The Top 20 Coolest Things I Learned From The DVD Commentary of "An Unexpected Journey"
Being able to watch a film with the “Commentary” feature enabled is one of the wonderful things about the DVD and Blu-Ray formats. It’s not for everyone because for some it can be a strange experience. On the one hand, you’re watching the action unfold with the soundtrack turned low which makes it all but impossible to hear the actors speaking and on the other you’re listening to someone (usually multiple voices) talking about what’s going on as you watch. Sometimes the commentary doesn’t even relate directly to what you’re seeing and goes off on tangents that are disjointed, though often interesting.
For a film of a typical length this can be a grueling process but it can be especially difficult to hold your attention for one of this length. I understand that there are folks out there who always fully intend to watch the commentary for films like this but never seem to get around to it. I decided to make some notes as I watched the “Filmmaker’s Commentary” for the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey so I could share some interesting stuff that popped up throughout the 182 minutes of musings and ramblings (that’s a full three hours and 2 minutes).
The Filmmaker’s Commentary was comprised of Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens. Fran Walsh, Jackson’s wife and Boyens’ writing partner, has yet to appear in any of the commentaries or special documentaries associated with the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films. This is due to her desire for privacy as the “silent partner” in her filmmaking endeavors with husband Peter Jackson. But Boyens, by and large, speaks for both of them and their experiences in the script-writing department.
The following tidbits are applicable to the Extended Edition so some of these scenes are unfamiliar to those who’ve only watched the theatrical versions. Also, I list them here according to the chronology of the movie and they are not listed in any particular order of “coolness”. Enjoy.
I could write pages and pages about all the minutiae I discovered but I chose to limit it to 20 items. Now, the title of this post alludes to the top 20 coolest things from the commentary but some of them aren’t so much “cool” as they are informative in terms of what went behind some of the changes from book to script.
- The Oldest Dwarf Gets A Makeover: Thorin’s apparent youth in the film version is a noticeable change from the book. It was decided he should be a character that the audience could invest in and see as a future King rather than someone who is in his twilight and already close to the end of his life. This will make his ultimate fate all the more tragic.
- The “Tookish” Part of Our Hero: There is an extra scene in this version of the Prologue. It shows a young Bilbo having a delightful time at a party honoring The Old Took (Gerontius Took, Bilbo’s maternal grandfather). This came as an inspiration from Sir Ian McKellan himself who told Jackson that he wished he could meet the “young Bilbo” that Gandalf knew as adventurous and always looking for Elves. Some observant devotees of the included documentaries may notice that The Old Took was played by Set Decorator Dan Hennah!
- An Old Man and His Walking Stick: Gandalf’s staff is different here at this appearance at Bag End and according to Peter Jackson we will find out in the last film why it is not the same staff he uses in “The Fellowship of the Ring”.
- A Very Long Tangent: All of the material in the prologue was originally written as part of a flashback story to be told during the meeting at the Bag End sequence. It was deemed much too cumbersome, however, and they decided to use it for a Prologue to the film as told to the audience by the older Bilbo played by Sir Ian Holm.
- At Least There Was No Autotune Involved: When the Dwarves sing the Misty Mountains song they are lip-syncing a recording of it. But they did so with the recording playing back at a faster speed. This was done so that the editing staff could slow down the film and make it appear as if the scene is going in slow motion with the song being played back at the original speed.
- Blooper Alert: In the flashback scene showing the Battle of Azanulbizar, Jackson points out that there were no trees on the rocky Dimrill Dale set (which was the same one used for the escape from Moria in “The Fellowship of the Ring”). Yet Thorin miraculously finds an oak branch to use as a shield. After rethinking what he just shared Jackson mused that maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned that.
- Their Names Escape Me: J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate still retains the rights to any of the author’s works outside of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. So when Gandalf describes to Bilbo the other members of his order he isn’t able to name the two “Blue Wizards” or give the proper name of that order. It wasn’t until Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth that the wizards were identified as the Istari and the two unnamed members were named either Alatar and Pallando or Morinehtar and Romestamo. So Gandalf appears merely to have forgotten them.
- O’er The Fields We Go: Peter Jackson came up with the idea of Radagast’s rabbit-sleigh, much to the dismay of the special effects designers. Apparently, Jackson was inspired by photos of giant rabbits that he had previously seen on the internet.
- Not So Fast There, Philippa: Philippa Boyens makes a passing reference to the upcoming “Battle of Dol Guldur” later in the trilogy and Peter Jackson gently chides her to not give anything away. Too late. It looks like we can count on a fully developed sequence of the Necromancer being driven from his stronghold in the final film.
- Cupid’s Arrow: It was mentioned that Kili is the only Dwarf archer in the company. This was by design because of his now revealed affinity with “another character” that had yet to be introduced (Film Two had not yet been released when this was recorded). We now know that this character is Tauriel.
- And There They Brew a Beer So Brown: Jim Nesbitt (Bofur) sings a version of “The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late” in the extended dinner scene in Rivendell. Nesbitt actually came up with the tune himself. As it’s presented in “The Lord of the Rings”, Frodo says that Bilbo wrote the song but Jackson and Boyens say they included it here because he could have conceivably heard it her first. Why not?
- An Unexpected Guest: Jackson describes how they filmed Sir Christopher Lee at Leavesden studios in England against a green screen for the scene of the meeting of the White Council. He was later inserted into the footage of the other actors in New Zealand. He also reveals that this is not the last time we will see Saruman in the hobbit movies!
- Glad to Finally Meet You: This is Cate Blanchett and Sir Ian McKellan’s first scene together in any of these Middle-earth films. We forget that they never had one together in “The Lord of the Rings” even though in the book Gandalf recounts to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli his stop at Lothlorien on his way to Fangorn Forest (after his fight with the Balrog). Both actors were thrilled to be able to interact with each other on screen for the first time. Here we also see traces of the “unspoken alliance” between the two characters of Galadriel and Gandalf and their ability to communicate without speaking. Her parting words to him are “if you have need of me, I will come”. We know from Film Two that this need will indeed present itself.
- The Blade That Was Brought In (To The Story): During the Council meeting Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman examine the Morgul Blade that Radagast gave to Gandalf after his encounter with the spirit of the Witch King. Jackson mentions that this blade and the one that pierced Frodo’s shoulder in “The Fellowship of the Ring” are one and the same. Further he promises that we will see how it ends up back in the Witch King’s possession later in the trilogy. The sword is purposely being used as a “setup” for later events.
- Is It Tasty, Preciousss?: The “Riddles in the Dark” sequence was the very first one that was filmed so that Andy Serkis could then be freed up to assume his duties as 2nd Unit Director. The entire scene was filmed with multiple camera angles and Serkis and Martin Freeman ran through the entire sequence from start to finish several times over the course of three days.
- Losing His Birthday Present: Boyens commented that they intentionally had the Ring “escape” out of Gollum’s pocket while he was committing an act of murder on the injured goblin.
- Welcome To The Wraith World: When Bilbo falls as he is pursued by Gollum and the ring goes onto his finger they deliberately copied the way it first came onto Frodo’s finger at the Prancing Pony – shot for shot.
- A Necessary Consistency: Gandalf appears at the moment the Goblin King prepares to torture the information out of the Dwarves. He wields Glamdring but, though it is of the same make as Sting, it doesn’t glow blue in the presence of the goblins. Boyens reminds us that they forgot to give the sword this property back in the LOTR trilogy, specifically in the Mines of Moria. So, it didn’t make sense to do it here.
- “Mr. Gandalf! Help!”: Jackson explained that they needed a reason that Gandalf couldn’t intervene in the head-to-head fight between Azog and Thorin (and later Bilbo) so they had to have him rescuing Ori and Dori with this staff after they lose their grip on the tree branches. In other words, they needed to keep him busy.
- Subliminal Imagery: If you look closely at our first glimpse of the Carrock, you may notice that the very top is in the shape of a bear’s head – this was Alan Lee’s idea as a hat tip to Beorn, who we will meet in the next film.
So, there you have it. Some interesting stuff, and there’s quite a bit more. If you’re so inclined by all means check it out. I plan on doing the same thing for each of the other two upcoming commentaries.
Now that we’ve covered and revisited the first two-thirds of “The Hobbit” from book to script we will head into the home stretch to look at the last chapters and speculate how the newly christened final installment – The Battle of the Five Armies – might look this December.