From Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” the third in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage) and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Enraged, Smaug rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town.
Obsessed above all else with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor to hoard it as Bilbo Baggins’ frantic attempts to make him see reason drive the Hobbit towards a desperate and dangerous choice. But there are even greater dangers ahead. Unseen by any but the Wizard Gandalf (played by Ian McKellen), the great enemy Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide: unite or be destroyed. Bilbo (played by Martin Freeman) finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance.
At Comic-Con International 2014 in San Diego, there was a press conference for “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” that was held after discussion panel that showcased sneak-preview footage. At the press conference were Jackson, Orlando Bloom (who plays Legolas), Evangeline Lilly (who plays Tauriel), Cate Blanchett (who plays Galadriel), Luke Evans (who plays Bard the Bowman), Andy Serkis (who plays Gollum), Lee Pace (who plays Thranduil), Benedict Cumberbatch (who is the voice of Smaug) and screenwriter Philippa Boyens. Here is what they said at the press conference.
Peter, with the title change from “There and Back Again,” were you considering anything else before settling on “The Battle of the Five Armies”?
Jackson: No, not really. The title change came about when we did an assembly of the third movie, last year. As we were cutting the second movie, we also put a version of the third movie together, just so that we could watch a rough thing of it. And I watched it last year and knew it had to be called “The Battle of the Five Armies.”
That was just the right title for it. So, when we were at the junket for “The Desolation of Smaug” in Berlin, I pulled the Warner Bros. people aside and said, “Listen, we don’t have to discuss it now, but when you see the movie, which we’ll show you when we’ve got a proper cut in a few months time, just be warned that I’m going to change the name to “The Battle of the Five Armies.” And they saw the movie and agreed. There was no debate about it. The “There and Back Again” title worked when there were two movies, but now there are three.
Were there any posters made with the old title?
Jackson: One, and I’m keeping it. It’s going to be so valuable. No, there were no posters made. That’s the reason why we had to make that decision when we did. Things were starting to get there. It would be nice to have one, though.
Peter, can you talk about the progression of the tone, from the first film to this one?
Jackson: The progression of the tone from the first “Hobbit” to this one is what you would expect it to be. It is what you would anticipate from seeing the first two. It starts at a certain point of innocence and naivete, and things are starting to get darker and darker, and the screws are getting tighter. By the time we are done with this film, which is going to be the most emotional and tense of the three, I think it’s my favorite of the three, to be honest.
I’m not just saying that. It’s got a nice thriller pace to it. When you get to the end of it, I think it’s going to feel like the right time to hand it over to “The Fellowship of the Ring.” It will feel like it’s gone on that journey.
I’ve always been aware of it being a six-film set. One day, long after all of this is all over, all that’s ever going to exist in the world is these movies, as a six-film series. That’s how future generations are going to think of them.
Benedict and Andy, how much do you practice to perfect your voices for these characters?
Cumberbatch: Quite a bit of practice because I was forcing the register down so much. I always had a lot of honey and gingers at the ready. Where we began, with motion capture and the first sessions, through post-production and ADR, I was doing it without any modulation. It really took a lot out of it, and it just meant that there was a lifespan to it. There was a lot of warming up and a lot of warming down, and silent rest in between.
Serkis: One of the tools that we discovered, along the way, was to create the size of a character by putting it through speakers and being able to pitch shift and drop the tone of a character. It was particularly useful for Smaug and Kong, to generate the sense of scale and power and the lung capacity.
If you’re playing a 150-feet long dragon or a 25-foot long gorilla, it’s very hard to convey the power of the character, if you’re just using the power of your own voice. Breath is a really important part of making the character believable, and it’s an ongoing thing.
Cumberbatch: With the Necromancer, I decided to do that speech backwards, and then loop it forwards.
Jackson: As you do. That’s perfectly normal. Most people do that.
Blanchett: Showoff! Unbelievable!
Cumberbatch: I wanted that satanic oddity to it.
Benedict, if you were only getting warmed up in “The Desolation of Smaug,” do you get completely unleashed in “The Battle of the Five Armies”?
Cumberbatch: I do. I swoop down and what I do is freely available on bookshelves around the world, but I won’t say what happens. It was great to have the next part of that journey. It’s a stunningly chilling end to the last film.
Peter, how are you going to top the battle in “The Return of the King” in “The Battle of the Five Armies”? Was it hard to go about that?
Jackson: It carries the storyline. I don’t really think of it as a battle. A battle is a self-contained thing. But with this, the storyline of all of our characters is developing, all the way through. When they get into combat, the storyline is still evolving.
Things happen in the middle of the battle that changes the storyline of certain characters, and there’s a lot to follow it. Whether they’re sitting around having dinner or they’re fighting a battle, it’s still part of the storytelling of the film.
The whole movie is going to be quite tense. It’s got a thriller feel to it. It’s going to go into the battle with lot of tension. The thing with battles is that you can kill off one or two people, and god knows, there’s a few of them that need to get killed off.
So we could possibly have characters dying in this film. We can afford to have some emotion that we haven’t seen in “The Hobbit” yet. We certainly crank it up in this one.
Can you talk about the creation of Evangeline Lilly’s character Tauriel, since she’s not in the books?
Jackson: The creation of Tauriel came about in a very scientific way. It wasn’t very exciting. In the book of “The Hobbit,” the story passes through the Woodland Realm and they escape in the battles. Tolkien wrote about the Woodland king, but he doesn’t even name him.
Because there’s no actual story in there, and it’s just an event that happens, along the way, as we developed our script treatments, we wanted to develop and elvish storyline. Any storyline has to have three characters.
You can’t really create a storyline with two. You need to have three. So we had Thranduil, as the Woodland king was subsequently named, and we also knew that he had a son, named Legolas, and then we needed a third. It was a very deliberate decision to cast a female character because there’s a lot of strength in the women within the elvish ranks. We just wanted to have a really kick-ass chick, basically.
That’s how it came about. We wanted to develop a storyline that emanated from the Woodland Realm and was able to carry on through the film, all the way through to the end.
Evangeline, what was it like to play a character that had no reference in the books?
Lilly: Aside from the fact that the fans were probably going to eat me for lunch, I thought that I had struck gold. Nobody had a preconceived idea in their head of how I was supposed to look and behave, so I had carte blanche. Nobody could tell me how Tauriel should be, except for Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
I just pitied Martin [Freeman], when I found out that he had been cast. He was such perfect casting, but how would he survive playing Bilbo. But what we really wanted to create was a clear distinction between Tauriel, who was a low caste Woodland elf, and the high elves that you see in “The Lord of the Rings.”
So I intentionally made sure that I didn’t re-watch “The Lord of the Rings.” If I had, because I’m so completely enthralled by Cate Blanchett’s performance in the trilogy, I would have just tried to copy her. I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself. So I made sure not to watch it, so that whatever we did create would be completely unique to a Woodland female warrior elf.
What are you going to miss most about playing your character and being a part of these films?
Blanchett: I’m just going to miss the chance to do it again. I’m such a small part of the film, but the four weeks I spent, the first time around, were game-changing for me. I’m such a longtime fan of Peter’s work, so to work with him and to work on the stories, that have such a broad reach and impact, not only as films but also just creatively, and then to go back 10 years later, you sometimes get to do that in Russian theater, but you rarely get to do that in film. I know that will never happen again, so that makes me slightly sad and old.
Cate and Orlando, what was your experience working backwards with your characters from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and what challenges you faced?
Bloom: One of the conversations that I had with Peter and Fran was about how it made sense for Legolas to be in The Hobbit, but what would the arc be and what would the story be? Actually, it was very liberating. Because Legolas doesn’t feature in the story of “The Hobbit” in the books, in a way, we were able to go back and create a backstory for Legolas, who then pops up in “The Fellowship of the Ring.” They really thought that through, so you’ll see, at the end, the throughline of all six movies.
Blanchett: You’ve got the confidence and the fan base of the films, some of whom were originally fans of the books, but some were fans of what the team has done. And what I think is really great about what The Hobbit has achieved is that there are many, many great works of literature, but you’ve got to make them into movies and have them exist, in their own right.
There’s so much invention in “The Hobbit,” and they really have embraced the fact that they are, first and foremost, the film’s story around those characters and around that world. The creative rift that Fran and Philippa and Peter have had, has been incredibly exciting, as an audience member.
Bloom: Outside of Stephen Colbert, who’s shown everyone up, Peter, Fran and Philippa are the authority on this world, since J.R.R. Tolkien. They’re the ones who have brought that vision to life on the screen.
Jackson: The thing about the returning characters is the iconography of the characters. Since we so Legolas, Galadriel and Gandalf last, there have been toys, action figures, dolls and lunch boxes. They walk onto the set and it’s suddenly like something out of pop culture. The returning characters are not just returning from a movie 10 years ago, but they’re bringing all this pop culture with them. I never thought I’d see them on set again, in my life, ever.