Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bearded dwarves

Needless to say I, like most of the rest of the Tolkien fandom, cultivated a healthy skepticism about "The Hobbit" movie part 1, which I then heretofore and summarily ejected in its totality upon my first glimpse of the trailer for The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey.

Sure, we might claim the movie's being made in two parts on account of 'teh dollarz,' but Look! it's Gandalf! Tales and adventure spouted up all over the place wherever he went*!  And hobbits, and Rivendell, and... is that Galadriel? Huh.  Also, there's Sting; dwarves sing, and a shiny ring.  Jubilate, ye neurons!

Anyone who's read both the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings knows that where LotR is an epic war history of myth, heroism and linguistics, the Hobbit is a jaunty adventure story with close calls, jokes and little poems.  And where for Tolkien, the Hobbit formed a seed for the gestation of his most famous (and much longer) work, for Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro** they're doing it in reverse, having already created huge parts of Middle Earth (and very thoroughly) for the previous films.

I wonder how this will work out.  The trailer is already hitting us over the head with 'it's a LOTR prequel'.  From the beginning, we get: Old Bilbo talking to Young Frodo, the Bag End set, camera angles of Gandalf talking and smoking that are taken directly from Fellowship, the Map; then there's the Rivendell set, Galadriel (not in the book!  Maybe Elrond's on vacation so she's watching the place while he's away), the Shards of Narsil, Sting,... and the closer, Gollum and the Ring.  All of this makes good sense.  We're being told, 'we're taking you back to Middle Earth, but you're going to see a part we didn't show you before'.  I assume that with Jackson and del Toro at the helm, they'll use these features to add additional emotional valence to what is otherwise a stand-alone story.

Of course, we've also been told that Tolkien's canon-but-less-well-read writings regarding Gandalf and the White Council's parallel encounter with the Necromancer in Mirkwood are also being mined for these movies, presumably so the audience doesn't have to wonder why the Grey Pilgrim keeps leaving the party whenever it's dramatically convenient to raise the stakes.  I suspect that means the tone of this movie will lie somewhere in-between the bedtime-story quality of parts of the Hobbit and the serious-business feel of much of LotR.

Well, I'm not complaining.  What I really came here to talk about is beards.

Remember Gimli in LotR?  Well, he's the son of Gloin, one of Thorin's 13 companions.  He looks like this:

You may notice something about him:  he is prodigiously hairy.

Indeed, in the entirety of  LotR we only saw about four dwarves (at the council of Elrond), of which Gimli is one.  Here they are:
The one to the left of Gimli is probably Gloin.  You will notice they are all sporting Extreme Beards.  In fact, beards are generally pointed to as being the primary dwarf characteristic, after their height. (Dwarf women have beards too!)

Take another look at the dwarves in the trailer.  They have facial hair, yes.  But for the most part they're pretty well groomed, comparatively: not these giant waterfalls of red locks obscuring most of their faces.  Thorin in particular has a very visible mouth and cheeks (shown here looking wicked with his elf-sword Orcrist):

Why?  two reasons.  The audience suddenly has thirteen of these guys thrown at them in virtually the opening scene.  We have to be able to distinguish these guys pretty quickly, or we'll just be confused.  Thus we get Fili and Kili's light-and-dark stubble, Oin and Gloin's more classic dwarf look,  Bombur's trucker beard, and Bifur's goth stylings***.  Second: they're the main characters, and we have to see Thorin's longing and resolve when he sings of The Lonely Mountain, etc.  You can't see that stuff through all that beard.

You may remember that Gimli - the short, bearded redhead - ended up as the comic relief in LotR.  You can do that with crazy hair.  You can't do dramatic lead.

So well-groomed dwarves make a better Hobbit movie.  Awright, let's do this!  When's it come out?


*he was, you see, a Wizard.
** If you haven't seen Pan's Labyrinth, do: it's an ambiguous and uneasily beautiful child's view fairy-story set in the Spanish civil war.  Apart from the thematic elements, his fantasy realism aesthetic should work well with the Jackson vision of Middle Earth.  Also, see Hellboy: its a story about a demon who fights Nazis!
*** I think that's an axe in his head...

1 comment:

  1. What kind of Tolkien scholar am I? I forgot, from the LotR movie, the seven dwarf lords who receive rings of power:

    Also dwarven, also mega hairy.