Middle-Earth Cheat Sheet

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The 25 things you need to know before you see The Hobbit — An Unexpected Journey.

Working under the all-knowing eyes of fans around the globe, Lord of The Rings trilogy director Peter Jackson and his production team returned to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth last year to adapt the famed author’s earlier work, “The Hobbit,” which was first published in 1937. And many were surprised when it was announced that the relatively slim tome would be expanded into two feature films — only to be further amazed that it would become a trilogy instead: An Unexpected Journey (opening December 14), The Desolation of Smaug (due out in December of 2013) and There and Back Again (sometime in the summer of 2014). But with less story and characters to work with than he’d had with the “Rings” books, Jackson had to dig deeper into additional Tolkien source material. “We had the novel, the appendices and the rights to use 125 pages of additional notes that Tolkien expanded on the novel after writing ‘The Return of the King’ [first published in 1955] and we’ve used some of it so far,” Jackson explains.

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Among the additions is material on what happened to Gandalf (again played by Ian McKellen) after he disappears for a large portion of “The Hobbit.” Jackson says this won’t result in a choppy film, though. “I wanted to make a series of movies that run together for that one crazy lunatic who wants to watch them all in a row — so there will be some consistency,” he says with a smile that suggests he knows all too well that there are millions of such lunatics.

And with the third film now a reality, Jackson says additional photography will also be necessary. “After wrapping [principle production], we’ve seen the shape of other things we haven’t been able to shoot and we want to do a few more weeks of additional shooting [in 2013],” says Jackson. “There are certainly other parts of the story we’d like to tell.”

With all these changes and adjustments, GEEK felt it wise to offer this guide to Middle-earth and the 25 things you need to know before you join Bilbo Baggins on An Unexpected Journey.

1. This is a trilogy of films based partly on “The Hobbit,” and serves as a prequel to Jackson’s previous three-film adaptation of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, showing us how Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman here, Ian Holm in the Rings films) first obtained that all-important One Ring.

2. Much has been made over the years of “The Hobbit” being a children’s book while Rings novels take the tale to a more mature level, but the new films look set to maintain the same general tone as Jackson’s earlier excursion to Middle-earth — a dark yet crowd-pleasing adventure that’s fun for the whole family, plus a little more humor according to the filmmaker: “A lot of comedy and charm of ‘The Hobbit’ comes from characters. You’re dealing with Bilbo Baggins, who is a little more of a reluctant hero. You’re also dealing with dwarves who have personalities.”

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3. Twelve years after the first Rings film, Jackson and his team have rebuilt many of the settings familiar to fans, including Bag End and Rivendell. It helped that many of the production team are exactly the same people that worked on the trilogy, but the attention to detail is still striking.

4. Some of Guillermo del Toro’s work on the films, back when he was slated to direct, may yet survive to the theatrical cuts, including input on creature design. He is still credited as co-screenwriter with Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.

5. History repeating itself: When Jackson first planned his adaptation of Tolkien’s three-book “Rings” saga, the plan was to make two films before the studio stepped in and expanded it to three.

6. Even before the third movie was added to the equation, the production team was drawing on not only “The Hobbit” but also material from Tolkien’s “Rings” appendices to flesh out the world beyond Bilbo’s journey. For one thing, Gandalf disappears a lot in the book, but we’ll see why in the films.

7. Liberties have been taken. For those Rings fans still grousing about the absence of Scouring of the Shire or aspects of Arwen’s portrayal (hey, at least they cut her appearance at Helm’s Deep), know this is not your father’s ‘Hobbit.’ For one thing, there is at least one wholly new character in the film, the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).

8. Crowd-pleaser Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is indeed back, but at least there’s a reason. The gifted elf with a bow is the son of the Elven king, and although he wasn’t in Tolkien’s novel, there’s no reason he couldn’t be there, so he will be.

9. Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is back as well. Though not in “The Hobbit” proper, the elvish leader now takes part in the second White Council that will help decide the future of Middle-earth while Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) band makes its way to Erebor, the Lonely Mountain and their ancestral home.

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10. That’s Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy from Doctor Who — all but unrecognizable in make-up and costume — as Gandalf’s fellow wizard, Radagast. But his voice is unmistakable, and he might be an audience favorite despite his short screen time.

11. Gollum (Andy Serkis) is also back, but for how long? His “riddles in the dark” contest with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is crucial to the “Rings” trilogy – as most of you no doubt know — but you might not know that Serkis has also graduated to the position of second unit director. He even found it tough to get back into character after too many years doing Gollum’s voice for friends’ answering machine messages.

12. Also look for brief cameos from Rings stars Elijah Wood as Frodo and Ian Holm as an aged Bilbo, as part of a framing sequence that will set the stage for the Hobbit adventure ahead.

13. So popular despite his fleeting, silent appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring that fans dubbed him “Figwit” and inspired Peter Jackson to let him speak in The Return of the King, Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords makes a “return” appearance, this time with the official character name Lindir.

14. If the Great Goblin reminds you of a man in drag with day-glow purple hair and a voice that could shatter glass at 50 paces, that’s because behind the makeup lurks Barry Humphries, the comedian who has portrayed the outlandish Dame Edna Everage since 1956.

15. This film introduces a wide range of physical types for the dwarves, which may have a lot less to do with expanding our understanding of how varied they can be and more about realizing that these characters had to carry a trilogy and look attractive to moviegoers. The two most obvious eye candy dwarves are Kili (Aidan Turner) and Thorin (Richard Armitage). What, no love for Bombur (Stephen Hunter)?

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16. Glóin (Peter Hambleton) is Lord of the Rings’ Fellowship member Gimli’s (John Rhys-Davies) father, hence the uncanny physical resemblance and perhaps even some similar traits.

17. Gandalf’s staff may also look familiar but different. The wooden plume at its top was open in the Rings films, but in the Hobbit movies — set many years earlier — note that it still seems closed. Perhaps his staff grows with the passage of time?

18. There are those still smarting from the loss of Tom Bombadil in the Rings trilogy. But worry not: Beorn the “skin-changer” and orc foe is certain to turn up in all his bearish glory, in the form of actor Mikael Persbrandt.

19. For those that don’t even know about the basic racial dynamics of Middle-earth, there is a long-standing enmity between elves and dwarves that goes all the way back to the creation of the dwarves by one of the Valar. “Who are the Valar?” Oh, all right …

20. The Valar are angelic beings of the highest order, given the responsibility of bringing the world known as Arda into being. On that world, there’s this little continent called “Middle-earth.”

21. Some of the Valar stuck around on Arda, eventually ending up in Valinor. We heard about one of them in the Rings trilogy — the mightiest and most destructive, known as Morgoth. He created the Balrogs and corrupted a Maia, a lesser spirit, into someone you might know as Sauron.

22. “So wait, Sauron is one of the Maiar?” That’s right, and so are the wizards, including Saruman (Christopher Lee), Gandalf and Radagast. They are not beings to be trifled with, as anyone who remembers Saruman’s later arc and Gandalf the White’s general bad-assery knows all too well.

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23. Getting back to ol’ One Eye — the “Big Bad” of the Rings trilogy — Sauron may not have built up to the level of pure, world-shattering evil he reaches in that tale, but at the time of The Hobbit his power is building while he’s in the form of “The Necromancer.” We will doubtless see his influence grow as this new trilogy progresses.

24. Elrond (yes, Hugo Weaving is back) is old. No, really old, as old as dirt. Known along with his brother, Elros, as “half-elven,” Elrond must ultimately choose the race to which he will belong. Since he spends much of the Rings trilogy begging Arwen not to give up her immortality, we know which way he went. Oh, and Elrond is also Galadriel’s son-in-law. That’s right: Galadriel is Arwen’s grandmother! Confused yet?

25. While Benedict Cumberbatch has one of the most mysterious roles in the entire Hobbit trilogy, providing voice and motion capture performance for Smaug, the dragon that stands between Thorin’s group and their recapture of Erebor, he also pulls double duty in some form as the aforementioned Necromancer.

Additional reporting by A.C. Ferrante

Special thanks to Laura Gillespie

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