This article was written by Travis Black, the newest addition to High Voltage.
The presence of Middle Earth is nothing new for longtime attendees of the San Diego Comic Convention. Well over a decade ago in the summer of 2000 the first glimpse of footage for The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring was shown to a room packed with hundreds of enthusiastic fans. Flash-forward to present day 2014 when director Peter Jackson, writer Philipa Boyens and several key cast members from both the original film trilogy and The Hobbit films joined together in a room packed to capacity with over 6,500 screaming fans (many who camped out in line for over a day) to present the first teaser trailer for what will presumably be the final film in the Tolkien franchise.
A panel this large could only be housed in the now notorious-among-attendees Hall H. The seemingly simple task of securing a seat in this hallowed domain is typically fraught with maddeningly long, multi-day wait times that make even the most congested line at Disneyland seem like mere child’s play. But for the thousands devotees who brave the inevitable sleep and food deprivation it’s almost always worth the suffering in order to be among the very first in the entire world to glimpse footage of upcoming attractions and see their favorite stars and filmmakers in person. And this year’s audience was in for an added treat as giant curtains spanning nearly the entire length of the room were peeled back to reveal a massive wrap-around panoramic screen which engulfed every viewer’s entire field of vision with scenes from all three Hobbit films. Music from Howard Shore’s much-lauded film score played as thunderous applause shook the room.
On hand to host the event in his full Lake-town spy costume was well-known news satirist and self-proclaimed Tolkien scholar Stephen Colbert, who began proceedings with a lengthy and eloquent monologue serving testament to his slavish devotion to the franchise to everyone present. His only chief complaint about the finished films being that they “were too damn short.”
The room went quiet (but only for a moment) as previously unseen bloopers (hilarious!) and outtakes from all six Middle Earth films began to play. Chief among these (and a personal favorite of your author) was Sir Ian McKellen showing off his shapely bare legs while doing a showgirl-esque catwalk in full Gandalf costume.
The mood continued to be light as the bulk of the panel began. Colbert jokingly referred to the newest installment as “The Hobbit: The Battle for Six Movies” and only semi-jokingly discussed challenging writer Philippa Boyens to a bout of Tolkien trivia.
Colbert gave all eleven guests a chance to reflect on their various experiences in making the movies over the past decade and a half. Cate Blanchett feigned surprise when she learned that she was indeed the first name on a very short list to play the elven queen Lady Galadriel and revealed in passing that in the high school production of The Hobbit she actually played a gender bent version of Bard The Bowman. Peter Jackson was only too happy to interject and generate much enthusiasm by letting the audience know that the audience will be seeing a whole new, unleashed side of Galadriel’s personality in this final film. Elijah Wood alluded to The Picture of Dorian Gray (and perhaps popular series Penny Dreadful) when he jokingly stated that he had a picture in his attic that aged in his place. This was before admitting that to this day he has still never read any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work (gasp!). Adversely, Evangeline Lily admitted that she has read all but the final twenty-five pages of The Lord of The Rings because she never wants the story to end within the confines of her mind.
Colbert eventually brought the conversation back around to the visual spectacle aspect of the series and how in his eyes nearly every onscreen “clash” contains echoes of the grand battle style depicted in the original trilogy of films, lavishing much deserved praise on actor Andy Serkis for his advancements in the field of motion-capture technology.
Then, at last, Mr. Jackson gave the OK for the moment that everyone had been anticipating: The world premiere of the very first teaser trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Forty-Eight glorious seconds of footage. No need to go into detail of the contents of said trailer because as of this writing it is freely available for all to see online. However, in a decade of Comic Con attendance, I have never seen a room so full of hysteria and emotion as that Friday morning in Hall H. Peter and the thousands of people involved in the making of this film have high expectations to live up to with this final film in the prequel trilogy. Especially after the mixed reception of the first two entries.
Finally the floor was opened up to questions from a precious few of a the thousands of fans in the room. Cheers resounded as Benedict Cumberbatch entertained the request of a fan draped in a cape that appeared to be made entirely of custom Lord of The Rings and Hobbit related buttons, roaring the name “Button Lady!” in his full deep throated Smaug-the-dragon voice that reverberated throughout the entire hall.
One young man asked whether Jackson and Boyens considered the Hobbit film trilogy to stand on its own as a separate entity or to be viewed as one, large continuous piece that flows seamlessly into the Rings films. Instead of a quick yes or no answer, the filmmakers elaborated on the advantages of being able to go places in the Hobbit films that help unify and interlock the six films together that most likely would have occurred had the book been adapted as a standalone movie as originally planned before it was decided to do a three movie deal exclusively for The Lord of The Rings. Chief among these examples being an as yet unseen moment between the Lady Galadriel and Gandalf during the battle at the dark fortress of Dol Goldur, which all in attendance agreed would heighten even further the emotional devastation of the wizard’s untimely death and subsequent resurrection down the road. If that’s possible.
As fate would have it the closing question to the panel came from, well, me. Heart pounding, pulse rushing, I walked up to the microphone to ask something that had long been on my mind since glimpsing snippets of deleted footage in the special features of the original Extended Edition DVD sets over ten years ago: Over the years there have been rumors of an untold amount of unseen footage that could potentially be reinstated back into the original three movies. Will this footage ever see the light of day, perhaps in an even longer cut of Lord of The Rings, or have we seen the final cut of these films?
In true Peter Jackson style, the director mischievously rolled his eyes as the audience cheered and murmured. “There is a few scenes. I don’t know, we might try to put them back in. It’s not without it’s issues as The Lord of The Rings was seven million feet of 35 mm film which is sitting in a mountain in Arizona somewhere I think… But if there’s enough interest from people…” The crowd roared unanimously. “Maybe they will.”