Fans, including this intrepid reporter, had been lined up since the wee early hours of the morning, some even going so far as to camp out over night. Why? To be one of the lucky 6500-member audience in Hall H on Saturday, and audience that would have the chance to get a sneak peek at Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth.
And the panel did not disappoint.
The presentation began with the premiere of Jackson's latest behind-the-scenes video blog, which gave everyone an inside look at last week's last final five days of shooting. It also gave us a look at the filming of sequences from the second film like the Battle of Laketown and gave us a chance to see Stephen Fry's Mayor of Laketown and Luke Evans' Bard the Bowman. We also got a first look at the original female elf charcter, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly. The footage was jam-packed with interviews from cast members who couldn't attend Comic-Con including Lee Pace, Fry, Evans, and Orlando Bloom along with a spotlight on the final day of production on both the second and first units, including a scene between Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf (Ian McKellan). We were also treated to the entirety of Jackson's thank you speech to his cast and crew once they'd yelled cut. My favourite moment from the package? Freeman sitting in over-sized chair clutching an over-sized tankard, waiting for the cameras to roll, doing his best Denis Waterman from "Little Britain" - "So you want me to write the theme tune, Sing the theme tune." Adorable.
Immediately after, the director himself appeared on the Hall H stage, camera-phone held aloft, as he filmed the assembled audience for his next video blog installment (watch it here). Passing off the camera briefly to panel moderator Chris Hardwick, Jackson introduced what the masses had been waiting for - the premiere footage. To the surprise and delight of everyone, the preview turned out to include an incredible 12-and-a-half minutes of film from both the first and second Hobbit films. But before the projectors rolled, Jackson made sure to put forth a few important pieces of intel. Firstly, Howard Shore hasn't yet laid down the score for the film, so the music cues were borrowed from Lord of the Rings and other films and secondly, the visual effects aren't quite locked down yet. With those disclaimers out of the way, the lights dimmed and the footage rolled. Here's what we saw:
- FIRST SCENE: After a short montage of clips (noticeably set to the score from The Last of the Mohicans - a classic!), we focus in on a scene in the Shire and in Bag End. Gathered around a table are 13 dwarves, including their leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and Gandalf. They're in the middle of debating how best to retrieve their stolen treasure from the dragon Smaug. The biggest problem? The gate is sealed and so there's no way into the mountain. Gandalf admits that's not entirely true, while pulling out a key entrusted to him for safekeeping by Oakenshield's father. But how to find the door? The dwarf passages are invisible and treacherous. "The task I have in mind will require a great deal of stealth, and no small amount of courage," says Gandalf. "But if you're careful and clever, I believe it can be done."
So it's agreed that they need a thief and Bilbo, silent until now, steps forward and agrees that whoever it is, they should be an expert. The dwarves think he means himself, but Bilbo is quick to assure them he's never stolen anything in his life. The dwarves agree he's ill-suited to the job, after all it's no place for folk who can't fight for themselves. Bilbo nods in wholehearted agreement. Gandalf does not agree. Pulling himself up to his full height, he thunders: "If I say Bilbo Baggins is a burglar, then a burglar he is." Now that he has everyone's undivided attention, he points out (in his normal voice) that a Hobbit would be perfect for the job - they're light on their feet, and the dragon Smaug won't be familiar with their scent, unlike dwarves. "There is a lot more to him than appearances suggest," Gandalf advises, and more in him than even Bilbo himself realises. "You must trust me on this."
The dwarves relent and pass Bilbo their standard contract required to join them on their quest. As Bilbo peruses the hilariously gruesome contract, Thorin relays to Gandalf that he cannot be guarantee the Hobbit's safety or be responsible for his fate. Gandalf agrees. The dwarf contract itself? Well it includes a laundry list of clauses mentioning the length of the journey, remuneration, possible funeral arrangements and the indemnification of the dwarves should any "laceration, evisceration, and incineration" occur to anyone undertaking the unexpected journey. Bilbo considers his possible fate for moment before fainting dead away.
- MONTAGE: Another grouping of clips including a sequence with Gandalf walking across a bridge into a less than inviting fortress. "What if it's a trap?" wonders a nearby dwarf. "Turn around and do not come back. It's undoubtedly a trap," Gandalf yells back, walking forward with sword and staff drawn. Cut to Gandalf in series of dark passages, with a monster chasing after him.
- SECOND SCENE: Bilbo encounters Gollum (Andy Serkis) in the goblin tunnels. Bilbo, lost and terrified of the strange creature, holds him off with his sword. "Keep off! keep off! I'll use this if I have to!" He simply wants to know the way out of the tunnels. "I want to get unlost as soon as possible." Cue Gollum (and his other half Smeagol) debating what to do with this lost, juicy Hobbit from the Shire. "We know the safe path in the dark. Shut up! We wasn't talking to you." Gollum asks if Bilbo likes games and asks him a riddle: "What has roots that nobody sees, is taller than trees, and up up up it goes, and yet never grows?" Bilbo ponders briefly before answering: "The mountain." Delighted but perplexed, Gollum/Smeagol argue over whether they should play more games with the Hobbit or just finish him off. Bilbo realises his best chance of escape is to play along with Gollum's game of words and riddles. The wager? If he wins, Gollum will show him the way out. If he loses, "we eats it whole." Bilbo, surprisingly nonplussed (drew a big laugh from the fans), sheathes his sword and declares it "fair enough!"
- THIRD SCENE: The ethereally beautiful Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) wants to know why Gandalf the Grey choose "the halfling" for this most difficult of journeys. Unlike fellow wizard Saruman who believes in power above all, Gandalf believes "it is the small things, every act of normal folk that keeps the darkness of at bay — simple acts of kindness and love." He continues: "Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage." Galadriel steps forward and takes ahold of Gandalf's hand, saying that if has ever any need of her, he only has to ask and she will be there. It's quite a touching and emotional moment that hints at something deeper between the two, particularly on the part of the wizard.
- FINAL SCENE: Bilbo finds the Ring and, curious, picks it up. Cut to a scene between the Hobbit and Gandalf, where the wizard is concerned that his friend has changed, that he is not the same Hobbit who left The Shire. Bilbo smiles and looks as if he might confess the reason. "I was going to tell you. I found something..." says Bilbo, while grasping at his jacket pocket, his fingers aching to pull out his new treasure but fighting himself at the same time. "What did you find?" asks Gandalf twice, with some trepidation and anxiety. A pause...and a cop-out as Bilbo moves his hand away from his pocket. "My courage." Gandalf, clearly both relived and still concerned, says simply, "Good. Well, that's good. You'll need it."
The crowd went wild over every scene, particularly the game of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum - the crowd clearly has a soft spot for Serkis and his familiar creature. There was no doubt that they also lapped up the performances from newcomers Freeman and Armitage, particularly jumping on the lighter touches that Freeman brings to the much younger Bilbo. And in that last scene, Freeman really nails the mix of emotions and warring voices inside the changing Hobbit, while McKellan continues to mine every nuance available in Gandalf the Grey.Jackson stated earlier this week, in an interview with the L.A. Time's Hero Complex, that Freeman hits it out of the park as Bilbo...and the crowd seemed to be leaning in a similar direction. I'm inclined to agree. Fabulous stuff.
The bigger surprise for some was that the footage was not shown in 3D or in 48 frames per second. Jackson has said he made that choice as he wanted to spotlight the content itself, and not the technology.
After the footage wrapped up, the director brought the main cast out onto the Hall H stage. Andy Serkis (also acting as second unit director on the film), Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Ian McKellan. The roar for all four was impressive but McKellan, quite deservedly, was treated to a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd. Joining the cast on-stage was special guest, and former Hobbit, Elijah Wood.
A fan Q&A followed with fans touching on various topics - here are some of the highlights:
- Freeman on his prosthetic Hobbit feet: "It's a bit like a fledgling duck, finding its flippers." But he couldn't complain too much, indicating that Richard Armitage and the rest of the dwarves had a far worse time of it them he did.
- Freeman on whether it was intimidating joining an established production and cast: Not really. "Obviously, you can't really take intimidation or pressure to work with you, because you won't do your best work. And you won't do your best playing, which is an actor's job."
- Freeman on what he will bring to the iconic role: He sees the role of Bilbo as a kind of audience surrogate, or as close as you'll get to one in the film. So he was very aware of that. He also sees Bilbo as vulnerable and courageous, but without being too heavy of a character.
- Boyens on Tauriel, the female character she created just for the films: "We did feel the weight of it being a bit of a boy's own story." She went on to say that she thinks fans will love Tauriel and that the character is "completely within the spirt of Tolkien."
- Jackson on whether he would make a film of The Silmarillion: The director joked he probably wouldn't live long enough to see the end of production. He also noted that, unlike Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the rights to the The Silmarillion are actually still wholly owned by the Tolkien estate. He indicated that the estate isn't fond of the film adaptations, but didn't elaborate beyond saying it would be very unlikely to ever happen.
- The panel ended as it had started, on a high-note, with Serkis caving under one fan's pressure to perform his Gollum live for the delighted audience. He did just that, playing to the crowd by dropping a series of F-bombs while muttering away to Smeagol: "You said you weren't going to w***e yourself out!" And, naturally, the crowd went wild.
As far as a true Comic-Con Hall H experience goes, it really doesn't get any better than this.
Photos: Jordan Strauss/AP Photo.
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