Part Two ~ A Return to Bree & the House of Beorn
In this portion of the Mordor Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we’ll delve into the beginning of the film.
In Part One of Mordor’s Review of The Hobbit: DoS, I gave a brief overview of the film. I touched on many areas of The Hobbit: DoS where I feel it shined and other areas was where I feel it failed. In Part Two of this review we are turning our lens on a more detailed look at the Prologue which begins in Bree and then transitions to the scenes in the House of Beorn.
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!
Let’s begin Part Two of our review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug with a look at the Prologue and the introduction of Bree at the beginning of the film.
Before I start, I will remind the reader that I stated in Part One of the review that I am of two minds about this film… as such I will often be giving a positive review on a particulate scene or plot point and then may turn and follow up with a negative thought about it… or vise-versa. Please bear with me.
The Tolkien Purist vs Movie Junkie!
I have to say I was excited by the introduction of Bree and the Prancing Pony into The Hobbit films. Of course I’d heard rumors of this before seeing the film, but didn’t read any details about it before watching DoS. It was fun to see the iconic location used for the prologue into the second film. It seems an appropriate place to launch The Desolation of Smaug, because even though this scene does not take place in the Hobbit book, it does play an important role in the story. This scene between Gandalf and Thorin only exists in The Lord of the Rings Appendices,and yet it stands out as one of the most fortuitous meetings in Middle-earth history. A wonderful way to begin the film.
Let’s start with Peter Jackson’s cameo.
I think the reason Bree has such clarity in this film is because it was shot without rain this time. I have to wonder if Bree is dry, because of PJ’s memories of having to do his scene in the rain in the first film! LOL… maybe! I think few missed his cameo in this film, because it’s was more overt then the cameo in the first film and also because we are reminded of his cameo in The Fellowship of the Ring. This put a bit of humor right in the very beginning and it was fun to see him still chomping down on his now familiar carrot… though no burping this time! Again, a great way to begin the film it it reminds me of Hitchcock getting on the bus in North by Northwest!
However, one thought that did occur to me, is that Peter Jackson’s cameo represents one of the major flaws with this film. An over use of repetition of visual elements and dialogue from the Lord of the Rings films. Now as everyone knows, who reads Tolkien, he too was fond of repetition in his writing. There a so many time when reading The Lord of the Rings when you can’t help but think, that he was re-writing a scene from The Hobbit. The are so many repetitions in theme and plot the one might forgive Jackson for doing the same. However, you could also say that since there is already so similarities in the story, what would be the need for more?
Do you feel this is so? Maybe, but each viewer of the film will have to decide if it’s too much, just right or not enough.
Next we see Thorin moving through the tight streets of the familiar town. He glances up and sees the sign for the Inn of the Prancing Pony, much as Frodo and the hobbits do in The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s obviously the same dark Inn we are familiar with and we even get to see the black cat again! We are treated to new camera angles with a fresh perspective. The actor (David Weatherley) who played Barliman Butterbur is not present in these scenes, which really makes no difference since his character was so drastically diminished from his charter in the books. He is now played by (Richard Whiteside)
Thorin takes a seat beside the fire and prepares to enjoy a hot meal. However, he senses the attention of two ruffians who get up and begin move toward him, obviously intending harm. Thorin prepares for a fight!
I have read that some believe this scene lacks the subtly that we see in the same location in The Fellowship of the Ring. I have to agree to a point. It would have been nice to see these folks sitting in deep shadow with ominous stares if ill intent, rather then moving so quickly in for the kill. However, this action opens the scene for the introduction of Gandalf, which is priceless.
Gandalf nonchalantly takes a seat and acts as if he’s completely unaware that his presence has driven the ruffians back to their seats. However, the mischievous twinkle in his eye says otherwise. We are given information through their conversation, that Thorin now has a price on his head. We are told that the time has come to return to Erebor and Gandalf ends the conversation by way of introducing the need for a burglar. We are then transported back to the present with Bilbo fulfilling his role as burglar and and spying out the pursuing Orcs. A prefect way to transition into the film proper.
We get a wonderful close up of Azog that really got me excited about seeing him again as the primary villain in this film, but hopefully with much improved CGI. My hopes were soon to be dashed. We then watch as Bilbo discovers the he’s not the only one spying on the orcs. We see Beorn as the bear crouching over the rocks and watching the Azog and the warg riders as they take off in search of the company. This leads into the opening title sequence for The Desolation of Smaug.
I must mention one more time, how much I loved… loved… loved… The Desolation of Smaug film title.
In my opinion it’s the best of all five films. The dark reddish clouds, the Warg Riders lunging over the top of the mountains and the musical score by Howard Shore set the perfect mood to begin this film. The use of sound here is awesome.
Up until the first Hobbit film, it was the film title for The Two Towers Extended Edition that was my favorite. Then when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released with the brilliant idea of using a smoke ring, it became my favorite title opening. I guess we’ll just have to see if There and Back Again’s title opening will top this films title!
For many, the title of a film might not be very important or be something one even considers, but as a graphic designer I understand how important elements like the title of a film are in setting the mood for everything to come.
The House of Beorn
After the opening title fades from the screen, we are launched directly into the action of the story as Azog and the Orc pack search for the Company! Bilbo returns to the Gnadlaf and the dwarves who are hiding in a nearby dell and he tells them that the orcs have just moved on, but that there is now something else to worry about. After a bit of comical back and forth, Gandalf tells them he knows what ‘it’ might be… a skin changer! He says they must hurry to a house he hopes will be safe. This of course is the House of Beorn.
I do want to make a few technical notes about this scene before moving on. The color grading gives this scene an odd pinkish tone and the background CGI looked a bit strange to me. It felt the same to me in in both viewings of the film. As Gandalf, Bilbo and the Dwarves stand arguing with each other in this first scene, the shots of the background look odd… unrealistic. I’m making a point of this, only because it pulled me out of the story to take note of it. One of many pints in DoS when the CGI pulled me out of the narrative.
Beorn as bear
We then get another glimpse of Beorn in his bear-shape with close up of his face. It lasts for only a second or so. but it reassured me that he was indeed a bear-like creature. This is another example of where I feel sort of torn. My first impression was that the Beorn Bear looked odd… not like a REAL bear, but something different and more monstrous. I don’t know if this was the intention of the film-makers or not. The impression I had of him in bear-shape was better in my second viewing , as I became more accustomed to his look. (The concept illustration to the right, by Andrew Baker was more of what I had been hoping for.) I need a third or fourth viewing of the film, before I can make up my mind on the look of the Beorn-bear.
Now… as I recall, I remember seeing the company running through the woods. I think there is a shot of the orcs in pursuit and another shot of Beorn-bear following. Then we see Gandalf and Company running towards the hedge like gate that surrounds the House of Beorn. Then we see the great beast burst out of the forest and Gandalf yells ‘RUN’ yet again. A refrain the gets used once too many times in The Hobbit films. We see Bombur comically racing ahead of the other dwarves fearing I expect that he would make a choice snack for a giant bear! They run through the gate and into the house just in the nick of time as the great bear tries to smash through the door. Gandalf at this juncture, points out that this creature is their host and that he ‘hopes’ they will be safe for the night.
Beorn’s House was a highlight of the film!
The exterior and the interior of Beorn’s House was beautifully conceptualized and designed to enhanced the magical quality of this film. This is indeed on of my favorite of the film sets. The entire scene in the House of Beorn takes a whimsical turn as written by Tolkien. From the protracted introduction of the dwarves in two’s by Gandalf, to the animals who walk upright and serve them dinner. This scene must have presented a good many challenges to the writers.
I feel like many of the whimsical elements needed to be trimmed from the book for this film trilogy to work as Peter Jackson envisioned it. Having the Beorn-bear chase them into the house is as good a way for them to get there as any. It also sets the stage for the audience to see Beorn as a dangerous wild creature. The interior of his house is reminiscent of barn/lodgings from Middle-ages with the animals living in the house with Beorn. I thought this was a nice touch, that paid homage to Tolkien’s writing while still editing out the serving animals.
The house itself and the interiors with the wonderful wood carvings and stone fireplace are reminiscent of Edoras, which is appropriate since the Men of Rohan came “out of the North and their kinship is rather with the Bardings of Dale, and the Beornings of the wood…” Tolkien himself made a drawing of the House of Beorn and though it is a good drawing, it looks very much like the great hall in Edoras, complete with the fire pit in the center of the hall. So, it was nice to see an altogether new take on the House of Beorn. In Tolkien’s writing, the House of Beorn and the House of Tom Bombadil carry a lot of the same narrative themes in the story. In particular the hobbits waking up and hearing nightly noises. In a way, this sort of gives us a little bit of the Tom Bombadil experience, which was missing from the Fellowship of the Ring. A nice touch.
Beorn the man
I’m very happy with the human version of Beorn after seeing Mikael Persbrandt so fully inhabit the character. After the online uproar over the now infamous Hobbit Calendar photos of Beorn, the look and performance of Mikael Persbrandt as Beorn, laid all that to rest in my mind.
Bilbo awakes in the dark to see the human Beorn in the house. Cut to the next morning where large bees buzz about until Bilbo awakens to find the dwarves sitting around the huge table like small children as Beorn serves them breakfast. Prompted by Bilbo, he tells his tale about how Azog the Defiler imprisoned, tortured and killed all of his kin. I have a feeling there is more here than meets the eye when we see the shackle still attached to his wrist. Hopefully, we’ll see more in the DoS Extended Edition.
Beorn delivers quite a bit of information about Mirkwood, the Orcs and Dol Guldur. He tells Thorin that they cannot possibly get to the forest, because the woods are crawling with orcs. He says that he does not like dwarves because they are greedy and blind to those they feel are lesser than themselves. This is a wonderful scene as Beorn picks up a small mouse and holds it in his hand. The music grows tense and watching this scene I feared he was going to crush the mouse in his hand. However, he reaches out and tenderly strokes the little white mouse, and looks up at Thorin, telling him that he hates orcs even more and then offers his help. I thought this was an absolutely wonderful scene that work on many levels. I hope we get more.
Here is a clip of Beorn’s House from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Two final thoughts about the scenes of the House of Beorn.
The first is the scene of Beorn-bear transforming back into his human form. The first time I saw this, I was a bit taken aback.
I was excited about seeing how this might be done and at first I was disappointed in the efforts of the CGI to make this seem real. The results seemed kind of ‘cartoony’ to me. Now, here is another example of my two minds about this film. In the second viewing of this scene I saw Beorn’s transformation from a different point of view. It reminded me of a scene from an old monster movie, hearkening back to a more traditional form of animation. It felt very much like something you might see in a Ray Harryhausen film and I think this was intentional, rather then just a poor design choice. In my second viewing of the scene, I felt like I got it.
The second involves the shift from once scene into another. I thought the way PJ transitioned from the scene of Bilbo in Beorn’s House holding the One Ring into the first scene of Dol Guldur was a brilliant edit! Now this of course brings to the events surrounding Azog and Blog which will be covered in Part Five ~ The Mysteries of Azog and Bolg
In the next installment of this review Part Three ~ The Dark Forest of Mirkwood we will be exploring the Dwarves quest to get through the ancient forest once called Greenwood the Great, that is now called Mirkwood, because of the spreading evil from Dol Guldur.