With Peter Jackson absent from Comic-Con International in San Diego to finish production on The Hobbit trilogy, the duty of bringing Middle-Earth to Comic-Con fell to the staff of the TheOneRing.net. Consisting of TheOneRing personalities Alex and Kellie Rice, Josh Rubinstein and Rebecca Perry, with Cliff Broadway and Cathy Udovch driving most of the dialog, the panelists dug deep into the The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second film of The Hobbit trilogy.
Releasing December 13 with limited information currently available from which to draw theories and deduce conclusions, the panelists energetically showed off their expertise of Tolkien lore, analyzing known sequences adapted from the novel. The most fun came when the panelists cut loose theorizing on new scenes and relationships from Smaug, including a larger role for the wizard Radagast, the inclusion of new elf character Tauriel, talking giant spiders, a Jackson-created side story for Gandalf, elven goddess Galadriel seeing combat action and Bilbo's impending encounter with Smaug the dragon, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Breaking down the structure of Smaug and its parallel with the chronology of J.R.R. Tolkien's novel, the panel took the crowd through the film's outline, beginning with Bilbo Baggins and his dwarven allies meeting the giant bear-man Beorn. This encounter precedes The Company venturing into the dangers of Mirkwood, wherein lie the deadly spiders teased in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
"I want to see the ponies and sheep come out and do that catering gig at Beorn's place," Broadway commented with enthusiasm, referencing the anthropomorphic servants of the giant bear-man. A still shot of Beorn's house was shown, as the giant animal played by Mikael Persbrandt towered over the small companions.
The Company setting foot into Mirkwood leads to their capture by the Wood Elves, which will likely herald the return of fan-favorite character Legolas, played by Orlando Bloom. Broadway frequents The Hobbit set and confirmed Bloom does all his own stunts and fight scenes.
"We know the elven King of the Woodland Realm Thranduil participates in battle since he's seen with a cut on on his face. He's in the ruins of Dale," Udovch said.
The big question the Mirkwood scene proposes is whether the spiders will talk. Udovch concluded since the Great Eagles don't speak in any of Jackson's films -- despite doing so in the novels -- they likely won't be articulate creatures in Desolation of Smaug. Perry surveyed the crowd with a show of hands on whether they would like to see hissing, talking giant spiders and the crowd responded positively.
Being held captive by the elves results in a jailbreak with The Company, as they hide in barrels floating down the rough waters leading to Lake-town. There they meet the Bard, played by Luke Evans and his son, a new character called Bain played by teen actor John Bell.
"I think he's totally going to get the young fans' hearts. John Bell's the next teen heartthrob," Udovch said.
In The Hobbit novel, the barrel escape scene goes smoothly, lacking any action -- but not in Peter Jackson's version, as a photo was shown of the dwarves fending off the ruthless Azog, the Orc leader with a spiked hand. The room let loose an overwhelming cheer when asked if they'd like to see Azog meet a quick demise in the film.
With their escape from the Orcs a success, The Company drifts into Lake-town where the Master of Laketown resides, played by actor Stephen Fry. The panelists admitted to not knowing much about Fry's role in the movie or how significant it will be to the overall story.
The Company's stopover in Lake-town prepares them for the final push in their journey to reclaim the homeland of Thorin, as they reach the Lonely Mountain and discover the Hidden Door. What happens next is the moment fans have been waiting for -- Bilbo meeting Smaug.
An image of the dwarves climbing up a gigantic stone hammer in the hands of an even larger dwarf statue was visually striking. In the following shot of Thorin opening the Hidden Door, Broadway pointed out, "Thorin returns to his home for the first time since Smaug attacked -- he's flooded with memories in this moment and it will be a powerful scene."
When a photo of Benedict Cumberbatch appeared, who's the voice of Smaug and portrayer of the Necromancer, fans went wild for the actor who also plays Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's Sherlock.
"Christopher Lee or Benedict should be the voices for every evil character ever," Udovch stated.
The panelists showed a green screen shot of Smaug with an enormous headpiece and speculated on how the special effects will depict an articulate dragon. Most fans in the crowd responded with a show of hands that they wished Smaug's first appearance in the trilogy was saved for the third The Hobbit film.
So where does The Desolation of Smaug leave fans at its conclusion? Does Bilbo get his full scene with the dragon or will it end on a cliffhanger like the previous Jackson Middle-Earth films?
Fans won't find out until the movie's release in December, but panelists brought to light some of the scenes and side plots Jackson created that do not exist in Tolkien's novel.
"I don't mind the deviations because we still have 75 years of publishing history, so as long as Peter's films bring more young people to read Tokien's books, I'm happy with that," said Broadway. "These changes in the films will never change the book -- or the cartoon. What do you think about them?"
In response, the unanimous show of hands from the crowd confirmed fans' approval of Jackson's creative liberties.
A Jackson-created elf whose presence is reflective of Arwen's enhanced role in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy is named Tauriel -- she debuts in Desolation of Smaug and is played by Evangeline Lily. According to Aidan Turner of Total Film Magazine in 2012, "Rumor had it that Kili's part has been expanded from the novel -- as well as chasing treasure, he's also pursuing female elf Tauriel. But is he setting his sights too high? I guess he knows nothing can ever happen since she's about twenty feet tall and he's only two."
Probably the most significant deviation from Tolkien's text Jackson creates in The Desolation of Smaug is wizards Gandalf and Radagast exploring the Tombs of the Old Kings. "This side story takes us away from the original text of The Hobbit," Broadway said. "The writers of the film have Gandalf exploring the Northern Tombs mentioned in the Council scene in Unexpected Journey."
The crowd cheered for Sylvester McCoy as an image of him portraying the nature-attuned Radagast the Brown appeared. "I was up for the role of Bilbo Baggins originally," McCoy revealed in a previously recorded video interview with Broadway. "They had it down to two actors out of hundreds. I didn't know Ian Holm was the other person in the running. Then they ordered me the job of Radagast."
"McCoy let slip a piece of info there, being neck in neck with Ian Holm to play Bilbo," Broadway pointed out. "We can deduce from this that Radagast has a much more significant role to play in the trilogy than any of us suspect -- Jackson told him his role of Radagast was actually bigger than that of Bilbo. Oh, and he's doing a scene with Cate Blanchett. Are we going to see Galadriel in action? According to Oscar winning screenwriter Fran Walsh -- yes! We just don't know in which film."
As the discussion came to a close, the panelists touched on the extended version of The Unexpected Journey available on DVD and blu-ray at some point this year. Early criticisms of the first The Hobbit film centered around it being too long, but every fan attending the panel didn't think it was long enough.
"Peter let slip some details on the extended cut -- we will see more of the dwarves making a mess of things in Rivendell. Jackson used the phrase 'dwarven desecration of Rivendell' that's more comedic than vindictive," Broadway said. "There's more exploration of Bilbo being a homebody in the Shire, too."
Rubinstein pointed out the decline of DVD and blu-ray sales over the last five years and brought up the point that if home movie sales continue to drop, extended DVD editions may no longer be financially viable for studios. "Even so, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the initial release of The Hobbit dominated blu-ray and DVD charts, blowing Les Mis and Zero Dark Thirty out of the water," Rubinstein said.
To conclude, Broadway left fans with this final thought on The Desolation of Smaug and the third The Hobbit film releasing in 2014, There and Back Again. "These next two films are less humorous than Journey -- the Battle of the Five Armies will be pretty dark," he said. "The Hobbit novel starts out very light, very Narnia, but then Tolkien changes his tone. He focuses on what's at stake -- a man taking back his kingdom. I think the filmmakers will alter the tone towards the end of the trilogy to fit that mood."