Coming to terms with The Hobbit, trailer 2

As I sit down to celebrate a slightly solitary second breakfast (I’m having a latte macchiatto and a danish) for the end of Tolkien Week, I’m thinking about the big day on Wednesday!

Somehow I managed to cram watching both the new trailer and the web for reactions into a day that’s already way too busy even without big Armitage news. I had suspected this might happen, so I pushed some of my usual Wednesday prep into Tuesday night. On Wednesday itself, I saw the video, prepped for classes, but kept look at the net off and on, and in the end posted four times, and then I really had to force myself to concentrate. To the delight of the students in my large lecture, I projected two versions of the trailer onto the classroom system in the ten minute period before class started.

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As a consequence of my openness about my enjoyment of the trailers, a number of students in the lecture made themselves known to me personally. In particular, I met two Armitage fans among my students, which was also cool — both of whom came up after class to introduce themselves as big fans of North & South and The Voice (it was an amusing conversation — they got into a little tussle over which was better, The Body or The Voice).

The Voice! Did I mention that The Voice is just stunning?

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I came back to my office to prep for the evening and, although I finished the reading and grading in the nick of time, also did what was for me an astounding amount of tweeting.

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Three hours of discussion of the sources in a research seminar then finished the day for me, and I went home starving and mainlined some cheese and crackers and was sleeping the sleep of the just, or the dead, well before midnight. But looking at my inbox the next morning, I was stunned by the signs that I’d done so much extra tweeting. I usually only tweet to announce I’ve posted — or when I’m having an unusually intense reaction to something and need to talk to someone out there. I hadn’t anticipated that.

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I tend to think my inability to stay away from writing satire yesterday has to do with a certain level of discomfort I was feeling about the intensity of my reaction; I was heavily poking fun at myself in writing in an attempt to keep myself from directing ridicule or inappropriate self-hate at myself in reality. I further attribute last night’s dream to this flareup. Judit had one too.

And I also know I wasn’t the only one who was asking herself, what the heck is happening to me? FedoraLady surrendered immediately, calling herself “besotted.” During the day, Zan was also wrestling with her need to work, and in the evening, when she had more time, she reported her husband watching her excitement with amusement, and she ended by calling the episode a “gorge / love fest.” Jas was also trying to assess her reaction, and in the end, gave up, saying she didn’t care if she was excited, enthused, or even obsessed — as long as she is having fun. She followed up today with a cartoon. I’m sure there were more reactions (I haven’t fully caught up with everyone, but I will try before Legenda appears again).

Fun is, indeed, to quote Jas, the order of the day — even if I remain a bit stunned by the intensity of it all — so I’m going to have some fun and note a few observations. If I am mirroring something you have said and don’t link to you, please leave your link in the comments — I’ll be happy to link up. I have been reading around, and share some general perceptions with others, I’m sure. Right now I’m just doing a little of stream of consciousness.

Oh, and this is what I thought of trailer 1: initial reaction, from seeing it on the computer, and then here, where I had seen it in the theater and was especially moved by the singing. I haven’t seen trailer 2 in the theater yet.

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Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, as depicted in the Hobbit scroll: humorous dwarves at his back, bivouac in front of him. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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Below, one of my absolute favorite moments from all the second trailer variants, because it seems an all-too-frequently appropriate metaphor for my own life. Just when you think you’ve survived something horrible and truly challenging to all of your resources, and exhale for a second, an extremely large, bloody corpse of indeterminate species plops down, inanimate, on your shelter.

The greater level of humor apparent in the second trailer (and all its variants) pleased me greatly. I’m sure many viewers shared that reaction. This strategy captures more effectively the playfulness and periodic light shadings of the original book, which was drawn from bedtime stories Tolkien told to his children, and which is supposed to amuse as well as inspire and send shivers up and down the spine. It was above all an exciting story, something that the first trailer had trouble fully conveying. The first trailer focused heavily on introducing all the dwarf characters, occasionally verging on the clunkiness of a late 1950s trailer for a western. (“Our leader, Thorin Oakenshield.” BAM. Shot of Thorin!)

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I told you. BAM! Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, from the first official trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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Trailer 1 also relied atmospherically on the spookiness created by that song, and in retrospect, seems fairly low energy or at least less explosively energetic than this one). Whoever put the second trailer together (Peter Jackson?) rightly grasped that the epic qualities of certain moments of the film could be written much larger in the trailer if the humorous moments were emphasized more strongly. The first trailer seemed mysterious and occasionally dangerous — rewatching it now, I like the sense of tension created around the rising involvement of the singers in the song; this one, in contrast, abandons suspense for calamity and a sense of direct physical danger but balances those with enough humor and emotion to make it seem more magical.

The Thorin of trailer 1 also seemed like a much more distant figure — first introduced looking coolly over his shoulder, then shown in intimate tête-à-tête with Gandalf, stating almost cruelly that he can’t protect Bilbo from his fate.

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The Thorin revealed in this trailer was both much more warmly or genteelly regal (as opposed to haughty), while still powerful, and lives out his concept of honor much more explicitly via his voiceover statements about the dwarves and what he asked from his companions balancing his apparent hauteur at the council with Elrond. It’s key, I think, that a picture of Thorin charging with a sword appears in the film just as the voiceover hits the word “honor.” This shift may also, of course, have something to do with the ways in which Armitage has developed a character who he’s been playing for an entire year longer at this point.

Speaking of the way that the term “honor” is voiced over Thorin’s swordplay, one thing that this trailer very much clarifies for me — positively — is how the film is going to deal with Armitage’s physicality as it plays into the physicality of Thorin. My curiosity over this explains partially my excitement over the stills that showed Armitage’s Thorin in proportion to the other actors. This question has lurked in the back of my mind for a very long time, because I’m not sure how anyone, human actor or dwarf, could deal conceptually or behaviorally with the sudden loss of a foot of his height. A big chunk of how men establish authority relates to their (relative) heights; one reason some people find little people comical has to do with their lesser height and the differing movement possibilities afforded them by their body structures. One reason Armitage can always project cool, calm authority when desired (John Porter, Lucas North) is that he doesn’t have to preen for physical prominence. If he wants to be there in a scene, he automatically is (and has to work hard in the other direction.) So one thing I love in the trailer is that he’s managed to keep his typical pride / honor / shame move (this is something I love about Armitage — the way he plays humiliation and the attempts to overcome it) of the head, even with the shorter body, and we can see how it works in the new context and perspective.

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I didn’t have a “correct” answer in mind about how to resolve the questions raised by the problem of how Armitage would act were he a foot shorter, or how his performance might be complicated if he were body doubled by people who don’t have his height and thus tend to hold themselves differently because they have learned to establish their physical authority differently — it was just a question in the back of my mind. And we didn’t see Thorin moving on his feet in the first trailer, so it was unanswered until Wednesday.

As an extension of my reaction to the resolution of this problem: I find that (realistic or not) I’m really delighted that we’re still going to see physical Armitage on some version of his own terms in this film. I’ve been emphasizing the nature of the false dilemma between appearance and acting on this blog for awhile, and now I’d like to add to that a false dilemma between physicality and spirituality or personality (to put it poorly). On some level, how an Armitage character is physically is how he is personally. As a fan, I don’t want to get along with an Armitage whose movements seem odd to me, or which I can’t assess at least in my imagination as organic to his body.

So, for instance, I’m thrilled that part of his breathlessness in this scene obviously has something to do with his posture:

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And for the same reason, probably my most thrilling moment visually, although it was extremely brief, was this one, which I’ve put into 25 percent slomo to make it worth clipping:

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We forget nowadays (in the wake of Lucas North and John Porter, who didn’t have swords, and Guy of Gisborne, who was fated by scriptwriters to lose practically every battle he ever undertook with that unbelievably heavy broadsword) that a frequent moment in the early press coverage of Armitage’s career was his preparation and study for a stage fighting qualification from the Society of British Fight directors and his knowledge of fencing. I feel like here I am again seeing an Armitage with a past as a dancer and the kind of experience with sword fighting that could make an onslaught from Thorin a truly frightening episode to witness. If he had to do the very physical (rather than interior) role of John Porter, who substantially refined his physicality as Lucas North / John Bateman in the ninth series of Spooks, then I want to benefit from it here — I want to see how his physicality has developed in this atmosphere, too.

My final larger reflection (The Voice deserves separate discussion elsewhere, if my interest level in this topic remains so sustained) is that now we’ve seen an extraordinarily large panorama of moods and stances from Armitage’s Thorin. So my new curiosity is focused on how Armitage is going to create transitions in personality and mood between these very different moments of the character we’ve now seen.

He has to move from the undignity of his entrance (which we haven’t seen, but if I recall correctly involves him tumbling over Bilbo’s threshold), to a greater regality, as here:

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… to the motivational energy and bold, almost crude, martiality of the would-be warrior king:

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… to the sadness and mystical memory of the dispossessed dwarf:

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… to the careless insouciance of a monarch who carelessly expects his employees to comply:

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I have no idea (I’m still so unbelievably ignorant about The Hobbit) whether I put those pieces in order, but they are all scenes from the initial part of The Hobbit, where the dwarves visit Bilbo in order to recruit him to go along on their quest, and moving between those very different Thorins is going to require some significant work on Armitage’s part. After seeing this trailer I really look forward to seeing how he’s going to navigate those moves.

I’m about to lose my Internet connection, so shall cease for tonight.

A final thought — one thing this trailer doesn’t do is suggest that Peter Jackson is out of creative ideas. On the contrary. The more we see, the more encouraged I am about the possibilities of the third film both in terms of a great story arc and Richard Armitage’s performance.

~ by Servetus on September 22, 2012.

27 Responses to “Coming to terms with The Hobbit, trailer 2”

  1. Great piece, I don’t know how many times I have watched it “you do like that Hobbit trailer Mummy”! I too was worried about the height issue but that picture of RA and Hugo Weaving really showed how it would work. That voice can melt knickers, I just wonder what the global reaction will be to him. I am also looking forward to when all the interviews start and what the other actors say about him. It is going to be a roller coaster. Xx

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    • yeah, it is. Someone was warning me about this a few weeks ago and I kind of brushed it off, saying, I don’t see myself as an aggregator of information, if I miss some stuff that will be okay. I hadn’t been anticipating this huge emotional reaction to it all, like a sort of Armitagemania recharge.

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  2. The Voice or The Body? The Heart and the Soul!

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    • I agree. False dilemma. But the ladies were having fun arguing about it, or at least, it was amusing to listen.

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      • Yes, definitely a false dilemma. but that’s what makes the arguments so interesting…

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      • And how neat it is that there are some Armitage fans amongst your students! 🙂

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        • there always were, here and there. Also in my last job I showed N&S in the classroom, and always made a few. It is surprising here, for various reasons, that students would admit this — there’s a lot more distance here between faculty and students than in my last position.

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  3. If the film is as good as this trailer then we’re in for a real treat! 🙂 Even if it’s only half as good. 🙂 And now I’m beginning to feel more and more confident about the 3rd film too which I didn’t think was Sir Peter’s best idea (to put it mildly).

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  4. After seeing the new trailer, I may need to make an appointment with my financial planner. I’m going to need to tap into my 401k (a retirement fund) in order to afford all those movie tickets I will be buying. I can’t imagine seeing this movie in theatres only once! Repeated viewings will obviously be necessary, at least that’s the excuse I’ll give to the hubby when he sees the drain in our bank account

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  5. If the the voice don’t knock the socks off I really don’t know what will. The range, the emotion he can make us feel. I think the the rest of the use of his body to act will be great as to what we have seen so far. I believe people will be talking after they have seen the Hobbit. That voice is like gold. O.K. I love a British accent.

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  6. Oh … bloody hell … is it December yet??????

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  7. Great essay! I linked to it.

    And as to Richard Armitage bursting onto the world filmmaking stage when his fiercely regal, bitter, strong of mind and body, vengeful, honor bound Dwarf King Thorin Oakenshield is revealed in his full magnificient glory when the first “The Hobbit” film is released?

    Shock and awe, people! Shock and awe!

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  8. I’m envious you got to hear his voice booming in a lecture hall. I wasn’t much excited for the hobbit though I loved the dwarf song, this trailer got me all giddy. I do think it will be hard for me to accept him as a dwarf, that scene with Hugo weaving was just too brief. But no matter I’m happy to be oblivious in denial about the little dwarf factor, he’s a fierce, loyal …. king!

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