Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong at the moment. Hot off the back of yet more 'Sherlock' related brilliance, he went and appeared in 'Star Trek Into Darkness' to almost unanimous critical praise. His wondrously distinct voice lends itself perfectly to fiendish and intense characters and ever since he was revealed to be the voice of Smaug, it has been met with a worldwide thumbs up. Nobody is worried about the vocal performance being up to scratch; it was one of the safest and most inspired pieces of casting on the whole film. What will be interesting to see is how the boffins at WETA are able to bring a talking, flying, enormous dragon to life.Cumberbatch is doing some motion capture work to ensure there's a touch of his character in the finished article, but obviously a creature on the scale of Smaug requires a great deal more work to render it believable than a creature of near-humanoid appearance like Gollum. With the rumpus surrounding the 48fps frame rate of the last film and how it made the action look 'too real' for some people, you can't help but wonder if Smaug may stick out as a rather glaring piece of CGI. I understand of course that it is a bloody great big dragon and so would already stick out somewhat, but what I mean is the CGI may be too distracting and never fully convince you that what you are seeing is a living, fire-breathing creature. WETA have a pretty good strike rate with these things however, their gargantuan King Kong in Peter Jackson's film of the same name was an impressive creation, so I've definitely got faith in them to deliver.
[Why Viggo Mortensen turned down The Hobbit]
The Battle of the Five Armies
In the original novel this showpiece battle towards the end of the story saw Dwarves, Elves, Men and Eagles joining together against Goblins (and Wargs) in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. In a couple of pieces I've read about the movie version though it would appear that, perhaps understandably, it's the Orcs who face off against the assembled free folk, rather than the Goblins. This makes sense given their more prominent placing in the Jackson Tolkien film world thus far. Given that we've already paid visit to the Goblins once in 'An Unexpected Journey', it could however be that they too are introduced into the battle as well as an uncounted sixth army.
Whoever winds up being involved in the big dust up, it's sure to look pretty darn impressive. Some of my favourite moments from the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy include the battles at Helms Deep and Pelennor Fields and I am confident Jackson and his team will deliver a battle of equally epic proportions. This will be a brutal and bloody affair with all the main characters right in the thick of the action. I can't say much more here without wading neck-deep into spoiler territory, but there's going to be some memorable moments during this destructive melee to say the least.
Spiders of Mirkwood
Who can forget the terrifying Shelob in 'The Return of the King', a giant scuttling and biting spider with a particularly nasty temper and a taste for flesh. It's arguably one of the most unsettling moments in the trilogy as the giant arachnid stalks Frodo and ultimately jabs him with her stinger (possibly not the anatomically correct word). We've already had a brief glimpse of giant spiders in 'An Unexpected Journey' when Radagast shelters in his forest home and the tell-tale shadow passes over his windows. He then peers out and we spot the miscreants scuttling away in the distance.The Hobbit is never going to be as gloomy or scary as 'The Lord of the Rings', Peter Jackson has made no secret of the fact that he intends to embrace the more light-hearted aspects of Tolkien's child-friendly work. So while we shouldn't expect anything too grisly when Bilbo and the Dwarves run into the giant spiders in Mirkwood, it will still be interesting to see just how dark the filmmakers are willing to go. I also couldn't help but wonder how different this sequence could have been under Guillermo Del Toro's stewardship had he stayed on as director. It strikes me as a sequence a gothic master of ghoulish fantasy like him would have loved to sink his teeth into. That being said, Jackson is no stranger to horror and the more unsettling aspects of cinema so I imagine that under his stewardship, this could still be a moment to rival Shelob's appearance in 'The Return of the King'.
Another character I'm looking forward to seeing brought to life is shape-shifting Northman Beorn. Beorn isn't like any other character in 'The Hobbit' and plays a vital role in the Battle of the Five Armies. Often taking the form of a giant bear, we first meet him after he gives shelter at his woodland home to Gandalf, Thorin and the rest of the company. At first he is wary of the Dwarves, but soon he becomes particularly welcoming and generous once Gandalf convinces him of the Dwarves' good intentions. He can be a pretty dry and sarcastic character, so hopefully there should be some choice dialogue when he grudgingly greets the 13 dwarves at his homestead. Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt will play the role in the upcoming films, who to be honest I know very little, but fingers crossed he can strike the right balance of snarkiness and friendliness. More importantly though, I'm really excited to see how badass bear-Beorn is when he is throwing down at the Battle of the Five Armies. There is no movie battle scene that wouldn't have been made better by the presence of a big hulking bear beating the crap out of some orcs.
Now this one is a little hard to talk about without belly-flopping right into the spoiler pool, so while I imagine the majority of us know what happens with the Necromancer, I am going to play safe and assume we all know nothing. The Necromancer is known to be a powerful dark sorcerer residing in Dol Guldur whose power and influence appears to be spreading. In 'An Unexpected Journey', we saw Radagast encounter the Necromancer at Dol Guldur where he also obtained a Morgul-blade after fighting off a familiar looking Witch-King. Gandalf met with the White Council to raise his concerns over the Necromancer's rise and his palling around with the Witch-King of Angmar. Unfortunately, Saruman (who we already know is a bit of a wrong un') refused to accept Gandalf's claims and has written the Necromancer off, which is in itself a bit of a warning sign.
Clearly though, this is a character with some considerable power. Tolkien himself revised the chapters covering the evil growing in Mirkwood in later issues of 'The Hobbit' in order to make a more explicit link between the events found in that story and what would follow in 'The Lord of the Rings'. With this in mind, I'd say it's fair to assume that we can expect a couple of interesting nods to the Rings trilogy during the scenes featuring the Necormancer.
I'm looking forward to seeing how they render the Necromancer on screen (voiced again by a certain Mister Cumberbatch) and seeing how they develop the characters' story. Needless to say he becomes pretty important to proceedings and could represent a pretty intimidating foe not only to Bilbo and the Dwarves, but Gandalf and the powerful White Council itself.