the father of his future Fellowship mate Gimli—set Bloom’s mind at ease. “We’re all conscious and respectful of fans of the book, and so I knew that Peter, Fran and Philippa wouldn’t stray too far,” he says. “What’s great about the story they’ve devised is that you see how he will go on to become the Legolas in ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ We also get an idea of where Legolas’s antipathy for Dwarves originates in this film. It creates a dynamic sense of history for the character.”
Jackson and his collaborators wanted to infuse the action with the kinds of iconic Legolas moments that became an audience favorite in the earlier Trilogy, which translated into intense training and stunt work for the actor. “He’s got some pretty cool moments,” Bloom says. “And I think that’s part of who ‘Leggy’ is. He comes in and doesn’t say much, pulls some moves and takes care of business. It’s a simple but effective plan.”
Comments stunt coordinator Glenn Boswell, “Orlando picks up on fight choreography really quickly, which was great since we often had only a short time to bring him up to speed before cameras rolled. He and Evangeline as partners were fantastic in terms of fighting. Each character has a different style, which is brilliant visually.”
Evangeline Lilly’s Elf warrior Tauriel is the Captain of Thranduil’s Guard and an entirely new addition to the story. “We have always felt that you have to try to be true to the book but also be true to the film that you would like to see,” Walsh notes. “They are always going to have their differences because films have other dramatic requirements. One thing we wanted to address was the lack of female characters, and Tauriel accomplished that in a beautiful way. And Evangeline has been fantastic. She understood Middle-earth, and wanted to ensure that though Tauriel is an original character, she would be created in the spirit of the book.”
Though new to the films, Lilly has been a fan of The Hobbit since childhood and was overwhelmed to be approached to play a role in the Trilogy. But the offer came just two months after she had given birth to her first child. “I thought I was going to ease into an obscure life of being a mother and a writer, but this was an opportunity I just couldn’t say no to,” Lilly says. “The Hobbit was my favorite book as a kid, and all I ever wanted to be was an Elf, and then to be offered the role of a Mirkwood (Greenwood) Elf specifically was a dream come true. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as an actress, but it was a challenge I loved.”
Tauriel, Lilly says, grew up defending the borders of the Woodland Realm and is therefore a very different kind of Elf than we’ve seen in previous films. “The Wood-elves are more deadly, and Tauriel is a warrior and an expert with daggers and a bow and arrow,” she describes. “She’s the head of the Silvan Guard, so she’s a pretty badass Elf, and is perhaps less wise than a lot of the older Elves. Even though she has a warmth and depth that comes from being so connected to the earth, she also happens to be very skilled at her craft. And her craft is killing.”
As with other actors playing Elves in “The Hobbit” Trilogy, Lilly worked with movement choreographer Terry Notary to perfect their graceful, agile gait. She also trained extensively in martial arts and worked with the stunt team on her complex fight sequences. “Evangeline had a very good aptitude for stunts,” praises Boswell. “She had a very strong vision for how Tauriel would fight, partly influenced by old Chinese fighting she had seen with double daggers.”
From the tip of her arrow to the color of the feathers, Tauriel’s bow has an organic quality that reflects the forest, with thorn shapes defining her slender, damascene-patterned dagger. Her personalized weapons were made from a collaboration of artists including conceptual designer John Howe and Weta Workshop. Weta’s Richard Taylor comments, “As an Elven ninja, everything is at one with the world in which she lives so that she can disappear into the foliage.”
Her costume too reflects the Woodland Realm and bears a more masculine look than the flowing silks that drape from other Female Elves seen in Jackson’s Middle-earth. The costume department created a wardrobe of forest-toned leather, suede and silk, and custom-made leather boots. Her fierce aesthetic also infused her hair and makeup design, with King creating large ears and a wig of copious red locks.
These Elves are not friendly to the Dwarves. Jackson says, “The Elves of the Woodland Realm, Legolas included, are nothing less than a very mysterious and slightly threatening force for them; they’re not there to help with their Quest.”
Being brought to the Elvenking’s throne room is a difficult and demeaning moment for Thorin, given his history with Thranduil, as seen in the prologue of the first film. “When Erebor fell, Thorin couldn’t understand why the Elves wouldn’t act,” Armitage explains. “Thranduil stood by and did nothing, and that, for Thorin, is an unforgivable act. They let the Dwarves burn, which Thorin will never forget.”
Lee Pace, who joins the cast as the regal Elvenking Thranduil, feels that his character’s lack of sympathy for the Dwarves’ plight has its roots in this long ago encounter. “My theory is that when Thranduil saw the halls of gold in Erebor, that was the turning point for him,” Pace offers. “He saw all that gold these Dwarves had amassed and thought, ‘You Dwarves are going to burn. This greed is not going to go unpunished.’ And when the Dragon came, the Elves had the power to make a difference and chose not to.”
Jackson and his collaborators had seen Pace in the 2006 film “The Fall,” and made a special trip to New York solely to read him for this critical role. “Elves are difficult to cast because they possess a quality that’s almost impossible to define,” Jackson reveals. “It’s an elegance, a beauty and an agelessness. You have to do a bit of a mental leap with an actor. You need to have a sense that he could be immortal, but also that he had been through a lot in his long life, and Lee really brought all of those qualities and more.”
In the film, Pace, as well as Lilly and Bloom, converse in the ancient language of Elvish. Tolkien created two Elvish languages for Middle-earth: the common, conversational Sindarin, and the formal Quenyan. As with Jackson’s other films set in Middle-earth, the filmmakers enlisted Tolkien scholar David Salo, who has dedicated his life to expanding the grammar and vocabulary of these languages, to translate those portions of the script, with dialect coach McPherson helping the actors to become fluent in Elvish. “They all took to the language beautifully,” McPherson comments. “Evangeline speaks French, and has a great facility for languages and a very good ear. Orlando has had experience with Elvish, and his passion for the work, insatiable curiosity and infectious good humor made him a joy to work with. And Lee was able to beautifully embody Thranduil’s command of the language and deep, powerful vocal presence.”
Designing armor for a whole new race of Elves was a joy for Taylor and his team. “The Wood-elves possess an incredible presence, power and vitality,” he describes. “But while they’re very beautiful and artistic, it’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, they are trained killers. You don’t ever want them to fall into appearing apathetic or weak as a race by making their armor too floral or delicate.”
For the Elvenking, Weta Workshop and the costume designers collaborated on a series of long, sweeping gowns and cloaks that reflect his status as King of the Woodland Realm. One of the crowns Thranduil wears was modeled by Weta Workshop’s Daniel Falconer directly from references in the book to a crown of leaves, thorns and berries. His strong, elegant metal sword was milled down from a solid block of metal. “There was something puritanical about having this unsympathetic metal blade that suited Thranduil’s intractability and arrogance,” Falconer supplies.
For Pace, the key to understanding Thranduil is the idea that Elves are not human. “Tolkien wrote, ‘He was the King of the Elves on the other side of the Wild,’” the actor says. “He’s dangerous, not because he’s evil. He’s exquisite, but hard and cold at heart, like a diamond. He is also sensitive, but I don’t mean emotionally sensitive. I believe that not a leaf moves in that forest that he doesn’t feel. And he’s looking at these Dwarves, thinking, ‘You don’t wake up a Dragon unless you know you can kill it. And you can’t kill it. So I’m just going to keep you in my dungeons until you get that idea out of your head.’”
Stripping the Dwarves of their armor and weapons, he locks them deep within his underground dungeons. But Thranduil’s resolve is thwarted by the resourceful Bilbo, who slips unnoticed into the Realm with a plan to spring his friends—by hiding them inside empty barrels from the Elves’ wine cellar, which he will release down a chute into the river.
Even risking the wrath of the Elves, the Hobbit’s allegiance is to the Dwarves. “Amidst the potential positives of the other beings with whom he comes in contact, the Dwarves show up quite well, really,” Freeman relates. “The Elves are ostensibly more civilized and cultured. But what he sees in the Dwarves, I think, ultimately means more than that, and the fact that Bilbo does decide to help them is perhaps even more interesting and brave, because he doesn’t have to. It’s not like all of Middle-earth is going to be encompassed in Hellfire if he doesn’t, but he sees they’ve got a job to do that seems to be worth doing. And I think once you’ve decided to leave home, the people you’ve left home with become your home and your family, however different they are from you.”
Thranduil’s own view is the opposite. He senses that Thorin’s Quest is a harbinger of a darker, more dangerous struggle—one in which he believes Elves have no role. “Thranduil made the decision many years ago to isolate his people from the rise and fall of the fortunes of other races outside his borders,” Boyens remarks. “And his rule is law.”
In defiance of her King, Tauriel tracks the Company’s escape down the river, and Legolas follows, torn between his father’s edict and Tauriel’s belief in what’s right. “There’s a sort of madness around the Dwarves’ idea of trying to reach the Lonely Mountain,” Bloom reflects. “They’re definitely striving for greatness, but it can lead to a chaotic state, which is Thranduil’s perspective. Legolas knows Tauriel is reckless and is concerned for her. He wants to protect her, though he knows it puts him at odds with his father. There’s a lot of complexity in that dynamic. Legolas is the son growing into the man who will go off to be a part of The Fellowship of the Ring.”
Tauriel has not experienced Thranduil’s history with the Dwarves, and feels more compassion towards them and their plight. “But I think even more so, she wants to stop the Orc invaders, who have come into their Realm to kill and destroy,” Lilly comments. “She can’t stand by and let that happen; she has to go and do something about it.”
The two Elven warriors come face-to-face with Orcs that appear on the shores of the Forest River, where the Dwarves become easy targets. Bloom calls what ensues “a fantastic amount of Orc slaying.”
Thought to have been destroyed in the great battle between Orcs and Dwarves that was fought many years ago, the Pale Orc Azog the Defiler has dispatched his vicious spawn and a lethal pack of killer-Orcs to hunt down and destroy every last member of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield.
“Azog has his own reasons for wanting to stop Thorin from ever reaching the Lonely Mountain,” Boyens suggests. “Gandalf fears that his pursuit of Thorin has to do with an alliance he has made and the power he now serves. He also has a psychopathic hatred of all living things, Dwarves in particular, and especially Thorin and his Company.”
For Azog and Bolg to exude the sheer menace that Jackson envisioned, he decided to create them using the same performance capture techniques that brought Gollum to life. “Azog was tricky because he is a principal villain, as we’ve adapted the story, and we wanted him to be mobile, expressive, and as terrifying as possible,” Jackson explains. “The idea of doing a digital Orc was exciting, and this freed us up in terms of his size and shape because we were no longer locked into basic human proportions.”
Playing the Orc chieftain, Azog the Defiler, is actor Manu Bennett, with Lawrence Makoare, a veteran who played the Uruk Hai character Lurtz from “The Lord of the Rings” films, taking on the role of his son, Bolg. The actors performed their roles on the performance capture stage, where Bennett quickly learned how to move like a massive Orc. “If I moved at my own pace, Azog looked too small and human,” Bennett describes. “I had to bring out the lung capacity and the body mass of this foul creature. You can’t move like an ant; you have to move like a dinosaur.”
Though Azog was established in the first film, his spawn Bolg comes to the fore in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” and Letteri and his team at Weta Digital relished the opportunity to hatch a new Orc villain. “Peter wanted him to be a kind of freakish warrior,” Letteri relates. “He is so battle-scarred that we decided to take that concept even further, and have his body armor essentially embedded into his skin. He needed to look like he can take a blow, but still have freedom of movement because he’s fighting all the time. It was an interesting series of characteristics for us to blend in his character design.”
Azog’s army of killer-Orcs is comprised of a nearly indistinguishable combination of actors in prosthetics and digital creations. Taylor concludes, “The Orc Scouts, as we call them, are fleet-footed, lightly armored and archery-based, so they are pretty mean buggers.”
Hungry, exhausted and unarmed, the Dwarves are in no shape to mount their final assault on the Mountain. But dim hope arrives in the form of a barge man from the nearby city Lake-town, who comes upon the ragged Company while collecting the empty barrels that float down the river from the Woodland Realm. Though he meets them with the tip of his arrow, the wise Balin convinces Bard to help.
Luke Evans joins the cast as Bard, a man of Lake-town who represents much more than meets the eye. “Bard is a memorable character from the book, but in our film, this humble barge man is in some ways an enigma,” Jackson states. “His job is way below his skill level; he has a remarkable talent that he doesn’t reveal, which comes into the story later on. So, Bard was an interesting character to cast because we’re telling our story from the Dwarves’ point of view for a while, and to them, he’s an enigma. So we wanted an actor who can bring an edginess to the role, and Luke Evans ticked all the boxes. Luke brought all of the dangerous qualities but, ultimately, when he needed to, he can become a pretty amazing action hero as well.”
Though Bard doesn’t know the Dwarves’ true mission, he knows right away that he doesn’t trust them, and has reason to fear what they might be up to. “Bard has three children, and they are living hand-to-mouth in this city,” Evans says. “He wants his children to be alive and safe, and will do whatever it takes to protect them. If he can clear an issue without there being any bloodshed, that’s what he will do. But he’s dealing with bombastic Dwarves, whom he knows he can’t control.”
Evans was thrilled to learn that not only had he landed the role, but that his native Welsh accent would be incorporated into the fabric of the Lake-town itself. Jackson’s own affinity for Wales inspired him to use it as inspiration for the city of Dale, whose residents fled to Lake-town when it was destroyed by the Dragon’s fiery breath. So in the film, Dale’s descendents all speak with a Welsh dialect. “Dale will always be Wales to me, which is really nice thing,” Evans says.
“The terrible tragedy that happened to Bard’s ancestors makes for a very interesting character and a very different kind of hero,” Boyens remarks. “There’s an instinctive quality about him, and it’s not because he’s the biggest or the strongest. It’s because he has decency and true courage, and an empathy for those around him. The stakes are much higher for him because he has children and is driven to protect them. And it just so happened that we had these two wonderful young actresses, Peggy and Mary Nesbitt, who came down to New Zealand with their father.”
Peggy, and her younger sister Mary, are the daughters of actor James Nesbitt, who plays the Dwarf Bofur. Playing their brother, Bain, is John Bell, who turned 15 and grew more than four inches in height over the course of shooting. This presented a challenge for the costume team, who creatively cheated by adding cuffs to his costume as he grew out of it. “I’ve gone through about three pairs of boots, I think,” Bell laughs.
Though Bard is able to support his children on his meager earnings, he lives amongst people who are desperate for a change of fortune. Jackson describes Lake-town as “a bit like a factory town when the industry has all gone away. There’s a sense that all the wealth and the glories of the past days are no longer there, which has allowed for the unsavory politicians, such as the Master of Lake-town, to get a footing and exploit the misery of these people to some degree. He has an assistant Alfrid, played by Ryan Gage, and between them they run this rather miserable little backwater town.”
While his people scrape and starve, the unscrupulous Master of Lake-town sits on a lavish stockpile of food and a cache of riches, which couldn’t be more different from Bard. “Bard is a very savvy, street-wise character, and that is why he has survived for as long as he has, much to the dislike and upset of the Master,” he says. “The Master keeps the people on the verge of starvation so that they are weak and they can’t revolt, but Bard always seems to be one step ahead of him. In some ways, Bard becomes the light in this very dark world that they live in.”
To play this consummate politician, the filmmakers enlisted beloved British stage and screen star Stephen Fry. “To say Stephen was perfect for the role would be a little rude, I think,” Jackson smiles. “But there is a lot of ironic humor and a sartorial edge to the Master in the book, and we carry that over in the film, so Stephen just seemed like a natural. He’s such a great actor that he was able to capture both the Master’s urbane, well-spoken, charming side, and also make you feel his venality and greed, which is so completely different from who he is.”
As far as the Master’s concerned, Fry allows, “he’s a heroic and rather important leader. He believes that the people love and respect him, and that nobody suspects he’s greedy or corrupt at all. I think at some point he was a very charismatic figure who either through intelligence or natural cunning got himself elected and kept the place going. It’s all been about taxation and making sure that Lake-town is kept free of war.”
Crass and gluttonous, the Master’s once regal finery is now frayed and molded, forcing the costume department to painstakingly break down and destroy a luxurious selection of fine fabrics. “Picture a stained glass window of beautiful medieval brocade that is now just kind of sludgy and a bit burnt—it’s just a mess,” costume designer Ann Maskrey describes. “The effect paints The Master as vulgar, filthy, very unkempt, and somewhat ridiculous.”
Styling the Master and his liege Alfrid was pure, unbridled fun for the makeup department. “There was a discussion with Peter about making the Master as revolting as we could,” says King. “So we did our best to give him a bad comb-over, rotting teeth and wispy facial hair. And for Alfrid, we gave Ryan Gage greasy hair, bad skin, and blackened, filthy teeth, which were painted with a special tooth enamel each morning.”
Because he’s always looking for an opportunity for profit, the Master suspends his isolationist tendencies when rumors begin to swirl about the strangers hidden away in Bard’s home. “The Master is annoyed by people like Thorin, who want to go off on quests and fight things; nothing but harm comes of people like that,” Fry comments. “He believes it’ll only bring perdition on their heads, and thinks it would be much better to just keep a lid on it all and keep anybody out who has ideas of going up mountains and disturbing Dragons. But there is a prophecy that Lake-town lives under, which is that Thorin and the others will come and restore its prosperity when the Mountain once again rings out with Dwarves hammering away at the gold.”
In spite of the forces gathering against them, Bilbo and the Dwarves trek the Lonely Mountain to arrive at the hidden door to Erebor in the waning moments of Durin’s Day. And true to the instructions on the secret map, Thorin is able to open it using his father’s key.
Boyens feels Armitage brought a “beautiful simplicity” to his performance in this sequence. She reflects, “It should be this moment of triumph for Thorin, and instead it is a moment of quiet emotion: ‘I’m home, and I remember.’”
“When the door opens and Thorin first breathes in the air trapped within this sealed mountain, his childhood, the Kingdom of Erebor, all of it comes back,” Armitage attests. “It’s a great moment for Thorin, and I felt his joy. But in that stale air is the scent of the Dragon, Smaug, who decimated his people, the smell of burnt stone, and the memories of those who perished there; it's the smell of death.”
A dangerous sentinel may watch over the Dwarven treasure still, threatening to rain fire and destruction on any soul brave enough or crazy enough to attempt to claim it. This virtual suicide mission is what Bilbo has been brought on this Quest to do. “In this movie, we come to understand why they need a burglar because it’s really about what they want him to steal,” Jackson notes. “It’s the Arkenstone—a mystic rock the Dwarves uncovered deep inside the Lonely Mountain. The Arkenstone doesn’t have any real power, but it is of particular importance to Thorin.”
“The Dwarves know how dangerous Bilbo’s job is going to be, with the Dragon very likely still alive,” says Ken Stott, who play Balin. “To Balin’s mind, there would be no shame in turning back, but Bilbo goes through with it because he promised he would, and that takes a very special kind of courage.”
Venturing down into the chambers of Erebor, Bilbo discovers that within mountains of gold and treasure, a Dragon sleeps still. “One thing that defines Smaug from other Dragons, apart from his size, is this personality that Tolkien created,” Jackson says. “He’s not just a Dragon who can talk and wants to eat people, he is psychotic and very, very intelligent.”
Benedict Cumberbatch plays the iconic role of Smaug the Terrible. Even at his audition, the filmmakers were stunned by the clarity of the actor’s embodiment of the Dragon. “In the book, Tolkien created a magnificent dramatization of the character,” Walsh says. “He’s archetypal, a beautiful character to be given to adapt in a screenplay, and then to have Benedict do such extraordinary things with his voice, we knew we had found our Smaug. He knew absolutely who Smaug was and how to play him, and it totally matched our vision of the character.”
The British actor has vivid memories of the creature from when his father read The Hobbit to him as a child. “My dad is an extraordinary actor, so he brought to life for me this already extraordinary world of Hobbits and Dragons,” Cumberbatch remembers. “It was a very rich way to be introduced to such an incredible book. So, when you can go home and say to your dad, ‘I’m playing Smaug, and I’ve got you to thank for it,’ it’s a very satisfying day in an actor’s life. He played Smaug as this amazing gravelly, growling creature, so I basically ripped off my dad for my performance,” he adds with a smile.
Freeman was happy to have his friend and co-star on the acclaimed BBC series “Sherlock” playing his nemesis in the film. “We both auditioned around the same time in London while were shooting the first series of ‘Sherlock,’” Freeman recalls. “He was delighted to do it, and I thought it would be wonderful. Ben’s a really good actor. He’s brilliant physically, and fantastic vocally as well.”
Dialect coach McPherson worked with Cumberbatch to perfect his vocal performance and was impressed with the actor’s commitment. “He would physically explore every moment, and work with the different qualities of sound until he found exactly who Smaug was at that moment,” McPherson says. “That was an extraordinary creative process to witness. I know Smaug causes a lot of terror and heartbreak, but he has brought me nothing but pleasure.”
The physical manifestation of Smaug is being brought to life by the artists at Weta Digital, but it was all hands on deck among the film’s conceptual artists, as well as designers at Weta Workshop and Weta Digital. “There is a huge amount of anticipation for this character, which is a double-edged sword because if we don’t deliver on Smaug, we’re in big trouble,” Jackson admits. “I certainly didn’t go into the meetings with a vision of him in my mind. The only thing I knew from the very beginning is that I wanted him to be huge—way bigger than you would ever imagine—because in addition to his intelligence and cunning, I wanted his size alone to be terrifying for this little Hobbit.”
Jackson and his team established a sense of Smaug’s sheer size in the first film, for which the director’s mandate was for his head to be “the size of a bus.” This mere glimpse of the creature set the standard for when he comes center stage in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” “We have a lot of incredible artists that worked on Smaug, and you want to give parameters but also a certain degree of freedom to just go for it,” Jackson notes. “That’s what I love, because it gives me a chance to then look at many different designs and start to piece the character together.”
Renowned Tolkien illustrator John Howe has spent the last few decades illustrating the characters of Middle-earth but let his imagination run wild in his initial designs. “Tolkien doesn’t really tell us much about the Dragon, but then he is the master of evocation rather than exhaustive description,” Howe explains. “In a nutshell, we know that Smaug is large, reddish-gold, has wings and breathes fire. It was very exciting to then develop life-like energy into his structure, and then, once those shapes and silhouettes are in place, you can work on the details, like how the claws look up close.”
At Weta Digital, the Dragon was built layer by layer, from the shape of his skeleton to the way he moves to the texture of his skin, the latter refined by textures supervisor / creative art director Gino Acevedo, whose department worked on Smaug for over two and a half years. “Because he is such an enormous character, there’s a lot of skin to cover,” Acevedo notes.
Building a digital Dragon with the awesome physical presence and personality Jackson envisioned required the animators to incorporate not only the design work, but also Cumberbatch’s performance. To bring a sense of the Dragon’s movement to his vocalizations, the actor recorded his dialogue in full mo-cap gear on a stage, guided by motion capture supervisor Dejan Momcilovic. While the character is not being created through performance capture data, Cumberbatch’s sessions provided a reference for the animators.
“Obviously, a Dragon’s face is very different from a human face, but we took a lot of Benedict’s ideas from his performance and incorporated them into Smaug’s personality,” Letteri explains. “We also worked with all the design ideas but have to make sure that he can perform the way we need him to perform on screen. That meant breaking it down even further because we had to be very specific about details, such as the size of the scales around his eyes and how they blend into the texture of the skin and the eyelids.”
Each of Smaug’s scales was digitally hand-painted to better represent imperfections and flaws and reflect his age and history. Letteri notes, “When you see him up close, you need to see in his face that he’s covered in scars, whether from battles with other Dragons or from his various attacks.”
Smaug reveals himself to Bilbo in all his glory when the Dragon immediately senses that after long, sleepy years, he’s no longer alone. “He’s a predator,” Cumberbatch describes. “His senses are highly attuned, and the minute he has an intruder, he’s intrigued. There’s an element of game-playing he does with Bilbo, which is beautiful because he’s trying to use human logic to draw him out and get information about who he is.”
Freeman relished every moment of the encounter between the massive Dragon and the much smaller Hobbit. “Rather like the Gollum and Bilbo stuff in the book, which is lovely, Smaug and Bilbo is pretty legendary stuff as well,” Freeman reflects. “It is that battle of wits, though it is less about the wit for Bilbo and more about trying to stay alive. He’s not feeling very witty, but he does what he needs to do, at great expense.”
Over the course of their game of cat-and-mouse, all of Bilbo’s loyalty and newfound courage is put to the test by the psychopathic Smaug. “No matter how smart you are, Smaug is smarter,” Jackson reveals. “You can’t spin a line on him because he will see through it straight-away. He can be charming on one level, but then you feel the edge beneath the charm. There are moments when he can barely hold in his psychotic rage, which makes him unpredictable and scary. That was the fun and joy of writing this character, and Benedict plays that to the hilt.
Amid his vast empire of gold, Smaug becomes enraged at the thought of losing even a single piece of it. “And that reveals his level of greed,” Cumberbatch states. “Smaug is the ultimate symbol of the corruption of power. He’s a sleepy serpent on top of his pile of gold. It brings him nothing but a damp, dank retirement, no joy or humor. He’s vainglorious and proud of his own power and wealth, but it has essentially ruined him.”
For Jackson, this fateful encounter represents a turning point in the story that only heightens his anticipation for the Trilogy’s grand finale. “That’s the fun of charting a singular journey with these characters, who are tested and must confront so many pressures and influences across three films,” Jackson states. “The dynamics of the story are beginning to steer them, not just in terms of what happens to them, but in what it does to them. That ability to shape these characters’ paths across three films, and to push the narrative constantly forward through each of them, is the real privilege of making ‘The Hobbit’ Trilogy.”